President Graham B. Spanier giving his State of the University address on Friday, Sept. 11,
on the University Park campus.
Photo: Greg Grieco
By Alan Janesch
Editor's note: For full text of speech, point your Web browser to http://www.psu.edu/ur/GSpanier/stateofuniv98.html
During the three years that Graham B. Spanier has been president of Penn State, the University has seen a historic merger with The Dickinson School of Law, the creation of the Penn State Geisinger Health System, the launching of The Schreyer Honors College, record-breaking enrollment and fund raising, the reorganization of its 24-campus system and its Cooperative Extension programs, an overhauled general education program, and the creation of its World Campus distance education initiative.
In his fourth annual State of the University address Sept. 11, Spanier outlined the remarkable progress of all of these initiatives and credited the University's faculty, students and staff, Board of Trustees and alumni with being the foundation for the University's advances.
Before a crowd in Eisenhower Auditorium, Spanier devoted much of his address to a review of the broad state of the University and detailed many specific instances of University progress. He also hailed the board's approval earlier in the day of a proposal for a new School of Information Sciences and Technology (see story on page 4).
But before he addressed those issues, Spanier spoke candidly about his personal concerns for today's students and offered a strong message about social responsibility.
"We attract some of the best young minds in America here," Spanier said. "But something is wrong. The problem is that many of today's undergraduates come to us as experienced drinkers -- 34 percent of surveyed college students were binge drinkers in high school. Moreover, binge drinking has become a popular activity among today's college students."
Spanier emphasized that binge drinking -- the consumption of five or more drinks in one sitting by males or at least four drinks by females -- is not uniquely a Penn State problem. National and local data show that nearly half of today's college students engage in binge drinking, he said. One-fourth of students at universities like Penn State, including selective Big Ten and Ivy League schools, binge drink three or more times in a given two-week period.
"Binge drinking has become institutionalized," Spanier said. "The practice has become more accepted among participants as it has increasingly become a part of their social and personal life. Organizations, commercial establishments and other entities may actually support the activity."
Spanier said unequivocally that Penn State will continue to promote civic and social responsibility among its students.
"To those students and alumni who have written to me to say that this should not be a University priority, I ask you to put yourself in my shoes. I challenge each of you to think about having to place a call or write to the parents of a student who has died on or near campus. You need to do this only once before a profound sense of responsibility washes over you. You will never forget the burden."
Penn State has redoubled its efforts to address the problem of binge drinking, and -- although there is a long way to go -- is making progress, Spanier said.
"Let me say to all high school students: if you are interested in Penn State because of the attraction of binge drinking, please go somewhere else," he said.
On the board's approval of the new information sciences and technology school, Spanier noted that the school will help meet urgent workforce needs in fast-growing information technology industries and also help students in other fields develop the information technology skills needed throughout society and the marketplace. The University hopes to welcome the first students into the school next fall.
The president also highlighted the University's progress in interdisciplinary initiatives such as the Life Sciences Consortium and the Children, Youth and Families Consortium.
The Life Sciences Consortium is a "virtual organization" that spans six colleges and works to promote research between the life science disciplines and other disciplines and to provide a learning environment that integrates research and teaching, theory and practice. The Children, Youth and Families Consortium is intended to contribute to the prevention and solution of problems such as violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, malnutrition and illiteracy.
Spanier said the Life Sciences Consortium, now in the third year of a five-year special funding commitment, is gaining visibility. Four faculty were added last year, seven arrived this year, 13 searches are under way, and 53 students are now enrolled in the new integrative biosciences graduate degree program.
The Children, Youth, and Families Consortium, Spanier said, "is organizing working groups to promote interdisciplinary research, intervention, education and outreach related to four themes: preventing health risk and problem behaviors; family change in a changing world; rural communities in an urban society; and understanding and promoting cognitive, social, civic and academic development."
Spanier also outlined other initiatives begun or stepped up under his leadership and highlighted their early signs of success, including:
-- Funding 105 new faculty positions this year, on top of 100 added last year, to implement Penn State's new general education requirements.
-- Expanding the University's role in workforce development. Penn State is the second largest provider of technical and occupational associate degree graduates in the state. With the Pennsylvania College of Technology, Penn State offers about 90 such programs.
-- Strengthening the connections between Penn State and the marketplace. Last year, 379 Pennsylvania companies invested in Penn State research projects. Penn State's research and technology transfer activities created hundreds of jobs and resulted in 20 companies started and 27 products commercialized.
-- Doing more to prepare students for the future by exposing them to a variety of cultures and international perspectives, fostering a humane University community and developing social responsibility, citizenship and respect for others. As part of its strategic plan for the next five years, Penn State will be implementing a plan called "A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State," which identifies specific actions units can take to meet the plan's three goals.
-- Staying on schedule with the five-year, $500-million capital construction plan. One year into the plan, projects at University Park include the construction of the Paterno Library and the HUB/Paul Robeson Center; the Leonhard Building for the College of Engineering and a new research center for engineering and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences; a general-purpose classroom building addition to the Thomas Building; a multi-sport and indoor track facility; a visitor center; a child-care center; an expansion of Eisenhower Chapel; and an alumni center.
Spanier concluded his address by ticking off the results of Penn State's increased emphasis on the integration of teaching, research and service.
"New research grants and contracts jumped 10 percent last year. Applications for admission increased by 4,000. Private giving rose 30 percent.
"Compared with five years ago, statewide surveys show that there's been an 8 percent increase in public awareness of Penn State's contributions to Pennsylvania, and a 5 percent increase in our reputation in the eyes of citizens," he said.
"I am astounded by how much you are doing, how efficiently you are doing it, the good spirit you bring to the task, and the difference it is making in our communities," Spanier told the audience.
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