A graduate of Duke University, incoming University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst reassured the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce Monday morning that she had UConn in both of her NCAA brackets this year.
Introduced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Herbst opened her remarks by acknowledging her counterparts in the Connecticut State University and Community College systems, by telling them she wants to be their partner. Malloy’s higher education consolidation plan keeps the CSU system and the community college system separate from the University of Connecticut, which concerned some lawmakers. The consolidation effort made it out the legislature’s Higher Education Committee last week.
Herbst also told the more than 1,000 attendees that Connecticut deserves a flagship public university that rivals the University of Michigan and Berkley. In order to get there Herbst said her focus will be on academic achievement at all levels.
“There’s no niche for us to fill. There’s no crafty back route to this through public relations or sly rhetoric. That’s not how you get to the top,” Herbst said.
She said the faculty is the future economic engine of UConn. She said the university is not where it should be as far as technology transfer, licensing, and industry relations, UConn is not without its accomplishments. In the last 12 years, 226 patents, 35 companies, and 97 active technology licenses have been generated through UConn. And external funding for faculty research has increased 137 percent since 1996 to over $233 million today.
But Herbst wants to take the university further.
She said investing in the economic development infrastructure at UConn will create jobs and will create revenue. She plans to help the university succeed on this goal.
She said she also wants to make sure the students are critical thinkers and wants to create a culture of argument at the university in pursuit of that goal. She said she wants to create an atmosphere “where all ideas are challenged and where no one is lazy.”
Branding will also be a part of Herbst’s mission and as an outsider she said she has a pretty good idea of what the rest of the world thinks about the university.
“UConn is a very good, very large, comprehensive university with top-tier athletics,” Herbst said. “Our amazing student-athletes have done their part to put us on the international map with their incredible discipline, their talents, their achievements year after year.”
“We now have to build on the ground they have constructed for us and follow the examples of a UCLA or Chapel Hill where people realize athletic success is matched with outstanding academics,” Herbst said.
Getting to that brand at UConn should not be so hard since strong academics already exist, but it’s a matter of getting that brand beyond New England, Herbst said.
Herbst whose tenure will start in June said she knows it will be difficult to brand the university, but “I will be guided by our aspirations, and not by fear of criticism.”
Malloy who had a hand in picking Herbst for the job also announced Monday that he will be reappointing Larry McHugh to the Uconn Board of Trustees. McHugh, who also heads the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Malloy joked he should have made that announcement on the campaign trail. Malloy gave the audience what seemed to be a pep talk and told them Connecticut has a tendency to focus on what it can’t do instead of all the great things it has done and will do.
“I didn’t become governor for four years to do what other people have done,” Malloy said. “To kick the can down the road.”
He reiterated his commitment toward finding a balance between spending cuts and tax increases. A position which seems to have everyone upset about the proposed budget.
Asked if the University of Connecticut’s proposal to increase tuition later this week by 2.5 percent is reasonable, Malloy said “they did exactly what I asked them to do and that was to not increase tuition greater than the inflation rate.”
The UConn Board of Trustees is expected to vote on the increase later this week.