Dr. John J. Petillo
University Day Address
September 21, 2004
Welcome to University Day, our annual celebration of the scholarship
of the Academy. On this day, we pause to take stock in our accomplishments
of the past year and to set our sights on our course for the future.
It has been a good year because of the dedication of so many within
this university community. In fact, thanks to the faculty and
the thousands who support their efforts, UMDNJ is one of the fastest
growing and most well-recognized comprehensive public health sciences
universities in the nation. In a relatively short period of time,
the University has established itself as a contemporary leader
in American health science education and research.
Permit me to state the obvious, which at times has been lost
or forgotten. Health sciences are the very essence, the fabric,
and the core of who we are and what we do. Unlike any other institution,
such activities on our part are not incremental or an appendage.
We are New Jersey's academic health sciences university. We simply
need to unapologetically profess it. With more than 13,000 employees,
UMDNJ is the eighth largest employer in New Jersey. We have a
faculty numbering more than 2,500. We have an operating budget
of $1.5 billion touching the lives of almost two million people
yearly. We have a significant presence, but we also have an Academy
with substantial intellectual wealth. Partnerships with firms
like Eli Lily, Aventis, and Schering-Plough are becoming more
common. We continue through our schools to recruit scientists
for the endowed chairs, ever increasing our research capabilities
and capacities. Our faculty has been pathfinders in fields such
as autism, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and
environmental illnesses. We also have established several nationally
recognized centers and institutes throughout the state, including
The Cancer Institute of New Jersey, which has just had its designation
by the National Cancer Institute as a comprehensive cancer center
renewed. It is one of only 13 such designated centers in the nation.
Our Central Jersey campuses house the Environmental and Occupational
Health Sciences Institute and the Center for Advanced Biotechnology
and Medicine. The Stem Cell Institute of New Jersey along with
Cardio-Vascular Institute will provide additional testimonies
to our Academy's abilities. We are not limited , however, to these
Central New Jersey campuses. Centers of excellence exist elsewhere.
There needs to be an enlivened awareness of what can yet be accomplished
on our other campuses. Whether it is the statewide Child Abuse
Research Education and Service Institute or the prospective Geriatric
Institute in Stratford, or the Center for BioDefense or the Neurosciences
Institute in Newark.
We are now beginning a new academic year. The university's five-year
plan has come to a successful close. It is now incumbent upon
us to ask the questions of our future. The sociologist Mary Catherine
Bateson says that "The self is learned, yet ironically it often
becomes a barrier to learning" as it becomes established, comfortable,
and dependable. This university is not just buildings of labs,
classrooms, and offices. It is people. People who cannot afford
to become comfortable and staid. Today, I would challenge all
of us to avoid continuing "business as usual" no matter how successful.
Because at this moment in time, I believe we stand on the brink
of an institutional version of what the late evolutionary biologist
Steven Gould might have called punctuated equilibrium, where the
ingredients for change have been quietly accumulating and a major
and dramatic leap is now possible. Possible, but only if we pursue
our course collectively, inclusively, and aggressively.
Where should we be going? In Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking
Glass," Alice asks the Cheshire Cat, "Would you please tell me
which way I ought to go from here. In response the Cat says simply,
"That depends on where you want to get to." Before we chose a
direction, we first need to know our place. We need to articulate
that place for one another. We need to develop what I would like
to refer to as a commonality of language. With such a common facility
we can move more easily towards a university culture rather than
a federation of eight schools and several institutes.
The self-study process for the Middle States Accreditation has
provided the opportunities to do just that- to refocus our vision
as a single, statewide University and engage in a thoughtful and
candid assessment of what we are doing and how well we are doing
it. Within the next week, the draft report on the self-study will
be posted on the University's web site and the input of the entire
University community is being solicited. At its inception, the
steering committee for the self-study, ably chaired by Dr. Karen
Putterman, Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Audrey Gotsch,
Dean of the School of Public Health, and Vivian Lubin, Associate
Vice President for Academic Planning and Assessment, selected
two issues they believed to be germane to the fundamental character
Our success in fulfilling our mission as a statewide, freestanding
health sciences university.
Our success in forming collaborative relationships within the
University and with academic partners.
Now we begin the discussion about where we want to be as a University
in the future. We cannot afford to be without a defined direction
with measurable benchmarks. The university community, especially
the Academy, will set this direction through a strategic planning
process. It will not be top down. It will be inclusive and transparent.
A web site will be operational within the next few weeks for this
purpose. Most importantly, it will be an ongoing university-wide
effort commencing when our Board of Trustees approves the plan.
The deans and vice presidents met last month to begin the discussions
about the strategic plan and the Board of Trustees will gather
later this week to do the same. From initial conversations, five
topics have been identified as critical to the development of
a strategic plan.
- To enhance and protect the University's statewide franchise
in health sciences.
- To develop its capital base to sustain high academic quality
and the ability to be responsive to changing needs.
- To sustain a competitive presence in the provision of clinical
care throughout the tri-state area.
- To create through increasing collaborations with the pharmaceutical
industry a unique contribution to the state's economic development
- To use the University's size and comprehensiveness to the
State's full advantage.
To explore each of these issues in depth, accepting or rejecting
them, five work groups are being established, in addition to a
steering committee. The faculties of all of our schools are represented.
In addition to the web site, we will be soliciting your input
through focus groups, town hall meetings, and by whatever other
creative means possible. In the coming months, I pledge to you
that these processes will be highly interactive with all constituencies
within the university. A schedule for this planning process should
be posted on the web site shortly.
In the "Idea of a University", John Henry Newman stressed that
"the intellect of man?eizes and unites what the senses present
to it; it discerns in lines and colors, what is beautiful or not.
It gives meaning, and invests them with an idea". As the university
community undertakes this strategic planning, it must be rooted
in people who through their intellect propose ideas of what this
university should be. For this process to be successful, there
must be participatory discussion at all levels and in all communities
within the Academy. I ask that as we develop the strategic plan
you be open, honest and forthright. Dissent must be tolerated
and sabotage must be an anathema. The success we realize from
this process is highly correlated to the extent of participation
by all. The time line for the development of the strategic plan
is a very aggressive one, with preliminary results targeted for
presentation to the Board of Trustees in December. In subsequent
months, the goal is that we own this plan and in so doing, own
During the discussions on restructuring higher education, many
people in the state garnered a better understanding of how valuable
an asset UMDNJ is to New Jersey. We also discovered along the
way, however, that as a community we should have a more mature
appreciation for ourselves as a university (not a federation).
Through this process the Academy along with other members of the
community can articulate clearly its direction so that as we harness
our energies and imagination we truly become a powerful institution
in service to the people of this State. In developing this commonality
of purpose, language, and accountability, the Academy flourishes
because it is affirmed and challenged. Advocacy not adversary
should be the manner in which we interact with one another.
In closing I am excited about the possibilities that lie before
us. You have all invested an enormous amount of talent, energy,
resources and hope in this university. Now we must be willing
to make the hard choices that compliment our hallmarks of past
achievement and drive us to greater excellence as we go forward
as a university. UMDNJ is a gift given by the people of New Jersey
to the people of New Jersey and beyond. We must believe in ourselves.
In the quality and excellence of our service we must be unbelievable
if we are to be believed in our mission. As our new marketing
thrust says: UMDNJ is a resource for life. We must provide the
stewardship of the resources that have been entrusted to us by
the people of New Jersey.
Joan Leitzer, former president of the University of New Hampshire
and a strong believer in the power and goodness of public higher
education, said, "Education is both an individual benefit and
a social good. Collectively we have responsibility for the future
of the University. We accept the moral obligation to see that
it succeeds, not at a marginal level ... but at a level of true
excellence." That is the state of UMDNJ. This is now our moral
obligation not simply to continue but to attain even greater levels
of true excellence. It can only be obtained if our imagination
is not restricted by our knowledge. It can only be obtained when
the Academy is affirmed, challenged, and involved.