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Investing in exceptionalism

President Joseph E. Aoun said on Wednesday that Northeastern is well positioned to lead in higher education’s rapidly changing landscape, shaped in large part by the emergence of massive open online courses offered by entities such as edX, Coursera and Udacity.

“We are innovative, we are contrarians and we invest in our exceptionalism,” Aoun told approximately 300 students, faculty and staff who packed the Curry Student Center Ballroom for the annual State of the University Town Hall Meeting.

Several hundred people from all over the world who were unable to attend the event watched a live video of the proceedings on the university’s website and Facebook page.

Aoun, over the course of the hourlong event, cited several reasons why the university has continued to gain momentum over the last six years. But he focused primarily on Northeastern’s signature model of global experiential education; the impact of use-inspired research; and the recruitment of more than 300 new tenured or tenure-track faculty.

“When others retrenched, we doubled-down on our leadership and experiential learning,” Aoun said. “We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied.”

As a case in point, Aoun announced a major campaign to accelerate the university’s enormous momentum. The goal of the campaign will be to generate $1 billion over the next five years.

Last month’s $60 million gift in support of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business represents the largest major gift of the campaign. Bestowed upon Northeastern by Richard D’Amore, BA’76, and Alan McKim, MBA’88, the investment, according to Aoun, signifies a “vote of confidence in our institution and in our students, faculty and staff.”

Stephen W. Director, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, underscored the university’s unparalleled rise in academic prominence by pointing to student and faculty accomplishments over the last several years.

This fall’s freshman class, for example, had a mean SAT score of 1360, up 130 point from six years ago. Faculty members, for their part, received $104.8 million in external research awards in 2012, up from $48.7 million in 2006.

“We are increasingly recognized for our excellence by a much broader external community,” Director explained. “And global institutions are seeing the value proposition of our experiential learning model.”

He emphasized this point by noting his meeting with representatives of two universities in Singapore that are interested in replicating Northeastern’s co-op-based educational model. Northeastern’s unique model of expe­ri­en­tial education cur­rently includes co-op, study-abroad and Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions pro­grams in 92 coun­tries around the world.

“They clearly knew that we were leaders in experiential based education rooted in co-op,” Director said of the representatives from Singapore, “and they understood that we have become a more global university than ever.”

Richard Daynard, University Distinguished Professor of Law and the chair of the Faculty Senate Agenda Committee, emphasized the faculty’s overarching commitment to teaching and scholarship—and to the University.

“We want to make commitments to those who we want to become the very best,” he said. “We as faculty want our teaching and scholarship to be the very best it can possibly be. And that is our major commitment to this university.”

He and his colleagues, he said, have pledged to make financial contributions to the university’s five-year fundraising campaign. “One way to make a significant difference is through financial giving,” Daynard said. “The bottom line is that we have to be committed to make Northeastern the best university it could be.”

Following a short video recapping last month’s naming ceremony of the D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Aoun fielded questions posed by audience members and social media users. One Twitter user asked Aoun to explain how Northeastern’s graduate campuses in Seattle and Charlotte dovetail with the university’s overall vision.

“The graduate campuses have helped us recruit master’s and doctoral students,” Aoun responded. He added that Northeastern’s Boston campus has experienced a 75 percent increase in applications from North Carolina residents owing to the university’s out-of-state visibility.