Dr. John J. Petillo
University Day Address
September 20, 2005
Once again, I am privileged to welcome you to this year’s University Day. Indeed it is a day to celebrate who we are and what has been accomplished by the Academy since last we met. It is an opportunity for this community of learners and their colleagues to give testament to its research and clinical services.
The University has had remarkable growth in its brief but accomplished history. Growth is much more than quantity. For UMDNJ, growth must be understood in the context of quality and the depth of that quality.
In less than 40 years, the efforts of University faculty have placed us in the top 100 universities in research. Our graduates are among the finest health care professionals in the country and many have gone on to become faculty at other nationally recognized research universities. It is important to note that one out of three New Jerseyans have been treated by either a graduate or a member of our faculty. This University is and will continue to be at the forefront of health sciences and health care delivery. Yet at all times, we need to remember our core function and the reason we exist is because we are a "university". We are an institution dedicated to education and training. We need to function and conduct ourselves accordingly.
Certainly, the standing and reputation of any institution is shaped by a variety of sources. Appropriately, our accomplishments have been recognized by peers, professional organizations (nationally and internationally) and certifying agencies. Obviously, accreditation is fundamental to our credibility for recruitment and retention of students, faculty and all members of our University community.
Let me be very clear, focused and emphatic. In my stewardship, accreditation of the University and its schools is primary. There are and will be times when specific programs within schools will need to be evaluated as to their quality and future appropriateness. This is all part of the ongoing Strategic Planning process that so many within the University community participated for the 1st time.
Yet at this time, because of some historical practices, especially by individuals who are no longer with us, questions are being raised by two (2) accrediting agencies. These questions are on administrative - not educational or clinical issues - and pertain to perceptions surrounding our Trustees’ potential conflict of interest and especially on financial practices in the late 90's. Real or perceived, these questions should not be taken lightly and must be dealt with quickly. It is a concern that I believe the Board itself does not take lightly.
It would be negligent of me should I not at least reference the media coverage, especially earlier this year. We must acknowledge that certain procurement protocols could and have been tightened; points of accountability are becoming part of our operating policies; and transparency is our goal. Reforms will continue well beyond my initial 12 point plan that has already been submitted to the Board. Reform is not a static picture. My administration is committed to continued renewal as issues are identified.
Let me address the collaboration between the Board and the administration in addressing some issues. Earlier this year the Board of Trustees approved the adoption of Sarbanes-Oxley guidelines. The first by any New Jersey college or university. Accordingly, issues relating to transparency and accountability are now part of our operating principles. The 12 point reform plan that was announced several months ago, with the anticipation of restoring confidence in the university, has been implemented almost in its entirety. The Board will meet to discuss and approve procedural changes to several policies that would clearly demonstrate the university’s commitment to accountability.
With the engagement of former Justice Gary Stein, a review is being completed of our contract and procurement policies. These are a significant part of the reform plan I have proposed. The Board of Trustees this fall will review and hopefully approve the procedural details. Additionally, I am hopeful that in the near future I will have appointed the Executive Director of Compliance Auditing who will significantly strengthen our efforts at accountability.
Clearly, there is more, much more, to this great University than the administrative issues that needed our attention. There are the accomplishments. Not an isolated few but in fact a symphony of remarkable achievements. Fittingly, I would suggest that on this University Day, ours is a song of accomplishments, deeds well done, and hopes to be realized. This is a time of affirmation and acknowledgment for the good stewardship that our faculty and our colleagues have demonstrated in service to our communities and the people of this State.
I am here proudly to affirm those accomplishments. During this past year hundreds of faculty, students, and staff have participated in the Strategic Plan. This Plan was reviewed and approved by the Board of Trustees at its June meeting. It is a Plan filled with challenges, dreams, and measures for enhancing our mission. It is a Plan that was developed by the University community, not by administration or the Board.
As I promised this would be a living document. It would not lie fowl on the shelf for the five years ahead. There will be ongoing planning activities throughout the year. Such activities will call for a review of new initiatives and compliance, all within the context of the Strategic Plan priorities. The Deans' Budget Committee will transform itself into overseeing the resource compliance and reallocation within the planning context.
If the processes we recently completed are to be appreciated and respected, the Strategic Plan must be implemented as best we can within the limitations of University resources. Incremental resource allocation and development is inconsistent with such an interactive Plan. All future budgeting decisions must be made with an eye toward the Strategic Plan.
Within the next several weeks, a smaller group representing the University community will be appointed by me charged to monitor plan consistency and performance and the work of the Dean’s Committee. This process should be engaging and inclusive. It should remind each of us that we are in this effort together in moving the University to even greater accomplishments.
I would like to take a few moments to acknowledge what so many of you have helped accomplished this past year.
1. I would like to acknowledge the efforts of AAUP leadership and the University negotiating team in formulating and approving a new contract. This is a five-year contract which is a major accomplishment for higher education in New Jersey. Such a contract can only be developed if there is mutual respect. I promise this administration will be tireless in working towards insuring that mutuality.
2. The Governor's and Legislature's commitment to the University by restoring all of our educational and clinical funding as well as providing additional funds for the Neuroscience Institute in Newark and hopeful research tower in Camden.
3. University Behavioral Health’s being awarded the $50 million contract to provide mental health services for the NJ Corrections Department. This award was given with the expectation that UBHC would be capable of helping the State comply with the Federal mandate for clinical care in the prisons.
4. The University Foundation had their best year in annual funds raised for the University. This past year, they raised slightly over $33 million to advance the mission of our institution.
5. University received $301 million in external awards this past year.
6. $3.2 million from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey to NJMS to establish a Center for Humanism, the first such center in the nation.
7. A $1.5 million commitment from the state to establish NJ CARES (Child Abuse Research Education and Service) Institute.
8. A new partnership with Medco Health Solutions, based at UMDNJ's School of Public Health, was created to address areas such as prescription drug safety.
9. The Cancer Institute of New Jersey introduced the Spanish language version of its Cancer Trial Connect web site.
10. As a tribute to the wealth of talent at UMDNJ, more than 100 faculty and administrators currently serve on New Jersey Boards and Commissions, as provided by the Governor’s office.
These are actually but a few accomplishments that our faculty and members of this community have successfully attained during the previous academic year. Clearly, this University has come into the forefront of life within this State.
Having completed the Strategic Plan, it is now incumbent upon us to implement it with the same vigor, inclusiveness, and focus that all of us exhibited in formulating the Plan itself. During these coming months and over the next several years, our energies need to move from the incremental to thinking creatively in the allocation of our resources.
Our mission remains the same. Yet pursuing that mission will require that we reach beyond our present grasp. Simply stated, whether it be in pedagogical style or content, intercampus and interdisciplinary collaboration, research, and clinical care of the insured and uninsured, it is imperative that quality be our trademark. If we are to be believable then our quality must be unbelievable.
Churchill once said "it is not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what's required". I am strongly suggesting that what is required of us, each and all of us, is to become consumed with quality in our work and personal interactions.
It is this concept of quality that will set us apart in our teaching, research, and clinical delivery. It is not our mission to simply be another healthcare facility. Within the context of our research and our impact on teaching future practitioners the translational capacities and competencies of our faculties is the paradigm. Affiliation and not competition; partnership not rivalry will foster the best in practice and for the practice.
Aristotle wrote "with regard to excellence, it is not enough to know, but we must try to have and use it". As a University, we have been gifted in many ways with the resources to help improve the quality of healthcare certainly in this State and if possible beyond.
The myriad of community programs, the delivery of charity care, and the peer exchanges demonstrate this University’s commitment to its mission. These are no minor accomplishments; and therefore they need to be affirmed. You who have given of yourself in these efforts also deserve the recognition. For in those efforts, all of us enhance the presence, character, and credibility of this University. It is now incumbent upon us to implement consciously the Strategic Plan for it offers us a new way to manage our resources. It can be enabling for us to focus our energies to elevate our quality.
That is where the truth will be known; it is in who we are and what we do. That is where the truth will speak of our commitment; it is in our mission of excellence in teaching, research and service. That is where the truth will give witness; it is in the history of our accountability.
Will Rogers said "rumor travels faster, but it don’t stay put as long as truth". To our detractors, even those among us, please move aside for we are a University community with a mission and on a mission.
To the best of our abilities we will implement our community developed Strategic Plan with accountability and transparency. To the best of our abilities, in the future as has been in the past, the educators, the researchers, the caregivers, the students, and the staff will continue to demonstrate their passion for this University’s mission.
We have come thus far. We should be proud of our heritage in those whom we have educated and in those whom we have served. Consider your colleagues, consider their commitment, and consider their caring. From my listening during these past months I heard of no apologies or embarrassment. I heard only a symphony of affirmations and passions for the Academy and the thousands of colleagues who enable their work.
The purpose of University Day is to provide a tally of the state of the University. It is also a time to challenge ourselves for the coming year. With the guidance of the Board of Trustees, reforms have been approved and are being implemented. Research grants and philanthropy continue to reach new heights. Community service program opportunities are expanding. Quality in its purist sense needs is our goal through all of these efforts.
Thomas Paine wrote "the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain cheap, we esteem lightly."
In less than four decades this institution has developed and grown from several unrelated entities into the nation’s largest public health science university. It has not and will not be an easy journey as we continue to excel. Our striving to implement the Strategic Plan will be laden with conflicts because we must choose; but our success in our work, for our patients and with our students will indeed be celebrated.
We cannot be tarnished or tainted by administrative laxities or prerogatives of the past. Neither the practices or persons so identified are with us any longer. But everyone should know that going forward there will be sanctions for those who would so tarry with transparency or accountability at whatever level of service to this University.
In the past several weeks, a number of individuals from corporate executives to legislators to major donors to members of this community have asked me a simple question: "Did you know what you were getting into and any regrets?"
My response has been simple and emphatic. I am honored, delighted and respectful of what this University’s faculties and community have accomplished and are achieving every day.
I got myself into a University that needs to be respected as a great university and administered as such.
I got myself into walking with and among the academy because together we can demonstrate that excellence can be the norm. and I got myself into an opportunity for redefining a University structure that is flexible, accountable, and transparent at all levels.
For those of us dedicated to the University, let there be no doubt in any of our minds, we are not cheapened by conflict but rather made firmer in our resolve for esteem and respect. The works and dedicated people of this University community deserve no less. And with your support, I will give no less.