Office of the President
September 20, 2011
Dear Students, Faculty and Staff:
Welcome to those of you who are here for the first time this fall, and welcome back to all who are returning for the start or continuation of the academic year. It is a very exciting time for all of us as we commence another episode of our extraordinary journey through higher education. It is in many ways the most intense learning experience of our lives, and I know we will all take full advantage and use it to explore new ideas, new perspectives and new ways of thinking. We also have an added measure of excitement as we celebrate the University’s 150th anniversary with a number of events held throughout the year. Please join us in marking this important milestone as we both celebrate the accomplishments of the past 150 years and look ahead to what the next 150 years will bring.
It is a new time for me, as well, having just arrived this summer and feeling in some ways like a freshman. There is still much for me to learn about the University, and I have spent the summer doing just that—meeting people, visiting programs, touring facilities and learning as much as I could about the University of Washington. I feel as if I have only scratched the surface, and I intend to explore it in more depth in the coming weeks and months. But what I have learned thus far is that as good as I believed the University was from its national reputation and from what I saw during the presidential search process, up close it is even more remarkable and great than I imagined. The faculty and students I have met are brilliant and impressive, the staff as accomplished and talented as I have seen at a university. My early impressions were further enhanced just this week with the announcement that Shwetak Patel, assistant professor of Computer Science & Engineering and Electrical Engineering, was chosen as a 2011 MacArthur Fellow in recognition of his cutting-edge work inventing low-cost, easy-to-deploy sensor systems to enable users to track household energy consumption and to make buildings more responsive to our needs. This prestigious honor is outstanding and well-deserved recognition of both the exceptional creativity Professor Patel has already displayed and the exciting promise of his achievements to come. I am sure the University community joins me in extending our heartiest congratulations to our latest “genius” faculty.
From everything I have seen so far, the UW’s reputation as one of the world’s great universities is extremely well-deserved. Indeed, Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s global rankings of the best universities in the world just ranked us as the 16th best university on the planet. Among our programs, medicine and pharmacy ranked No. 3, life sciences No. 5, mathematics No. 17, and computer science No. 20 in the entire world. One of my foremost goals as your president is to ensure that we continue to build on that extraordinary base.
This message is the first of what I intend to be periodic email communications in which I keep you informed about how we are doing and about pressing issues relating to higher education in our state and the nation. This first may be a little longer than others, so please ascribe it to my eagerness to tell you about some of things on my mind. I also will be communicating with you in other ways, such as the Annual Address to the University community, which this year will be on October 12. You will be receiving an email later this week with further details about the address.
Two characteristics I have observed about the University are its remarkable spirit of innovation and its penchant for approaching complex problems and inquiries in a multi-disciplinary and collaborative way—whether drawing on our rich faculty resources within the University or with our partners in industry and other nonprofit research organizations. From looking for solutions to environmental challenges to seeking new treatments in medicine, the cross-disciplinary collaborations I have learned about are exciting and impressive. Increasingly, more of the big problems facing us in the 21st century require this type of broad-spectrum approach to finding solutions, and we are exceptionally well-suited to take them on.
Moreover, increasingly, the discoveries from our laboratories are finding their way into the marketplace and improving our lives. We do a stunning amount of such research. Last year alone we secured $1.5 billion of extramural research support, building on our long track record as America’s top public university in attracting federal research funding. It is our opportunity and responsibility as a public research university to bring these findings to bear on various aspects of our lives, whether through new products and processes or new medicines and procedures. We are beginning to do this exceptionally well through our Center for Commercialization (C4C), which is taking a smart and innovative approach to moving our discoveries to the marketplace as well as giving students the opportunity to gain experience and learn how to make it happen. We hope to expand this activity considerably in the future and bring even more advances from our labs into our lives, as well as expand teaching and training opportunities for our great students. It is something public research universities must do, and we can be among the very best in this regard. It can lead to better trained students, new industries, new jobs and a better life for everyone.
However, we are all also cognizant, I am certain, of the economic shadows that have marked the past several years and their dire effects upon our University’s funding. Recent revenue projections from Olympia reveal that the worst is not yet over, and we will continue to face enormous economic challenges in the future. We have managed to weather the storm, watching our support from the state diminish while students have had to bear significant increases in tuition. As a short-term strategy, so far that has worked, but it is not a model that is sustainable for the long term. In my discussions this summer with legislators, the Governor and business leaders, I have discerned increasing support for higher education and understanding of the predicament in which we find ourselves and an eagerness to try to find a solution. I believe there is a growing sense that higher education is an investment in the future and that we must find a way to preserve our universities, to ensure stable, predictable revenue streams and to make higher education accessible to all qualified students. I have been heartened by these conversations and look forward to working with the business community and our elected leaders to find ways that enable the University to pursue its ambitions and remain an engine of prosperity for our state and our students.
And terrific students they are! The preliminary data regarding our entering freshman and graduate classes are extraordinary. When the final results are in, I will share more details with all of you, but even now it is clear that this is our most accomplished and perhaps most diverse class ever.
I have also been heartened by the enormous amount of support for the University that exists in our community and among our alumni. I have met already with numerous alumni and friends in Seattle and throughout the state, as well as in California and on the East Coast and elsewhere. I anticipated warmth, but I have been surprised in my first months by the exceptional depth of feeling and commitment on the part of all our supporters. That commitment was manifest in the results of this year’s fundraising efforts. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, at a time of considerable economic stress, our donors set a record in their giving to the University—$335 million. With that kind of support, the extraordinary efforts of our faculty and staff and the ever-increasing number of people who are eager to speak out on behalf of our University, I know we can transcend the current economic times and remain one of the world’s great universities. Indeed, as a close friend of mine always reminds me, despite our challenges, the best is yet to come.
Forgive me for going on so long in this message. I promise future ones will be briefer. I look forward to getting to know more and more of you and to serving as your president for many years to come.
Michael K. Young