President Snyder outlines keys to CWRU’s success in State of the University address

In Friday’s State of the University Address to faculty and staff in Thwing Center Ballroom, President Barbara R. Snyder focused on three keys to the future success of Case Western Reserve University: controlling costs, increasing revenue and strengthening the university’s core: academic excellence.

The transcript of her speech is below.


State of the University Address, Noon, Friday, October 28, Thwing Ballroom

Gary Chottiner, chair of the Faculty Senate, introduces President Snyder.

President Snyder: Thank you, Gary. And thanks to all of you for coming today.

It is my distinct pleasure to be here to deliver my fifth State of the University address. As some of you may know, though, this year, this speech is not the top event of the fall for me. The actual highlight of this semester, if not the entire year, came just over two weeks ago—on Thursday, Oct. 13. On that historic day, we announced the single largest pledge in the history of the university: $50 million from The Weatherhead Foundation.

Yes, that was amazing, but no, it was not the highlight.

We also shared that the $50 million was part of a total of $80 million in gifts that we celebrated that night.

It was a remarkable moment, to be sure—yet again, not the highlight.

We also got to tell people that we were launching the public phase of our $1 billion capital campaign, and that we had raised more than $660 million in the so-called quiet phase.

True, it was terrific, but no—also not the highlight.

What WAS the highlight?

Well, it may not sound very presidential… and, I admit, it is not at all academic. Even so, I must be honest with you: the part of that evening that I most anticipated came when I was on the stage in Veale for the BlueBash. Behind me stood a massive, shiny drum set, with two dozen guitars flanking the drums on either side.

It was then that I told our students about the Weatherhead gift, and then about the capital campaign. Finally, I invited the students serving on the University Program Board to join me on the stage and then, I introduced the Goo Goo Dolls!

Now THAT was a once-in-a-lifetime moment. At least once in MY lifetime. I can’t sing. I don’t play an instrument. And, to be frank, I am well beyond the rock star demographic.

But, for that one exceedingly brief moment, I got a tiny taste of what it meant to be “cool.”

The next day it was back to Alumni Weekend and board of trustee meetings. On Saturday came the ride in the Homecoming Parade, where my hope is to someday have the number of people watching the parade actually equal the number in it. (The spectator count is growing, but yet again, we missed the goal. The crowd actually appeared larger than it was, because some people move to see the parade at different spots along the route!).

Clearly, my connection with “cool” was meant to be brief.

To top it off, Alumni Weekend rolled right into the Association of American Universities fall meeting, where I had the pleasure of being on a panel entitled, “Pressures on Undergraduate Education.”

The advance materials for the session carried headlines like: “Academics Face Questions About Their Pay and Their Product.” Articles recounted political battles in places like Texas and Florida—including Gov. Rick Scott’s attack on the value of anthropology degrees.

Here is what he said about graduates from this major to a business group this month: “Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs?”

As it turns out, an analysis of federal labor data shows that jobs in anthropology are forecast to climb by 28 percent over the next seven years—just two points behind the projections for increases in positions for computer software engineers.

While Gov. Scott’s argument neglected such key facts, we should not dismiss concerns about high unemployment among recent college graduates from all disciplines.

The national jobless rate stands at 9.1 percent—more than double the figure five years ago.  For new college graduates, the rate is 26 percent.

With the annual cost of attendance exceeding $50,000 at more than 120 institutions—including ours—we absolutely cannot begrudge parents and policymakers who press us to explain the actual value of higher education.

And yet, if we try to make a case using purely economic points, we betray our very roots. A university is a place that celebrates ideas, promotes understanding and encourages discovery. True, resources are required for these pursuits, and, in the best cases, they also can attract new revenues.

Yet, no matter how important balanced finances are—and, believe me, they are important—they are not our reason for being. We are here to change the world—to broaden perspectives, answer complex questions, cure disease and inspire creative endeavor.

We achieve these lofty goals through education and research that emphasizes excellence and innovation. Our financial health, graduates’ employability—these are results of what we do. But they are not, and cannot be the only drivers.

As Yale Law Professor Anthony Kronman wrote in his groundbreaking book, Education’s End:

“a college or university is not simply a place for the transmission of knowledge, but a forum for the exploration of life’s mystery and meaning.”

How do we maintain fidelity to these ideals at a time of dramatic transition? After all, it is not only politicians who apply pressure to the traditional university model. From 2003 to 2008, the proportion of university students who reported taking at least one online course climbed from 10 to 25 percent. By 2014, that figure is projected to reach 50 percent.

Earlier this month you may have read about a Stanford University professor’s course on artificial intelligence. There is the on-campus version, which counts for university credit and requires paying the school’s $40,000 in undergraduate tuition. And then there is the online version, which can yield a “statement of accomplishment” and is free. More than 160,000 people have registered for the non-credit course on the web.

In this context, a statement five years ago from the Spellings Commission’s report on the Future of Higher Education takes on particular weight.

“History is littered with examples of industries that, at their peril, failed to respond to—or even notice—changes in the world around them, from railroads to steel manufacturers…

Without serious self-examination and reform, institutions of higher education risk falling into the same trap, seeing their market share substantially reduced and their services increasingly characterized by obsolescence.”

And, almost on cue, this year Harvard Professor Clayton Christensen co-authored his own analysis, The Innovative University. The good news? As much as the book advocates dramatic change, it also recognizes the importance of institutions like ours: “… the ideal of the traditional university, with its mix of intellectual breadth and depth, its diverse campus social milieu, and its potentially life-changing professors is needed now more than ever.”  Precisely.

Our task going forward, then, is to recognize the pressures that exist—as well as the reality that we will need to embrace some significant changes to continue to flourish. We have begun some of those efforts—for example, launching academic initiatives overseas and exploring opportunities for online programs in some of our schools.

But, as Christensen emphasizes, we also must build on what we do best: provide unparalleled opportunities for learning and research on a campus so compact that rich interdisciplinary collaboration is as close as the colleague literally steps away in the building next door.

Our 2008 strategic plan, Forward Thinking, provided an outstanding blueprint to achieve such innovations, and we have made great strides toward realizing them. But we have so much more to do—in a context that is increasingly daunting.

How do we best advance from here? Three ways: control spending, increase revenues and strengthen our core academic excellence.

First, control spending: The cost of higher education has increased by more than 270 percent over the past 20 years, a pace that is nearly four times the rate of growth of the Consumer Price Index.

Meanwhile, the nation’s total student debt is expected to pass $1 trillion this year.

For the Class of 2010 at Case Western Reserve, average debt totaled just over $39,000—a figure that puts us among US News’ top 10 for schools whose graduates carry the greatest loan burdens.

As much as it pains me to say to a community that has endured constrained resources for several years running, we must be even more aggressive in managing spending increases.

You all are familiar with one major step in that direction, the redesign of our benefits plan for 2012. In recent years we had tried to rein in costs with more modest measures, including joining a prescription drug consortium, applying a spousal surcharge and launching volunteer wellness initiatives. Yet these were not enough to slow the alarming increases in expenses.

Over the past four years, in fact, they climbed nearly 45 percent—a rate two-thirds greater than the increase in health costs for all employers nationally. If we did nothing, the projected increase for 2012 was more than 10 percent—dollars that we then could not invest in faculty, research or other academic programs. So, we believed that we HAD to act.

After surveying our community and holding several town hall sessions, we created a plan to preserve choice—the priority you consistently identified as most important. We also added an annual deductible and coinsurance.

Carolyn Gregory and her team in Human Resources have held information sessions all over campus and, to date, nearly 900 of you have attended. I want to thank the Faculty Senate and its committees for making time to hear these presentations directly, as well as all of the staff who have attended briefings.

This week you should have received personalized letters at home that detailed how the different plans would impact you based on your 2010 medical claims. And your Benelect folders also went out this week in advance of next month’s open enrollment period.

Let me be clear: I realize that this change creates a new and unwelcome expense. I dearly wish that we did not have to impose it on any of you. I am pleased that we found a way to reduce the burden borne by employees earning less than $50,000, but obviously I would have preferred that none of you faced this new cost.

I do understand the perspective that some faculty have articulated—that this change is a decrease in their incomes.

It is particularly difficult to accept when our ability to provide significant raises in recent years also has been limited by our finances.

So, I want you know that we are committed to looking at salaries and retirement and medical benefits as part of overall compensation. After all, I know that our faculty are regarded as some of the most distinguished in the country – indeed, in the world.

I absolutely believe that your compensation should be commensurate with your achievements. We will do all that we can to realize that goal—within the boundaries of fiscal responsibility.

Second, increasing revenue: As many of you know, in Fiscal Year 2011, the university broke the all-time record for attainment by securing more than $126 million in gifts and pledges.

This amount exceeded the old record by nearly $3 million, and last year’s total by more than $10 million.

This success emerges first from the work of our faculty—it is your world-class teaching and research that has inspired so much investment. And I want to thank all of you for your extraordinary efforts to advance knowledge and understanding. I also want to acknowledge those faculty who have helped us convey the impact of their research. They have participated in presentations and talks to friends and alumni… in photo and video shoots for brochures and film pieces… and gave us detailed explanations of their work for all manner of other publications.

All of this takes tremendous time—and patience. We deeply appreciate your assistance and engagement.

Our fundraising success also is a tribute to the extraordinary generosity of our alumni and friends. They recognize the great potential that exists here on our campus, and truly appreciate its value to the world. We cannot thank our supporters enough for their confidence in Case Western Reserve and their willingness to commit to our mission.

Finally, this success is the result of remarkable work by our development staff. This year’s total is just $10 million short of doubling our outcome for the year before I got here.

Bruce Loessin has achieved a stunning turnaround, and we are deeply grateful to him and his team.

Now, for the sake of clarity, I should note that the overwhelming majority of these dollars are restricted to specific purposes—an endowed chair, perhaps, [or] a student scholarship, a program or a building project.

As a result, we cannot use the funds for other means—as one example, some have suggested we direct some of the millions announced Oct. 13 to spare employees benefit cost increases. I do understand that impulse, but the structure of most philanthropic commitments does not allow repurposing for those sort of expenses.

Another key source of revenue is research funding. In Fiscal Year 2011, we secured $421.5 million in grant support, nearly $2 million more than the previous year, and $55 million more than two years ago. This represents enormous efforts in pursuing and winning these awards, and I applaud your success.

As outstanding as these totals are, we believe that we can do even better. This month we named Professor Robert Miller our vice president for research.

We have charged him to bring new levels of coordination, strategic direction and results to our efforts. We expect to maintain our strength in securing federal dollars. We also want to bring in new resources through industry-sponsored research and enhanced efforts at commercialization. No pressure, Bob.

Third, strengthen our core—and this is academic excellence. As many of you know, in recent years we have improved dramatically the quality of our entering undergraduate classes. This past year, Rick Bischoff and his team capitalized on that progress by attracting a record number of applications—more than 13,000, an increase of about 44 percent.

This astounding leap drew the notice of The New York Times and its admissions blog, “The Choice,” and then in turn The Huffington Post, which in June named us one of the nation’s nine trendiest schools. We have great company on the list—places like Yale and Columbia. That is just the kind of company we seek.

Then, last month, The Washington Monthly ranked us seventh in the nation on its list of colleges that contribute to the common good. Finally, little more than a week later, US News released its annual rankings. After four straight years at 41st, we jumped three slots, to 38th.

I know that these rankings have their critics, and yes, they are imperfect measures.

But the US News website receives 10 million hits in the first days after the new lists arrive, and sells another 3 million printed copies. Research shows that rankings gains translate directly to improved selectivity, yield and students’ academic qualifications.

How else have we strengthened our core?

First, David Fleshler and his team continue to enhance our internationalization efforts, from the opening of our new physical space in Tomlinson to the launching of partnerships with institutions abroad for education and research.

Meanwhile, Marilyn Mobley and the Diversity Leadership Council continue their work to involve the community in strategic planning efforts to advance this priority across our campus.

Finally, our faculty and students continue to demonstrate their extraordinary vision and talent in multiple ways. In just the past few months, we have seen some examples:

  • Professor Sandy Markowitz and colleagues at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center secured $11.3 million in federal support to advance research on gastrointestinal cancers.
  • Professor John Chae won election to the Institute of Medicine in recognition of his contributions to the area of stroke rehabilitation—in particular with regard to the use of electrical stimulation to restore function.
  • Medical and Nursing Students came together to launch a student-run health program at the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland.

These young people are managing all of the aspects providing care—under the supervision of licensed physicians—on an entirely volunteer basis.

In addition, they also are raising funds to support the effort. Interest is so high that the students have a waiting list for the program, which grew out of a grant program that supported interdisciplinary learning among these future physicians and nurses.

But it was the students who saw the need and seized the opportunity to contribute even more to their own development AND the well-being of some of Cleveland’s neediest residents. It represents one more example of how much energy, ingenuity and compassion resides on our campus.

Which brings me to my final point.

The people of this university possess a wealth of institutional knowledge, creativity and dedication. You are spread across seven schools, one college and dozens of departments and units. From your individual vantage points, you see firsthand aspects of our operations and opportunities that are beyond my knowledge—or that of our senior leadership team.

In the face of the challenges I outlined earlier, we cannot allow your expertise to continue to go untapped. We need to hear your recommendations, your solutions, and your innovations.

That is why, starting next week, we will launch Bright Ideas, a campuswide effort to solicit your suggestions about ways that we can become more efficient and innovative.

We have modeled this initiative on successful efforts at other universities and believe it has immense potential to make us not only more effective, but also … yes, I’ll say it, truly forward thinking.

We still are finalizing details, so please watch The Daily next week for more information. I hope that you will consider contributing to this effort—I know that you can help us become an even better version of ourselves.

With that, I am going to leave you with a video clip that helps illustrate why I have so much confidence in you, and in the future of Case Western Reserve. Thank you.

To view the video, visit and click “Our Vision.”