THE BEGINNING OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR at USU is always a time of excitement and rejuvenation. As we greet the incoming class of students, I am reminded of one of the themes of Carl Sandburg's autobiography, Always The Young Stranger. Sandburg reminds us that our society is transformed each generation through the emergence of young strangers – young people who have the ability to lead us in the renewal of values and the sustenance of our culture. At Utah State University, each new academic year grants us the opportunity to participate in such renewal.
In addition to welcoming one of our largest and best prepared classes ever, we have experienced a number of other important milestones and realized increased national recognition for our excellence. For example, we are ranked in the Top 10 “most affordable” colleges in the nation and our students graduate with the least debt. We are first among all universities in the nation in money spent on aerospace research and development. Our College of Education and Human Services ranks in the top two percent out of over 1100 colleges of education. We are ranked in the top 20 among land-grant universities in the nation and in the top 10 land-grant universities without medical schools for federal research revenue generated. In recent weeks, we have held groundbreaking events for three important new teaching and research buildings on our campus – the Emma Eccles Jones Early Childhood Research and Teaching Building, our first Utah Science, Technology, and Research Building, and the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center at our Uintah Basin Campus.
Yet, as the semester has progressed, we have been increasingly confronted by the realities of the worldwide economic crisis. A calamity in the housing market quickly spread to the major financial institutions and is now affecting every sector of our economy. And the impacts of the downturn in state, national, and world economies are now extending to our university. In September, a special session of the Utah State Legislature imposed a significant budget reduction on most state institutions, including higher education. In our case, that has meant an immediate reduction of $6.5 million from our current fiscal year budget, and a similar reduction to our base budget for the next fiscal year.
As we have implemented that cut, we have worked hard to keep intact important priorities – to minimize direct financial impacts on our students, to be strategic by targeting the cuts so that we protect our long-term future by maintaining our core programs and functions, and to not undermine our effectiveness by negatively impacting revenue streams.
As difficult as these cuts have been, the continued freefall of the economy makes it clear that even more difficult budget reductions are ahead. One of our greatest concerns is that these will begin to threaten such important USU values as access, quality, and affordability.
In this context we must keep our message in front of legislators and others that the path to economic recovery goes directly through the public research universities and that to cripple that system will have long lasting consequences for our economy and our country. We must recognize the essential importance of higher education in our 21st century economy or we risk falling behind in the increasingly competitive global marketplace. And we must understand that without outstanding universities to train our teachers, our business and agricultural entrepreneurs, our engineers and health care workers, and our musicians, artists and humanists, our lives will be less rich. Anything that weakens our universities weakens the basic structure of our society.
Even in these difficult times, we are absolutely committed to continuing our efforts to make this very good university even better. That means continuing our comprehensive campaign with the extended goal we announced earlier this year, completing current building projects and beginning others and, most importantly, providing outstanding educational opportunities for our students as we continue to attract and retain a truly exceptional faculty and staff. We appreciate the wonderful support of the extended USU family as we extend this quest.
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USU President Stan Albrecht