In the wake of tumult and in times of challenge, UNLV has always found a way to forge ahead — that was the resounding message behind acting President Marta Meana’s first state of the university address on Thursday.
Meana gave brief mention to the “unsettling” leadership transition brought on by former President Len Jessup’s abrupt departure this spring but otherwise focused on the university’s history of resiliency.
“I also know that the past year has not been an easy one,” Meana said to an auditorium full of staff, faculty and administrators. “It has been a tumultuous period. … And yet through it all, we continue to find a way to rise and power forward as an institution.”
Meana, a former professor of psychology and former dean of the Honors College, told her colleagues that the state of UNLV is strong because of what they do, regardless of who wears the hardhat at a groundbreaking ceremony.
“You are the brain, heart and soul of this institution, and so the state of this university is strong,” she said.
The speech was punctuated with recent student success stories, and broader, university-wide accomplishments, including the groundbreaking of the innovation building at the UNLV Harry Reid Research and Technology Park, which has an estimated economic impact of $2.6 billion.
Meana reflected on her 21 years at the university, a time that has seen the establishment of several professional schools, including the school of law, school of dentistry, and the new medical school.
She also looked more than 10 years down the line, when, in 2030, the nation’s demographics will more closely mirror what UNLV and Las Vegas is today.
“We have a unique opportunity to show leadership — to lead in a generation of knowledge that solves current societal dilemmas,” she said. “To lead in the creativity that emanates from the meeting of different cultures and ethnicities. To lead in the education of a first generation college population, that in some ways has as much to teach us as we have to teach them.”
Meana said the university is still striving to reach top-tier status.
To do so, she announced a new resource mapping exercise that will allow the university to clearly identify the resources it needs to achieve its strategic goals.
The university will create a transparent business model to specify revenue sharing, identify personnel and space needs and establish priorities.
“That way you know what to advocate for, you know requests to make,” Meana said after her speech. “I think that will really clarify for us, what we need in terms of resources.”
She said that the university has hired a financial modeling specialist who will begin to craft the plan in as soon as three weeks.
But even as the university continues in its quest to be recognized as a top public higher education institution — an effort that includes increasing research output — students must be at the center of those goals.
“The student and research missions must coexist for us to thrive,” she said. “There is no university that excels in high-level research whose students are not an integral part of that research mission.”
Increasing retention and the current 41 percent graduation rate are major parts of Meana’s agenda.
“The fact that we have a high percentage of first-generation students, and students who struggle financially, cannot be the explanation for our graduation and retention rates, but rather it must be the motivating force for raising them. Let’s become a leader in changing the national story of socio-economic status being the biggest predictor of college success,” Means said to a standing ovation.