Purdue Letter from the President
February is a month that is short on days, but there has been no shortage of activity
at Purdue in recent weeks. In this letter, I'd like to give you brief updates of
some of the things that have been happening here.
- The National Science Foundation has announced that Purdue is one of 29 universities
selected to be connected this summer to a nationwide computer network that supports
high-performance research applications. The very-high-performance Backbone Network
Service (vBNS) is intended to be an auxiliary service to Purdue's current Internet connection.
The vBNS will allow researchers to share large amounts of data and run complex equipment
from remote sites. As this kind of technology advances, it is crucial that Purdue remain among the leaders in its use, so the selection is important to the
- The NSF also has recognized four of Purdue's most promising young professors through
its Faculty Early Career Development Program. The awards given through the program
are designed to emphasize the importance of integrating research and educational
activities in academic careers. The grants are awarded over four to five years and range
from $200,000 to $500,000. The Purdue awardees are Daniela Bortoletto, associate
professor of physics; Rudolf Eigenmann, assistant professor of electrical and computer
engineering; Midhat Hondzo, assistant professor of civil engineering; and Srinivas Peeta,
assistant professor of civil engineering. They are among 359 educators and researchers
being recognized by the NSF. Continuing to attract and retain young professors of
this caliber is absolutely vital to Purdue's future.
- Speaking of the National Science Foundation, its leadership is expected to have a
strong Purdue presence soon. President Clinton announced in mid-February that he
will nominate Rita Colwell to be the next director of NSF. She holds three Purdue
degrees -- a bachelor's in bacteriology and a master's in genetics, and an honorary doctorate.
- Purdue has more than a dozen programs designed to support economic development in
the state of Indiana. While the various offices frequently work cooperatively, they
have not functioned in a unified way, primarily because they originated independently
in different parts of the University to meet specific needs. In February, I asked Don
Gentry, dean of the School of Technology, to take on additional duties as special
assistant to the president for economic development.
In addition to being a gifted university administrator, Don has broad and deep experience
working with state government and private business. Among his challenges will be
to create a master plan for the various Purdue initiatives and to create a single
entry point for anyone seeking access to these Purdue resources. I believe Purdue can
greatly enhance its economic value to the state if Don is successful in mobilizing
these programs. The initial response to his appointment was very enthusiastic, so
he already is off to a great start.
- U.S. News and World Report
magazine recently announced its rankings of graduate schools, and Purdue's name was
prominent in a number of categories. The University's programs in speech pathology,
engineering, audiology, and management were ranked among the top 25 in the country.
The rankings are based on surveys of higher education administrators and professors
and certain data supplied to the magazine by the institutions. While it is reassuring
to have Purdue do so well in these evaluations, I believe the idea of ranking universities in this way is a flawed concept. Just as every individual is unique, every higher
education institution has its own personality and its own set of strengths. For some
students, Purdue is the best choice they could make. Others might be happier and
more successful at another university or college. The most important choice a student
makes is the decision to pursue a degree. After that, some careful reading and campus
visits usually lead to the right selection.
- Construction has begun on a new Black Cultural Center facility at Purdue. The project
was launched at a spectacular ceremonial groundbreaking and ground blessing on February
27. Students from the Black Cultural Center's performing groups, the Purdue Musical Organizations, and the University Bands delighted a crowd of more than 400 people
with music, dance, and poetry. Then in a rite derived from a traditional African
ceremony, a libation was poured into the earth. To symbolize the Center's role as
a resource for everyone at the University, the libation chosen was Purdue apple cider.
Another highlight of the event was the announcement of a gift of $110,000 toward the
construction of the new building from the Mamon Powers Foundation. Mamon Powers Jr.
is a 1970 Purdue graduate and a member of Purdue's Board of Trustees. He is president
of the Powers Construction Co., one of the most successful construction firms in Indiana.
People from all sectors of the Purdue community have contributed to the Black Cultural
Center project. I'm very pleased that after 25 years of outstanding programming,
the Center will move into a building that is worthy of its quality.
- In last month's letter, I mentioned that Fred Ford has announced his retirement as
Purdue's chief financial officer. I'm happy to report that Ken Burns, a veteran of
more than 30 years in the University's administration, will succeed Fred as executive
vice president and treasurer. Ken brings not only experience, but exceptional leadership
ability to the job.
Steven C. Beering