It wasn’t until Friday that Susan Herbst was formally inaugurated as the University of Connecticut’s 15th president, but long before the ceremony celebrating her arrival she was engaged in the challenges facing the school.
Since being sworn in three months ago, Herbst has made several major decisions for the university, including finding new leadership for the UConn Health Center and the athletic department, helping with the completion of a new technological park, setting new research and endowment goals and increasing UConn’s economic presence in the state.
“The Board of Trustees and our governor have challenged me to take UConn to a new level,” Herbst said. “I am humbled by your trust in me and inspired by the work ahead.”
“Susan doesn’t do anything small,” said the inauguration’s keynote speaker, Professor William Hitchcock of the University of Virginia, a friend and former colleague of Herbst.
Other inaugural speakers stressed her ability to think globally, which may prove important as she confronts the various challenges ahead of her this year.
The university must cut about $68 million from its $1 billion budget proposal made earlier this year after sizable cuts in state and federal funding. For much of the year, UConn faced a projected $49.5 million budget shortfall, later compounded with an additional $20 million deficit after the passing of the union concession agreement.
UConn enacted a 2.5 percent tuition increase earlier this year–its smallest hike in years–to mitigate the budget shortfall. Tuition and fees will now make up a greater portion of the university’s revenue than state funding. Chief Financial Officer Richard Gray said the Board of Trustees will review a revised budget proposal, delayed since June, on Sept. 28 after discussing new ways to reduce expenses.
The cuts in funding come at a time when many students already find it hard to get into classes they need for a four year graduation. Herbst calls it UConn’s “biggest challenge,” or the ability to protect the “academic core” by hiring enough faculty to provide the classes that students need to graduate in a timely matter.
In addition to making major budget cuts, Herbst must also work to make the UConn Health Center a state leader in bioscience after the passage of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Bioscience Connecticut,” an $864 million plan to renovate and expand the health center.
“The governor and the legislature made an extraordinary investment in UConn and our Health Center and the university must build, develop and manage this project very wisely and effectively,” said university spokesman Michael Kirk.
Herbst will also help with the search for an important new staff position, vice president for economic development, to help the university improve business incubation and technology transfer. Herbst has said she thinks UConn has done a good job as a statewide economic force, but it could do better.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spoke at the inauguration, emphasizing UConn’s role as an economic powerhouse in the state.
“I understand that the future of Connecticut as a great place to live and work partially rests on this institution and its other institutions of higher education,” he said.
In addition to academics, UConn relies for growth on its reputation as a research institution and athletics powerhouse. Herbst said she hopes to further strengthen both areas, which attract so many faculty members, students and–most crucial–funding.
“UConn is a growing comprehensive research university, and we want precisely what institutions like ours always seek: high achievement, discovery and relevance in the lives of our students and in the economic development of our state,” Herbst said.
Last week, U.S. News & World Report ranked UConn as 19th among national public research universities for 2012, up from 27th in 2011. UConn is also coming off a Men’s Basketball National Championship and a national record-breaking streak of undefeated wins from the Women’s Basketball Team.
“Just as we celebrate this wonderful news that we’re being recognized as one of the most outstanding public universities, I know and you should know, that she’s not satisfied,” Malloy said.
“While I’m not claiming to have all the answers, I do know that we can and will do better in teaching argument and encouraging even more engagement,” Herbst said. “The immense power of UConn is in our astounding breadth.”
The university’s current endowment from philanthropic support sits around $312.5 million, its best number in three years. Herbst hopes to increase that number to $1 billion as a long term goal.