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Farrington on State of the University: “Strong and consistent progress”

Representatives of the Class of 2009 meet their adoptive Class of 1959 at the rally for first-year students in August.

With the hiring of 16 superb new faculty members this academic year, the most competitive first-year class in university history, and renovations that are transforming the campus, Lehigh has made “strong and consistent progress in several essential areas,” Greg Farrington, Lehigh president, said Friday in his annual State of the University address.

Speaking to faculty and staff in the Packard Lab Auditorium, Farrington shared his assessment of Lehigh’s current successes and challenges, and offered his vision for how the university can continue to build on its position as one of the nation’s top institutions.

“I believe that Lehigh’s distinctive niche in higher education enables it to offer students and scholars an extraordinarily rich palette of opportunities that few other institutions can offer,” Farrington said.

At the close of his address, Farrington announced his plan to step down as president at the end of the academic year in June. (For full article on the transition, click here.)

Competing for the best students and faculty

The university’s 2020 initiative, a $75 million academic venture capital fund created just five years ago, is paying substantial dividends, Farrington said. Among the ways it has already strengthened Lehigh, he said, are:

• Attracting and retaining the best faculty and students.

• Creating distinctive academic programs.

• Investing in critical research fields.

• Fostering cross-curricular collaboration.

• Increasing income.

• Raising academic reputation.

The Class of 2009, which arrived on campus in late August, is the most competitive in the university’s 140-year history, and reflects Lehigh’s commitment in recent years to compete for the very best students. Since 1998, the median SAT scores of first-year students has increased an average of 11 points each year. The applicant pool of 10,501 students is also the largest in Lehigh’s history, he said.

In addition to the best students, Lehigh is also aggressively competing for the best faculty members. This academic year, Lehigh has hired 16 new faculty members with outstanding teaching and research experience.

“Only the best of the best have been invited to become part of the Lehigh family,” Farrington said.

Since 1998, the year Farrington took office, a “faculty renewal” has brought 159 new faculty members to Lehigh out of a total of 416 current members.

“One way we attract the best faculty and reward our finest faculty members is to advance our commitment to endowed chairs. To date, we have added 22 new endowed chairs during our Shine Forever campaign, doubling the number of endowed chairs at the university,” he said. “At the start of the campaign, only 5 percent of our faculty held endowed chairs. Our goal is for 25 percent to hold endowed chairs.”

Lehigh’s commitment to academic excellence is earning notice from the outside, Farrington noted, as the university is ranked 32nd in the nation—its highest position ever—in the latest U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges annual rankings.

Major campus improvements—22 projects in total, including the new Optical Technologies Center, ongoing renovations to Lamberton Hall and Linderman Library, and the current phase of the campus restoration and extensive enhancement plan—are transforming Lehigh’s campus.

Moving forward

Looking to the future, Farrington outlined six areas that he identified as challenges for the university’s continued success. They are:

• Working to make Lehigh a place that is committed to achieving greater diversity.

• Strengthening campus life. Farrington proposed undertaking “a comprehensive competitive analysis of all of student life—to learn what we do well and what others do better.” Implementing proposals contained in the Greek Life Task Force plan will help create a strong and healthy Greek community, but a majority of students aren’t part of the Greek system. So Farrington called on the university to look at the broader issues of student life.

• Getting out the word about Lehigh. Farrington said a project is in the works to further increase the university’s visibility. “I believe that we’re a lot more creative, intellectually engaging and dedicated to superb education than people know,” he said.

• Continuing to make strong progress on the Campaign For Lehigh. Farrington stressed the need to continue to build resources, especially endowment, to remain competitive with other top institutions and attract outstanding students, faculty and staff.

• Focusing on graduate studies and research. Graduate education in the United States is widely recognized as the best in the world, yet there is room for improvement. Farrington said he will look to Lehigh’s leaders and scholars to examine its graduate studies and research to create a richer, even more engaged graduate and research community.

• Expanding Lehigh’s international opportunities. International experience must become part of the Lehigh education so that its graduates are prepared to become successful leaders in the global marketplace, he said.

--Joanne C. Anderson

Posted on Friday, October 07, 2005

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