Photo of President Eric Kaler on CWRU campus

State of the University 2021

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 2021.

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

As we look ahead to a new year, we should take time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished in 2021 and take stock of the good we do and the impact we have on our campus community and beyond. 

Our world has changed and so have we. Yet we persist, knowing that finding sustainable solutions to our time’s most pressing issues—the global pandemic, racial and social injustice, economic disparity, climate change and more—depends on our ability to become even more important forces for positive change right here at Case Western Reserve. 

Interim University President Scott Cowen was a significant source of change. From October of 2020 through June of 2021, he guided this university through some of its most challenging and uncertain times. For his many contributions to Case Western Reserve—including his continued service as a trustee and as a former professor and dean of the Weatherhead School of Management—Interim President Cowen was awarded the University Medal in October 2021. 

I and many others will be forever grateful for his stewardship of this university. 

Throughout this pandemic, our COVID-19 Response Team has maintained a laser focus on the health and safety of our campus. The team guided us to achieving our goal of 100% compliance with our vaccine mandate, a return to in-person classes, student activities and events, as well as full occupancy of our dorms. The team also oversaw our surveillance testing and COVID-19 protocols. We are grateful for and depend on their continued diligence, thoughtfulness and expertise. 

In addition, the university has offered vaccination and booster clinics not just for our campus community, but for the broader Cleveland community. Last March, we partnered with Cleveland health officials to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to eligible members of the public. This fall, we offered vaccine clinics for the children and dependents of members of our campus community. We also partnered with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District to offer vaccine clinics for the students and parents of two nearby elementary schools—Willson School and Wade Park School. 

None of this would have been possible without our excellent staff—staff members like Jason Bradshaw, Maggie Kaminski and Paul Owens, winners of the 2021 President’s Award for Distinguished Service, and Fred Peck and Megan Koeth, who were named 2021 COVID-19 champions—whose dedication and expertise ensure the safe and efficient daily operations of our university.  

Indeed, this year, we found a way to move forward while protecting ourselves, each other and the broader community.

And, now our community once again will join together to address the challenges that will arise from the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. We are grateful to faculty, staff and students for complying with the recent COVID-19 vaccine booster mandate

We also had much to celebrate. 

Last winter, the Black Law Student Association’s Mock Trial team came in first out of 37 teams in the Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition, earning the right to represent the Midwest Region at the National Mock Trial Competition. And our student-run CWRU Emergency Medical Service was awarded the 2021 Collegiate EMS Organization of the Year Award by the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation.

Last spring, our Spartan men’s tennis team earned a record-setting second-place finish in the NCAA Men’s Tennis Championship, and the CWRU Motorsports team earned two first-place finishes at a National Baja SAE competition in Louisville. 

When we returned to campus in August, we welcomed more than 1,600 first-year students—our largest, most diverse and most academically talented class of first-year students ever. 

At convocation, we welcomed bestselling poet and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith to speak and we honored Timothy Beal, Faye Gary, Mukesh Jain, and John Lewandowski as Distinguished University Professors. 

This fall, we also dedicated a completely renovated Fribley Commons and the stunning Phase II of the Maltz Performing Arts Center

And at our Homecoming 2021 celebration in October, we welcomed students, families, alumni, friends and supporters back to campus for a weekend of events. Members of the Class of 2020 returned for a special ceremony in their honor, the LGBT Center celebrated its tenth anniversary, the School of Law student lounge was rededicated as Ben’s Place (named for former federal district Judge Ben C. Green) and our Spartan football team defeated Geneva College 42-38 in the Homecoming game.

Our professors and researchers continue to perform life-saving and life-enhancing research and to serve as advocates for important social causes that impact our communities near and far. Here are just a few examples:

Blanton S. Tolbert, the Rudolph and Susan Rense Professor of Chemistry at the College of Arts and Sciences and Vice Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the School of Medicine, teamed with researchers from Duke and Rutgers universities to identify compounds within the coronavirus genome that have the potential to block its ability to replicate. 

Under the direction of Donnell Institute Professor of Biomedical Engineering Anant Madabhushi, researchers from the Center for Computational Imaging and Personalized Diagnostics (CCIPD) at the School of Engineering are using artificial intelligence to find better ways to treat patients with small cell lung cancer, determine which rectal cancer patients need surgery, and help public health and other officials make more informed decisions when faced with infectious disease outbreaks.

Earlier this month, Madabhushi joined Sharona Hoffman, the Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law and professor of bioethics, and Daniel Scherson, the Frank Hovorka Professor of Chemistry, as recipients of the Faculty Distinguished Research Award. The award is bestowed annually to Case Western Reserve faculty whose work has driven advancement in their fields through research or creative endeavors.

Stephanie Griggs, a Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing nurse-scientist, is studying the critical role that regular restful sleep may play in better controlling Type 1 diabetes for young adults living on their own for the first time. 

Ayesha Bell Hardaway, associate professor of law and co-director of the Social Justice Institute, is a highly sought expert source by the national news media for her valuable insight, commentary and context on police reform and racial and social injustice. 

Researchers at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center, led by Youwei Zhang, an associate professor of pharmacology at the School of Medicine, found that breast tumors with high levels of the protein-coding gene MYO10 respond favorably to immune checkpoint blockade therapy, an innovative cancer treatment. 

A team from the National Initiative on Mixed-Income Communities at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences coordinated an effort that resulted in a $35 million federal award to the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and the City of Cleveland. The funds will be used to redevelop the Buckeye-Woodhill neighborhood with 638 mixed-income units, a new health clinic, an early childhood education center and retail space. 

Dental medicine professor Anita Aminoshariae led a multidisciplinary national study to develop guidelines for endodontic surgery patients on blood thinners, which increases the risk of bleeding. 

And researchers at the Weatherhead School of Management found that banking apps that automate saving money are effective, particularly for low-income earners, but that they are not a long-term solution to achieving financial wellness. 

Once again, Case Western Reserve was fortunate to receive generous gifts from supporters, friends and alumni. 

Amit K. Maitra (WSOM ’06) and his wife, Julie Binder Maitra, made a $10 million commitment, split equally between the Case School of Engineering and the Weatherhead School of Management.

Alumni John (MED ‘86) and Catherine (CWR ‘77, NUR ‘81) Seibyl made a transformative $7.5 million commitment to the School of Medicine and the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing to support multidisciplinary research in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

An anonymous donor committed an additional $10 million challenge gift to support five more endowed professorships at the School of Medicine and professorships or fellowships at the Case School of Engineering. The gift was added to an original $20 million gift made by the same donor three years ago. 

Alumnus Kevin Kranzusch (CWR ‘90) committed an additional $5 million to the computer and data sciences department at the Case School of Engineering to create two endowed professorships and to establish a program to bring high-potential graduate students, to be known as Kranzusch Fellows, to the department. 

And finally, Milton and Tamar Maltz committed an additional $5 million to name the foyer in the Maltz Performing Arts Center in honor of President Emerita Barbara R. Snyder.

We are grateful for these gifts and for all the gifts we received this year. This support directly impacts our students and the overall mission of this university.

I look forward to collaborating with the new members of our leadership team. This includes the Vice Provost and Lindseth Family University Librarian Yolanda Cooper, Dean of the School of Medicine and Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs Stan Gerson, and Dean of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences Dexter Voisin. Dean Gerson began his role on October 1. Both incoming Vice Provost Cooper and incoming Dean Voisin begin their new positions on January 1, 2022. 

And finally, our leadership team has been laying the groundwork for some positive changes in 2022. Earlier this month, we announced the members of the search committee for our next senior vice president for research and technology management, a position that has been elevated to report directly to me. Relatedly, the Technology Transfer Office (TTO) is now under the direction of the Office of the General Counsel—a move that will enhance TTO’s operations and collaborative activities. We’ve also launched the Community Engagement Task Force to help us enhance, communicate about and measure community engagement efforts. 

These past six months as university president have been rewarding and encouraging. My wife, Karen, and I have enjoyed meeting so many of you. Case Western Reserve is a first-rate university with so much potential to do more and be more. Buoyed by our strongest financial position in years and the collective commitment of our excellent faculty and staff, we can achieve our priorities of elevating academic excellence, expanding research and enhancing our community engagement.

Thank you for all you’ve done in 2021. Your consistent and tremendous work keeps us moving forward so that we can become the university community we want to be. Together, we will continue to accomplish great things. 

Be well and stay safe. I wish you all a peace-filled and relaxing winter break. 


Eric W. Kaler