The University of Rhode Island concluded its first ever Family and Alumni weekend with a State of the University Address by President David Dooley on Sunday morning at Paramaz Avedisian ’54 Hall.
With the University’s accreditation being under reevaluation this year, Dooley reflected on what URI has accomplished since the school’s last accreditation in 2007.
“One of the most dramatic things that has happened at the University of Rhode Island over the last ten years is that by every available standard that public universities are evaluated by today, the university has made extraordinary strides,” Dooley said.
He went on to talk about how much the University population has grown since 2007. Last year, he said, the University received around 23,000 applications for only 3,300 spots for those students to be accepted into.
Dooley also stressed how both four-year and six-year graduation rates at the university have improved. He said that it now takes students about 4.2 years to get a degree at URI.
“That’s a very good mark for a public institution like the University of Rhode Island,” he said.
The number of first-time freshmen who graduated four years later increased by 14 percent over the past decade. Dooley explained how higher graduation rates not only allow students to spend less on school but are also needed for the good of the economy.
“Given the needs of the United States, we need to have many more people with college educations than we have in the past,” Dooley said. “Over 98 percent of the jobs that have been created since the end of that recession require some sort of education after high school.”
The president applauded recent efforts to improve campus infrastructure, describing it as “tangible evidence” of the university’s improvements. Dooley praised the construction of the new engineering building. The project was both “the biggest single investment Rhode Island has ever made in a single building” and “the most advanced engineering facility anywhere,” he said.
Dooley also offered information on other future improvements to campus, including new on-campus apartments, improvements to the Graduate School of Oceanography campus, reconstruction of the Fine Arts Center, retail and office space on Upper College Road, and an “innovation center,” in which the University would work directly with private sector partners to drive innovation and economic growth.
The most dramatic change in the University, according to Dooley, was in the faculty. Since 2010, URI has hired 302 full-time faculty members or 40 percent of the full-time faculty at URI.
“That’s an extraordinary resource,” Dooley said. “These are young people coming from the best universities in the world. All of them are leaders in their fields. All of them are amongst the finest minds on the planet, and they have decided to join the university because they see that this is an institution that is on a dramatic upwards trajectory.”
Dooley then opened the floor to questions. One guest asked Dooley what a great research university would look like in ten years. The president stressed how the University of the future will be very global and collaborative, citing URI’s partnerships with international schools and how these will only continue to expand.
Dooley also explained how future higher education must become interdisciplinary to face global problems.
“Take the challenge of neurodegenerative disease. Look at the world. All of the young people are on the south of the equator. The northern hemisphere is getting old. As we age, neurodegenerative disease will become one of the most colossal problems that we have because the cost for caring for these people are staggering. That’s a situation that’s going to demand input from all kinds of disciplines to figure out.”
Another guest asked what role the arts and humanities play in the University’s future. “The key to mutual respect and understanding is to understand one another’s cultures, histories, politics economics, [and] arts. We’re doing those in a global context.” Dooley also encouraged students to become fluent in a foreign language to allow more opportunities for communication.
Freshman Danielle Mullin was excited to hear about the University’s plans for the future. “It was incredible to hear all of the opportunities I’m going to have. It was great to learn about new housing options too. I’m really excited for the future of this school and I’m excited to be a part of it.”
“I thought that the address was absolutely fantastic,” said Maria Wilk, an alumnus of the class of 1960 when asked about her thoughts on the address. “(Dooley) brought this intellectual energy into the University of Rhode Island and that’s trickled down to the faculty and students.”
After the address, alumni, families, and students attended the 125th Anniversary Jazz Brunch. A jazz trio consisting of students Jeremy Klepacki (bass), Ryan Tremblay (guitar) and Patrick Shea (drums) played smooth jazz music for attendees as they ate.