In his annual address to the Faculty Senate on Wednesday, President Joseph E. Aoun issued a challenge to the Northeastern community to pivot off the bold initiatives that carried the university through the nation’s economic recession nearly a decade ago, while continuing to look for new ways to reassert its leadership as a global, experiential research university.
“When we look at what we have achieved in the past 10 years, the picture is good. We are happy, but never satisfied,” Aoun said during the Senate’s inaugural meeting of the 2016-17 academic year. “The competition is heating up,” he added.
Aoun encouraged faculty to use an increasingly competitive atmosphere in higher education as an opportunity to sharpen Northeastern’s edge on several fronts, noting that investments made in the past decade have positioned the university well.
He highlighted three areas—undergraduate education, professional graduate education, and research—where the university should continue to build upon its success and further differentiate itself from other institutions.
Regarding undergraduate education, Aoun said, “I’m very proud of the fact that we are the leader in experiential education and very proud of the fact that our experiential model is global. But we have to heighten our differences; we want to reach a level of personalization and customization in our offerings. I’m confident that our new academic plan will set us up to do just that.”
As for professional graduate education, Aoun described Northeastern as a “pioneer” in the field, particularly in the realm of online and hybrid delivered masters degrees. “The world is waking up now and realizing it’s too good an opportunity to leave to Northeastern only,” he said, encouraging the faculty to deepen and broaden the experiential learning aspect of graduate and professional programs.
As in the other two areas, Aoun highlighted the university’s success in producing transformative research. He noted that Northeastern’s external research funding has increased by more than 165 percent over the past decade, a major accomplishment at a time when research at many other universities has remained flat.
Earlier this year, Northeastern moved into the top tier for research activity among higher education institutions, according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, an independent classification used to distinguish U.S. colleges and universities.
Aoun pointed to the forthcoming Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex—currently under construction on Columbus Avenue—as an example of the type of investment Northeastern is making toward bolstering its research capacity. He explained, however, that the building should represent a means to an end, not the other way around.
“We’ve built infrastructure that will allow us to build leadership, and that’s where the academic plan comes into play. You have to tell us where we are going to be leaders—not good, not very good, but true leaders,” he told the faculty members. Aoun added that Northeastern would not approach research as a “volume game,” but instead focus on specific research domains that he called “leadership opportunities.”
That investment will continue in the next decade, Aoun said, though he expected to see it even further expedited and focused. “What we’ve achieved in 10 years we can achieve in five now, but it will be much more impactful and much more strategic as we become even more ambitious,” he said.
In other business Wednesday, the Faculty Senate received updates from the Senate Agenda Committee as well as a report from Provost James C. Bean on work that was accomplished over the summer.