Photo of President Eric Kaler on CWRU campus

2023 State of the University

Editor’s Note: After consultation with the Faculty Senate in 2014, the president’s annual State of the University report transitioned from a spoken address to a written account. Below is the edition for 2023.

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

As I share this message during such turbulent times, I simply cannot overstate the critical role that institutions like ours must play in leaving this world better than we found it. Education builds knowledge and, we hope, understanding. Research changes lives. Our ability to advance both makes our societies—and our world—better. Unfortunately, change takes time. Often, more time than we want, and sometimes, more than we have. 

There are ample reasons to feel sadness or grief at the moment. Yet when I consider the work and the impact of the people of this university over the past year, I also feel tremendous pride, encouragement and, importantly, hope. 

As a university community of faculty, staff, undergraduate students, graduate and professional students, and postdocs, we are tackling the world’s challenges head on. We are working across the university and across disciplines to find new ways to work together and solve problems. We are making a difference.

2023 Highlights

There is much to celebrate as we reflect on 2023.

We have remained laser-focused on our priorities, which are the same as they were the day that I joined the university in 2021: to elevate academic excellence; expand research and enhance community engagement. As always, we are committed to cultivating a campus that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

The financial health of our university is strong. We ended Fiscal Year 2023 in June with a $17 million surplus, which was better than our expected surplus of $14 million. We also posted our second-highest-ever fundraising year, raising nearly $185 million for scholarships, professorships and more. 

There also continues to be strong demand for a Case Western Reserve University education at all levels. Our fall 2023 undergraduate enrollment is nearly 6,200 students and our graduate enrollment is nearly 6,100 students. Notably, this is the first time our undergraduate population has outnumbered our graduate and professional student population since the university began tracking this trend data in 1990.

The Class of 2027 includes about 1,550 students who came from a record 39,000 applicants—that’s double the number of applicants we had just ten years ago. Clearly, students are seeking out Case Western Reserve for our valuable combination of outstanding faculty and staff, campus life, research opportunities, and real-world experiences. 

Our research enterprise is moving steadily ahead and progressing on our goal to grow annual research expenditures from $400 million, where they were two years ago, to $600 million. In fact, we are estimating that our research spend for FY 2023 is $542 million. This is good news and an indicator of the growing strength of our research enterprise. A sample of awards we received this year includes:

  • A seven-year, $56.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to the School of Medicine’s Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative to continue and expand initiatives that improve people’s health in Northern Ohio and beyond.
  • A $10 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to the Human Fusions Institute to develop and demonstrate capabilities of stand-off robotics for mine clearing and deep-sea cable maintenance.
  • A three-year $6 million grant from Ohio’s federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars to combat the growing opioid addiction crisis through the creation of a Substance Use Disorders “Center of Excellence” in partnership with the university’s Center for Evidence-Based Practices, which is part of the Mandel School’s Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education.
  • A $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to a regional collaboration led by CWRU to plan economic, environmental and manufacturing growth across the Northeast Ohio region—the award permits the team to compete for as much as $160 million from the NSF Engines Program in 2025.
  • A $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to a team of CWRU researchers to reimagine steel production to develop innovative and low-cost processes to replace blast furnaces in ironmaking.
  • A $492,000 Mellon Foundation grant to two assistant professors of history at the College of Arts and Sciences to provide a more accurate and comprehensive narrative of Black and Native American political life in the United States before the modern Civil Rights movement.

We continue to recognize excellence among our faculty. At our Fall Convocation, we honored three new Distinguished University Professors

  • Daniel Flannery, the Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Professor at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences; 
  • Elina Gertsman, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities and acting chair for the Department of Art History and Art; and 
  • Fabio Cominelli, a professor of medicine and professor of pathology at the School of Medicine and director of the Digestive Health Research Institute and chief of the Division of Gastroenterology and Liver Disease at the University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

This fall, the Office of the Provost re-envisioned the Division of Student Affairs and improved undergraduate student advising structures so that students have four-year advisors who support them through their academic journey and provide guidance on academic success. Also, the Unified General Education Requirements have been put in place so that all undergraduates who entered the university this fall have a single set of core requirements across all schools and the College. We believe these changes, among others underway, will positively impact our students’ success and sense of belonging, as well as our first-to-second year retention and four-year graduation rates.

Our Athletics Department enjoyed its most successful year ever. Four of our 17 varsity sports teams (men’s tennis, women’s soccer, softball and men’s basketball) were University Athletic Association champions. Also, 12 of them qualified for the NCAA Division III championships. Of course, none of us can forget the joy of the Spartan men’s tennis team when they clinched the university’s first-ever NCAA Division III championship in May after back-to-back years as runners-up. 

We continue to seek new ways to increase engagement among faculty and staff. In May, we initiated a new Clap Out tradition to celebrate our graduates as they processed through the Case Quad to Convocation at the Veale Convocation, Recreation and Athletic Center. We hosted another open house event at Harcourt House earlier this month to gather faculty and staff over food and drink. This past fall, the provost and I also changed the format of our university update, delivering our message by recorded video, so that we could spend more time answering questions in our meetings with each of the schools and the College as well as UGEN departments. This is in addition to work at each of the schools and the College that’s being led by members of the Engagement Committee. Bit by bit, we are building stronger connections and relationships within our teams and across the university.

There were several initiatives announced this year that will expand opportunities for our students and advance groundbreaking research. The Sara and Curt Moll Institute for Mental Health and Well-Being will combine research, education, clinical collaborations and community outreach to help address the growing mental health crisis in Northeast Ohio and beyond. The Experimental Humanities Initiative will integrate education in the humanities more deeply with the sciences and engineering. The Rare Cancer Initiative at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center aims to catalyze innovative approaches to identifying and treating rare cancers. The Population and Community Health Initiative will bring together the School of Medicine with Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, the School of Law, the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences, the College of Arts and Sciences and Weatherhead School of Management to eliminate disparities in healthcare and improve health outcomes for the people of Cleveland. 

What’s more, each of our schools and the College have accomplished a great deal in 2023. Among the highlights:

  • The College of Arts and Sciences has enjoyed tremendous success recruiting faculty through the Provost’s North Star Opportunity Hires initiative. North Star faculty are those who meet a scholarly need and who have a strong commitment to diversifying their departments and programs. The College currently has four North Star faculty—more than any other school. 
  • Case School of Engineering had several large-scale interdisciplinary research successes, highlighted by $86 million across 10 grants, including participation in two National Science Foundation Research Centers. 
  • Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing celebrated its centennial in October, graduated its first class of 32 nurse anesthesia students who earned the Doctor of Nursing Practice degree, and posted its highest year of funding ever—$6.6 million from the National Institutes of Health, plus an additional $2.8 million in non-federal funding.
  • The Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences substantially grew extramural research and training to $20.5 million, up from $14.7 million in 2021.
  • The School of Dental Medicine introduced robotics in clinical dental patient treatment with YOMI, a guided dental implant surgery robot, for osseous site preparation and placement.
  • At the School of Law, the 165 members of the spring/fall 2023 entering class had a median LSAT of 160 and a median GPA of a 3.7—that was up from a median 158 LSAT and a 3.5 GPA ten years ago.
  • The School of Medicine Graduate Education Office established relationships with other universities and attended several conferences to further develop relationships with students from underrepresented backgrounds who are planning to pursue graduate work in science.
  • Weatherhead School of Management launched the Business Information Technology major and welcomed another strong cohort of first-year undergraduate business students, following record-high enrollment in 2022.

We continue to deepen our relationships with our Cleveland and East Cleveland neighbors by serving the community in ways that meet their needs. For example, we announced plans to expand our Cleveland Scholars program so that beginning next fall, these newly entering students will receive the full cost of attendance to the university. Cleveland Scholars are students who are admitted to the university and who attended high school at a Cleveland Metropolitan School District or East Cleveland City Schools high school for their final two years. These students also will receive mentoring, and paid research or internship experience on campus. The news of this expansion was warmly received by local officials and I’m certain will help to strengthen our ties with the community.

Just before Thanksgiving, we joined together with our Neighborhood Advisory Council (NAC) to host a community dinner for 200 people at the Tinkham Veale University Center. Our guests came for food, fellowship and facilitated table discussions. The NAC will share the highlights of those discussions with me early next year so that we can fine tune our community engagement efforts and better serve our neighbors.

Looking ahead to 2024

The university was in a strong position when I joined Case Western Reserve in July 2021. This continues to be true and our outlook for 2024 is even stronger. 

I’m thrilled that on January 1, 2024, Joy K. Ward will become our next Provost and Executive Vice President. She has served as interim provost since July 1 when Ben Vinson III left the university to become president at Howard University. Joy joined the university in July 2020 as dean of the College of Arts and Science. As dean, she led dramatic growth in the College’s research, fundraising and interdisciplinary collaborations. Joy emerged as the clear choice after our national search that yielded many highly qualified candidates. We look forward to her leadership and to advancing academic excellence. 

We also will welcome Travis Apgar as our new vice president for student affairs in July 2024. Travis currently is the associate vice president and dean of students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He will join the university after 25 years of increasing responsibilities for students at Rensselaer, Cornell University and the State University of New York at Albany. Peter Whiting has graciously served as interim vice president for student affairs since last summer. I appreciate his willingness to step into the position and to do so with such success. 

We will fill other key leadership roles next year, including a new dean for the School of Law, as longtime co-Deans Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf announced they will step down in summer 2024, and a new permanent dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. I am grateful to Lee Thompson, who has served as interim dean since Joy Ward was appointed interim provost last July.

We will continue with plans to hire 100 net new tenured and tenure track faculty by 2028. This is an integrated effort across the university and across a variety of resource pools, with the ultimate intent of enhancing the vibrancy of our intellectual and scholarly community. We want to attract strong candidates who will both make an impact on society, and who represent strategic synergies and support a wide range of fields. The funding for these new faculty will come from reserves from the deans, resources from the Provost’s Office and the Office of Research and Technology Management, and philanthropic donations through endowed chairs and other sources. 

In 2024, several important construction projects are moving ahead or will be completed. This past November, we began the process of preparing Yost Hall for demolition to create space for the new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Building (ISEB). The ISEB will be just under 200,000-square feet of dedicated research space for the College of Arts and Sciences, the Case School of Engineering, the School of Medicine and selected others. Sixty-two principal investigators and their teams will work in the building, for a total occupancy of about 500. The total cost of the building is $300 million—half of which we’ll raise through philanthropy. Thanks to the generosity of our trustees, alumni and friends, we are nearly halfway toward our fundraising goal. We expect to raze Yost Hall next spring and begin construction on the ISEB in summer. We plan to open the building in 2026. 

We expect to open our two new residence halls in the South Residential Village in fall 2024 to second-year students. The halls will have capacity to accommodate 600 new student beds, bringing our total bed count for second-year students to about 1,400. The new complex will include a wellness area, study space, active lounges, meeting areas, outdoor volleyball, grills and hammocks. 

On the north end of campus, construction on the Wade Park Community Engagement Center continues on schedule with a planned opening of fall 2024. This building, located on Wade Park Avenue, will house our Local Government and Community Relations team and will serve as a space for neighborhood programming, tutoring for school children and services from our law clinics, among others. We are excited about this space and what it represents about our approach to community engagement—that we want to meet our neighbors where they are and in ways that meet their needs.

There is so much good happening across the university—this message provides only a snapshot of what you’ve accomplished. As we move ahead on our path to excellence, it is my hope that each of you feels and knows that your work and your dedication fuels our journey. I am grateful to the people of this campus community—faculty, staff, students, postdocs, neighbors, and Cleveland and East Cleveland residents—who are, every day, shaping Case Western Reserve into the best university that we can be. 

The world beyond us is fraught with challenges, yet we can be a space of hope, inclusion, peace, learning and understanding.

I wish all of you a happy holiday season and continued success in 2024. 


Eric W. Kaler