University at Buffalo President John Simpson spoke to a crowded hall at Babeville today, marking the 5th anniversary of his tenure at UB, and reemphasizing the school’s role in the future prosperity of all of Buffalo through the UB 2020 strategic plan. The theme of his speech hinged on the fact that UB is poised at a crossroad that offers a choice of mediocrity through the status quo, or one of greatness, as presented by the UB 2020 strategic plan.
Echoing Theodore Roosevelt, who was inaugurated 100 years ago, just a few short blocks from where Simpson stood today, Simpson offered that we could “talk big, or act big.”
Acting big would depend a great deal on whether or not those in Albany understand the importance of UB 2020, and the impact it can have on the city, the region, and in the case of some of the most innovative scientific discoveries made at UB, the nation and the world. As an example, Simpson asked UB Professor Ester Takeuchi to stand; she recently received the National Medal of Technology, the most coveted technology award in the nation.
President Simpson stated that Buffalo may be the nation’s 3rd poorest city, but that we are “number one in opportunity.” He urged all who listened not to settle for the status quo, not to believe “good enough” is acceptable. With a graphic projected on the screen behind him that read: “The Present Moment: a threat to our future,” Simpson asserted that, regardless of poor economic times, the nation needs UB’s research more than ever. Also noting that 34 states have cut their funding to public universities, Simpson stated that UB is still the best long term hope for local prosperity.
In regard to UB’s Flexibility in Economic Growth Act, Simpson said that the idea of playing “tuition roulette,” in which huge mid-year hikes can be crippling to students and their parents, is wrong. He called for a policy of predictable, minor increases so that parents and students can plan better. “We need this reform,” he said. “I see no evidence that New York State has a coherent Strategy for economic strength. The state must invest in its universities, not cut them.”
Simpson asserted, “It was the status quo that got us into this mess. It is not a strategy. It is the absence of a plan. The time has come to move past short term solutions that make us poorer.”
The realization of UB 2020 would, in Simpsons view, give the university of today the same economic engine status that the steel mills were to our past. In addition, he said that UB 2020 would establish an urban core – for the sciences, research and arts – that would act as a catalyst to, lay the groundwork for, and expand commercial opportunities throughout the community.
By achieving UB 2020, Simpson said that UB could nearly double its impact on the region’s economy, from $1.7B to $3.6B. Simpson called for the community to continue their support, noting that every great city has a great university, but that UB is a great university within a truly great city.
“I believe this community is ready,” Simpson said. “We have a never-say-die spirit.” He also lauded SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, saying that she has a good understanding of the sort of reforms needed and a willingness to work toward a strategic plan for the entire system.
President Simpson will be taking calls and fielding questions today at 3PM on WBFO (88.7 FM) with News Director Mark Scott as host. This will be his first call-in show since taking office at UB.