Utah State University President Stan L. Albrecht pulls up a chair in his Old Main office and draws a single, steady breath. The act provides reassuring evidence that, despite a personal calendar more heavily inked than the Library of Congress, the man is indeed human. Breathing, once in a while, is good.
Still, these are busy days for Albrecht, and in his own words, “pivotal and historic” days for the extended Utah State University family. Since March 2, when he publicly announced Honoring Tradition, Securing Our Future: The Campaign for Utah State University, the buzz surrounding Utah’s expanding jewel of higher education has upsurged to a roar.
Whether he’s in meetings with the editorial boards of The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret Morning News, or in individual conversations with members of outlying chambers of commerce, “Everyone’s talking about Utah State,” Albrecht says. “They’re seeing our successes; they’re sensing the excitement, the enthusiasm. They’re sensing the momentum.”
So today, like every day, the president is perfectly comfortable answering more questions about the $200 million goal, about the institution the campaign will shape and about the lives they will collectively change. With what he calls “an awfully good team in place,” he is comfortable leading this crescendo. As former provost and dean of USU’s College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Albrecht has watched the idea of the university’s first-ever comprehensive campaign germinate from probably-ought-to status, to its present and urgent, definitely-have-to reality.
On Founders Day, at the campaign kickoff, mere moments before early-spring fireworks blossomed over the tower on Old Main, Albrecht took another breath and confidently proclaimed: “This is our time; this is the right thing.”
When he was being recruited as dean of the College of HASS, Albrecht learned Utah State University was about to embark on its “first comprehensive campaign,” and that as dean he would play an important role. A few years later, with Albrecht serving as provost, a renewed enthusiasm to launch the university’s first comprehensive campaign was again percolating.
“For a long period of time, this institution has gone through stops and starts, studies and consultants, evaluations and the dozens of other things that accompany any campaign,” Albrecht says. “Clearly, we need to do it. Given the state of the business of higher education, this is an important part of how today’s institutions function.
We have to find ways to extend a diversified funding base and this campaign is one way to do that.”
But more important, says Albrecht, is the fact that USU today “is in a better position in terms of preparation” than it has ever been. The newly expanded and reinvigorated Utah State University Foundation, a dedicated, impassioned group of business and community leaders, stands eager to boost the Aggie profile. And having in place what Albrecht calls “an outstanding management team” – of deans, vice presidents, the provost, development professionals, and an engaged faculty and staff – makes sharing the Utah State story ever more compelling.
“There were just lots of things happening that positioned us to launch a campaign now,” says Albrecht. “It’s something we had to do. If we didn’t do it during my presidency, we might as well say we’re not going to do it.”
“A bold and courageous step”
At the campaign kickoff on Founders Day, President Albrecht addressed the capacity crowd in the Evan L. Stevenson Ballroom and reminded Utah State’s alumni and friends that they were part of an historic evening, a pivotal season in USU’s existence.
“Over the 119 years since our founding, there have been many events and accomplishments worthy of celebration,” he said. “Tonight takes its place among the most significant of these. I believe that the journey we begin will be transformative in its impact. I believe we will look back on this as a time when, together, we took a bold and courageous step on the path toward building a university of excellence and distinction.”
Weeks later, in the relative quiet of his office, sans the fanfare and spotlights, Albrecht reinforces the dream. He explains that this campaign’s impact is about more than simply being the university’s first. “It’s also the first time we will have announced a successful comprehensive campaign; it’s the first time we will have built an endowment that will give us the resources to truly transform lives.”
The new Performance Hall, the Romney Stadium North Endzone Project, the building up of Utah State’s regional campuses: “We’re seeing the face of the university change,” Albrecht says. “We’re putting in place the kinds of things that I think will be critical to higher education, not only in northern Utah, but to higher education throughout the state and throughout the nation.”
More than just money
The stated goal for Honoring Tradition, Securing Our Future: The Campaign for Utah State University is to raise $200 million before December 2010. “That will stretch us,” Albrecht says, and it will require renewed, deepened support through gifts – large and small - from a diverse pool of USU alumni, donors and friends. But more than half of the money is already in.
The true power of the campaign, says Albrecht, lies not in reaching its formidable goal, but perhaps in its ability to reconnect those same people to the institution that continues to shape their lives. Campaign power lies in enhancing USU’s ability to extend its land-grant ideal of sharing the benefits of higher education with the masses. Power lies in legacy.
“Do we end up with $200 million or do we end up with $300 million?” asks Albrecht. “I’m not sure what the number will be at the end of the day, but that number is far less important than having put in place the foundation for a next president to come in here and do a $600 million campaign, or something more,” Albrecht says.
“It isn’t the dollars that are important; it’s what we do with the dollars, because we change lives. That’s what Utah State University has always been about. A campaign simply creates a much more focused emphasis on what it is we’re trying to do and achieve as an institution. And we’ll be successful because our donors understand that.”
“That’s the easy part.”
He’s got time for another breath. With one ankle on one knee, Albrecht leans into the back of his chair and adds a bonus smile. The questions continue to fly and he knows there are surely more to come – in public settings and in private, in large gatherings and among close friends. But he’s just spent yet another hour celebrating Utah State, personally honoring its traditions and securing its future. He can handle that. He can handle asking people to stretch themselves, to open their pocketbooks, to augment their volunteer spirit, to tap into their physical strength, intellectual capacity and their social influence.
“That’s the easy part,” says Albrecht, “because we have an amazing product. Utah State is an easy story for us to tell. Our research success, the quality of our students, national rankings among colleges, exceptional programs that are among the best in the country; if you relate it to buying stock in a company, Utah State is an incredible investment.”
“We are not asking you to help us launch a campaign,” he said, “We’re asking you to help us continue to build a university – one that is nestled and protected in this beautiful, high-mountain valley, but also one to which the world will increasingly look as a model of excellence and achievement.
“There has never been a time when higher education is more important. It truly is the hope for this generation and for the future security and safety of our world. It is not an option; it is a necessity. Our campaign will secure our place in addressing this need.”
And with that, he breathed life into USU history. —Jared Thayne ’99