Spring 2024 Town Meeting

Welcome, everyone, to the Spring Town Meeting—my second Spring Town Meeting. As I prepared for this talk, I couldn’t help but reflect on what the last 21 months have been like. 

So, let me share my observations about those months. My first year as president was really about getting to know RPI, getting to know all of you, including our alumni, and coming to understand your concerns and your aspirations.

As far as your concerns, the dominant message from faculty and staff was about being spread very thin. I came to appreciate that, over the past roughly six years, you had experienced two periods of time that required tight fiscal controls.

The first was the ‘crossover’ where RPI needed to work hard to reduce debt and grow endowment. That was successfully achieved, but then the pandemic hit, and there were further needs to manage expenses in order to get through that challenging period.

The net result was RPI had to reduce the size of our T/TT faculty and our staff, and so, indeed you were spread thin. It was clear to me that we needed to address this, because, in many ways, this impacted all that we did, from education, to research, to supporting each other, and to feeling optimistic for the future.

But, we also discussed aspirations last year, and it was an opportunity to reflect on possible futures for this great institution, and indeed for the Capital Region. I think we all felt excited to think about those possibilities. But we did more than just reflect.

As I learned more about RPI, we actively sought opportunities to have an immediate impact on things that mattered to you. You may recall, I called these QUICK WINS. Things that I saw we could do with relatively little effort, but things that would have a nearly immediate and meaningful impact on your quality of life.

We talked about this at last year’s Town Meeting, in fact, probably the strongest positive reaction at that meeting came when I announced that we would eliminate the need to use PTO between Christmas and New Year’s Day. That was certainly a Quick Win!

Also, by this time last year, we had identified areas where we should invest to grow, to grow back to our historic size. And I was pleased to report to you at that time that the RPI Board of Trustees supported us in their approval of our FY24 budget.

The principle area of investment to grow was in the addition of new faculty and staff, to begin to return RPI to its historic size.

This second year has been about developing a plan for our future – The Rensselaer Forward Plan. I am, of course, still trying to listen to your concerns, but we are in the midst of pivoting from QUICK WINS to BIG WINS. Big wins that have in their origin an investment to grow. The quick wins we implemented made some parts of our life here better, but in and of themselves, they are not the wins that transform this Institution. Big wins should have transformative impact on RPI.

But, here lies the rub. Big wins don’t generally happen fast, with some exceptions. I believe our investment in Quantum Computing can be a big win. 

It happened fast, and I believe the impact of that investment will be felt soon – and I’ll talk more about that later. But, for most of the big wins, the seeds of our investments will first emerge as sprouts from the soil that only some can see, and they aren’t necessarily visible to everyone. Further, the positive impact of those sprouts may not be felt everywhere, immediately. 

For example, if we invest in more staff in the VPR Office, as we have, maybe you individually will notice that you had greater support in getting a proposal out the door, but the broader impact will be when that increased volume of proposals brings new and meaningful sponsored research revenue, that not only funds your research, and our graduate students, but brings indirect cost recovery.

Those indirect costs can be invested in areas of need, like allowing us to add much needed journal subscriptions to our RPI library, or to fix our facilities and campus.

I decided to start with these observations, as a framing for this discussion, based on what a few of you recently shared with me. A few weeks ago, I sent an email to about 15 of you (students, staff, and faculty – somewhat randomly selected), and I asked what you thought the community wanted to hear from me.

I got a lot of good ideas, and I hope to address some of them in my remarks, but several of you touched on one theme that really stood out to me. So let me quote several comments related to this theme; one of you said you saw ‘a growing sense of frustration that change isn’t coming faster.’ In that same note, this person said, ‘maybe it’s not a frustration about a lack of change, but more of a worry that some things can’t be changed.’ Another person wrote to me and said, ‘I hope you will inspire us to be patient,’ and this person further said, ‘Much has improved, so you need to enable us to celebrate our accomplishments.’

Finally, one of you said ‘If you want us to provide an amazing student experience, continue to be world-renowned in our faculty research, and develop a stronger sense of pride in our institute, people will do it if you tell us to.’ OK, so I’m telling you, yes, I want all those things and more. And I believe that we can do all those things and more. But, we have a long journey, and what you reminded me of is that we need to communicate how we are doing on this journey, and create the opportunities to celebrate our progress.

One of those opportunities to celebrate will be when we cut the ribbon on the Quantum Computer in a little over two weeks. Please join the celebration, and enjoy some Quantum Freeze ice cream! I’ll have more to say about this later in my remarks, but...

Let me now summarize what I want to discuss today. I want to tell you where we stand on the Strategic Plan. I want to highlight some important accomplishments that we have already achieved. I will walk you through our current financial picture, and discuss the opportunities that I see in front of us. I’ll touch on some student issues, mention the Middle States Accreditation, and talk about the Bicentennial, and then we’ll wrap up.

Let’s start with the Rensselaer Forward strategic plan.

At my investiture, I outlined five themes for the plan:

  • Education, 
  • Research, 
  • Translation, 
  • Regional Engagement, and 
  • Building a Welcoming, Inclusive (and accessible) Community. 

These are admittedly very broad areas. We then put together five committees, each devoted to one of these themes. We tasked them with gathering community input—including through the online Idea Bank—and coming up with ideas and thoughts for what we should do in these areas.

Each of the committees went about their work in slightly different ways. We shared with you their draft reports in June. 

When the committees returned in the fall, we asked them to look at the community feedback, incorporate, as they thought appropriate, the ideas that were posted to the Idea Bank. Not all of the Ideas were used, but we made sure they were reviewed by the Committee. The final reports were shared with you in mid-October. That then began a process of organizing this work into a plan.

However, there were a number of ideas posted to the idea bank and/or that made it into the final reports that we felt didn’t needed to be in the strategic plan because we could just implement them right away – in other words, they were quick wins. Also, there were some ideas for which there was such strong support that we elected to move forward on them, like the creation of OSAT (The Office of Strategic Alliances and Translation).

Since October, we’ve been working through all the content of the reports, and developing a framework for the Strategic Plan. I’ll first admit that this effort has taken longer than I thought, particularly because of the many and wide ranging ideas that were in the reports. I also want to say that May Lee has been working overtime to collate all this work and develop that framework.

The Strategic Plan will effectively be in two parts. The first part is a vision for our future – where do we want to be in 10 years. This vision is framed by considering how we see the world around us evolving, particularly how higher education is being challenged and transformed. We want to envision what we want RPI to look like in 10 years, in that world. What is our desired size, what is our scope, where do we want to have impact? The second part is an execution plan. 

What are the things we should do over the next 3-5 years that will move us in the direction that gets us to our 10-year vision. We have drafts of these two parts of the plan, and we are now returning to the Committees to get their thoughts and reactions. I am hoping that the committees will see these as making sense and will provide feedback that we can incorporate. After that phase, we will begin to share the refined draft with other members of the community. I see this as a set of concentric circles where we share with ever increasing numbers of people and gather feedback, leading to the final plan.

Since I failed in my prediction back in October that we would have this done in early 2024, I’ll hold off on suggesting when this phase will be complete, but I believe it needs to be done by early Fall as we roll into some of our large Bicentennial events. 

One thing that I can say for sure will be in the 10-year vision is that we will have developed a plan and will be in the implementation phase of a comprehensive renewal of the campus buildings. That has already started as we are currently compiling space utilization information which is a critical first step in developing that plan. And, we continue to pursue an initial project of renovating a main campus building to support our computing activities.

As exciting as it is to develop sweeping plans—I promised that we wouldn’t wait for the plan to be finished to make important changes. And we haven’t. Let’s talk about things we have done. Not quick wins, but actions that can lead to big wins.

Recognizing that RPI was operating with about 80% of its traditional staff and faculty numbers, we moved aggressively on hiring. We increased the number of tenured and tenure-track faculty from 277 in the summer of 2022 to 304 last fall. We anticipate that with 23 searches currently underway, by next fall, our faculty will number more than 312. We are also working to grow and right-size our staff and to optimize our operational processes and systems. I want all the members of this community to feel supported in their work.

We have reached for new opportunities in sponsored research and regional leadership, which I will talk about in a moment. We moved forward on the educational front, introducing a new bachelor of science degree in Aerospace Engineering, master’s programs in Biomedical Engineering Data Science and Semiconductor Technology, and an advanced certificate in Program Management. 

We did critical things to make life better for all the members of our community. We are in the site selection and design phase for an on-campus childcare center and hope to begin construction before the end of the year. 

We increased our tuition benefits and put in place a much-wanted flexible work policy for our staff.

Provost Rebecca Doerge is in the process of strengthening our teaching-track positions by developing teaching track faculty career paths that include promotion documents, formal evaluations, and standard contracts. 

We also increased our graduate student stipend—5.3% in this academic year and 4.5% in the upcoming academic year. 

That is a 10% increase in stipend in 2 years—done after a careful analysis that included data from our peer schools, cost of living calculators, and information from our students themselves about their expenses. I believe that we should aspire to make RPI the best place to be a graduate student, and this is the beginning of the steps we should take to live up to that aspiration. 

At the same time, we ensured that this welcome change for our graduate students does not mean that it costs the faculty more to support a graduate student on a grant. Clearly, RPI needs to be competitive with other universities on this front. Overall, we have made changes to our graduate tuition policy to make it easier to recruit and support graduate students. For students supported on sponsored research grants, we lowered the tuition cost to those grants this year. 

This will set us on a path to make sure we continue to monitor and adjust this to make RPI as competitive as possible in securing grants. 

And we hope that boosting sponsored research will increase both the number of research assistantships available to our graduate students and their opportunities to be involved in groundbreaking work.

Some of our most important actions over the past year involve creating new offices and reorganizing others to make them much more effective and responsive. 

We have moved our enrollment and student life functions into the Office of the Provost, to allow for much greater coordination on admissions, academic resources, and the student experience. And to reflect the fact that learning at Rensselaer occurs both inside and outside the classroom. For Graduate Student recruiting, we are working more closely with the academic units. I am confident that programs that cut across academics and student life, such as The Arch, will benefit (and are benefiting) from a more integrated approach.

We are being advised in this reorganization by the da/rk consultancy, which specializes in operational and cultural change. And, I am very grateful to Peter Konwerski and Jon Wexler for embracing this change and working collaboratively with Rebecca Doerge.

We have integrated the Procurement organization with the VP Finance to get greater alignment and synergies. The da/rk group also helped our Division of Human Resources as well, which is now reimagining the employee experience. Some of you, in your comments back to me, indicated that you see improvements here. We have much to do, but acknowledging progress, however small it might be, is the fuel that keeps us working towards those big wins. Big wins that propel us forward.

Our Strategic Communications office was renamed to Office of Community Engagement and Communications. The new office, led by two co-heads, Hanna Rodriguez-Farrar and Pamela Smith, will focus on building a community that elevates belonging and will focus on our inclusion efforts, relationships with local community organizations, and will partner with HR as we look to build trust and engage our own community.

As I mentioned earlier, we also created a new Office of Strategic Alliances and Translation to move the ideas of our students and faculty into the world. Jon has been working to build his team. This will greatly strengthen our engagements with industry, and with the Severino Center moving to this office, we can create a more cross-institute focus on supporting entrepreneurship.

This will include clarifying and simplifying our IP policies. 

We have begun a search for a new director of EMPAC, co-chaired by Provost Doerge and Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Institutional Impact May Lee. 

A community survey conducted by our search consultants helped to clarify the attributes we are hoping for in a new director—someone who can help us make better use of an amazing asset, grow financial support for EMPAC, and increase EMPAC’s impact on both the campus community and the world at large. And, help us explore ways to integrate art and creativity into all we do. 

So lots of re-organization, and some signals of improvement, but much more will come as we see the full potential of these changes.

Let’s now talk about our financials. Our strategic plan and capital plan are designed to set us on a path to do even more. But we have to accomplish everything within financial realities.

Right now, about 60% of our revenues come from undergraduate and graduate education. Unfortunately, in this fiscal year, our student revenues were $12 million lower than we’d planned for two reasons: our freshman class was 98 students smaller than we’d intended, and the amount of financial aid we provided to attract this class—was higher than projected. 

We were able to balance the budget using one-time funds and expense savings. 

In truth, like all universities around the country without large endowments, we are in a challenging financial state. As we celebrate 200 years of history—it’s also a time to chart a course for RPI for another 200 years. A course that I believe is possible, and that ensures our next 200 years.

The impending closure of the College of St. Rose, which was founded 104 years ago, suggests that history alone offers little protection. And others of our neighbors are facing challenges. Union College, which has a strong endowment to debt ratio, recently received a negative outlook from credit ratings agency Moody’s, mainly because of its tuition discount rate and concerns about enrollment. Clarkson is transferring its graduate teaching programs at its Schenectady campus to Sienna, and reducing certain academic programs on their main campus. 

Fundamentally, the path to the future for us is to develop a more financially resilient RPI. For institutions that rely exclusively on undergraduate revenues, this is a challenging time. Students, and their parents, increasingly look to whether the education being provided has a positive ROI. 

I realize that this is something that may rub some of us the wrong way because we see the transformative potential of a residential four year education, but we need to somehow square this with the realities of today, which are a declining confidence in higher education amongst the general public, concern about ballooning student loan debt, and the so called ‘demographic cliff’: Between 2025 and 2039, the number of 18 year-olds in the U.S. is projected to shrink more than 15%. 

Fortunately, RPI operates in a spot, largely defined by our STEM focus, which stands us apart from many institutions that are struggling. But, we can’t rest, and we aren’t resting. As we think about our long-range plan, underlying that plan needs to be a goal of a more financially resilient RPI.

Our fiscal year 2025 budget, just approved by our board, reflects exactly that. An overall strategy of diversifying our revenues, strengthening our business model, and elevating the RPI brand. Together, in fiscal 2024 and 2025, investments of over $49 million have been approved that will allow us to grow.

While this investment will help us stabilize our core student revenues, much of it focuses on building our financial resilience by…

  • increasing sponsored research, 
  • increasing alumni engagement and giving,
  • and expanding our educational reach by serving more, and non-traditional, learners, which I believe we can do by taking full advantage of our Rensselaer at Work team.

And, we are already seeing positive indicators in research. 

We’ve had some significant ‘wins’ in the Chips area, and as a result of investments in the VPR, we are seeing some of those ‘shoots coming out of the ground’: namely a higher volume of research proposals going out. Some of you have shared with me that you see improvements in our support for this activity. 

In terms of alumni engagement and giving, there are some positive signs. On March 14th we had our Pi-day giving day with a goal of $200,000. Well, we blew past that goal some time in the morning of the 14th. As a preliminary tally, we raised over $485,000 from nearly 2,600 gifts. But, there is much more potential here, and as we add key staff in IA, but also IA staff embedded in our Schools, Student Life, Research, and Athletics, we’ll see even more. But some patience with the pace of change will be required.

We need to build our relationship with our alumni, making them proud of their alma mater, and inspiring them to want to make a difference. This requires growth in the people that engage these alumni.

Of course, if you work in one of the areas where we are investing, you are already experiencing dramatic changes. But if you don’t, you may worry that RPI is stuck in the status quo. You may feel that your area of endeavor is neglected.

Please excuse the commercial metaphor—but public companies have a stock price—which is not a bad proxy for results. People in every part of the company, from sales to facilities, can use that metric to gauge how things are going for the organization as a whole. 

As a university, we don’t have a stock price. We do have rankings—but they are not the right measure of progress—particularly since they often measure inputs, not necessarily the fantastic outcomes for our graduates. And, they historically have favored those institutions with significant resources.

Now, I realize that talking about revenues and business models, and stock prices probably makes you feel that we think too much like a business and not an educational institution. I get that, and I want us to develop better metrics. Metrics that measure what we want to be, and help guide our work and define success. These can arise out of our strategic planning process. As I’ve said before, we are One Rensselaer—and when one of us succeeds, we all do. So, let’s focus on our institutional success.

We also need to understand where we have advantages so large, you could reasonably call them unfair advantages—and to use them to help power growth.

I see a few enormous areas of opportunity for us if we can skate to where the puck is going to be. To extend the hockey metaphor, there are particular fields of research and education where it is worth taking shots on goal. Not every shot will go in the net. But the shots you don’t take are the shots you don’t make. 

As you all know, RPI has taken what I think is a slap shot from the point at quantum computing, far ahead of our peers. We are the only university in the world to have an IBM Quantum System One installed on our campus – and it is running today. 

Let me explain why this is so exciting to me, and I’m sorry if you’ve heard me talk about this. 

I was going to talk to you about qubits, and coherence and entanglement, but I’ll spare you that. But let me just say that quantum computers will ultimately allow us to explore complex questions even the most powerful classical computers cannot answer. 

Right now, quantum systems are just emerging. But they are going to rapidly become extremely important, because of their computational power—and because that power makes them energy-efficient. 

And because we have IBM’s pioneering system on campus, RPI faculty and students are going to be among the first in the world to explore quantum computing’s most promising potential applications.

We believe those applications will include drug discovery, modeling and predicting new materials, and financial risk modeling—but there are many more applications to discover that we will only learn about through experimentation with this amazing machine.

With this infrastructure at hand, we are going to be able to attract the best faculty in the field. And they, in turn, are going to educate the best students.

Having the system on campus also represents an enormous opportunity for the region and its businesses. We hope to add a Quantum Valley aspect to Tech Valley—and to seed a cluster of quantum-advantaged start-ups. 

Our investment in quantum is part of an overall focus on the future of computing. 

As you probably know, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 is putting substantial federal funding towards the goal of restoring domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing at the leading edge. RPI has already scored a number of goals in research and workforce development arising out the CHIPS Act. And both RPI and the region are poised for more, thanks in part to the nation’s best infrastructure for microelectronics research and development at Albany NanoTech. 

Cybersecurity—an area in which our students are traditionally among the best in the country—is another important field of opportunity for us. It is a focus of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who last year spearheaded legislation to establish a Department of Defense Cyber Service Academy program.  

There are also opportunities to bring more biotech and biomanufacturing to the region. Regeneron already has a number of locations in New York State, including in the city of Rensselaer. The amazing research being done in CBIS—as well as a lower cost of living than in Boston—could be strong draws. 

Climate solutions and energy are another area of opportunity—thanks to the presence of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, with its mission to invest in clean energy innovations and to help New York State realize one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world.

I also believe that opportunities will arise through greater collaboration and engagement of all 5 schools.

Now, I’d like to take a moment to address some student concerns. I’ve already talked about graduate student support.

Parking! This was an interesting year. Our largest freshman class from last year came back this year with cars! And so our parking lots were at near capacity with permit holders. But it seems that some of the people in the lots this semester in particular were not permit holders. We’ve tried a few things to address the issue, and made some mis-steps along the way. I hope that our most recent actions, which we communicated earlier this week are starting to fix things.

We can also talk about student safety. Last year we had a few instances of students being struck by cars. I first want to say that we live in a world of distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians caused by these devices.

And so we need to be extra mindful of that when we are either driving or walking. That said, we need to constantly work to improve safety. Last year we made interventions at several key intersections, but we should constantly strive to do more, and in that spirit we have re-engaged with the City and the new Mayor. We are also working with the student leaders, who are helping us understand the parts of our campus where we are particularly vulnerable. Our first mission at RPI needs to be keeping our students safe.

Mental health is another important concern, and while I don’t have anything specific to report on today, I do know that this is something the Provost is very keen on making a focus for her Office as she comes up to speed on our current activities. I expect we'll be able to talk in future meetings about our plans here.

Part of making this a welcoming campus is making it easier to navigate for the members of our community with disabilities. I am delighted that some of our student leaders are in the process of compiling an accessibility analysis. Making meaningful change will take time, but we have to start.

I am very proud and humbled by the way our students have responded to the evolving crisis in the Middle East. In November, I had the great privilege of joining our student leaders for an Interfaith Vigil for Humanity and Community that brought people of all religions together to support each other. Members of our community are genuinely suffering over this crisis, so I encourage everyone to be respectful of that and to be thoughtful in their speech and actions.         

Our Middle States Reaccreditation process is on-time and progressing, with the ultimate goal of a community event in August to present our Middle States Committee’s findings and to solicit feedback. I thank everyone who has participated in this effort, especially our co-chairs Emily Liu and Keith Moo-Young. At this point in the process, if the Middle States Core Committee reaches out to you for evidence to help us make our case, I urge you to help. 

As I said earlier, one of the ways we are securing RPI’s future is by elevating RPI’s brand, in Troy and around the world. Our 200th birthday—and a lot of illustrious history—are giving us the opportunity to do just that. 

We have a lot of great events to look forward to for our bicentennial celebration that will help us reflect on the past, acknowledge the present, and imagine the future. And as we reach for regional leadership, we are using these events to make it clear that this is shared history with the City of Troy—and including our neighbors everywhere we can. 

We will host a signature bicentennial event next month, a ribbon cutting and symposium for the IBM Quantum System One that will include science reporter David Pogue of CBS News Sunday Morning

Next month also includes a fantastic evening that will be hosted by RPI’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering to celebrate the fact that in 1835, RPI became the first American university to award a degree in civil engineering. 

There will be big celebrations in the fall for Reunion and Homecoming and Family Weekend. There will also be both a campus day and a community day, complete with a Ferris Wheel, invented by George Ferris of the Rensselaer Class of 1881.

We are also expressing our deep gratitude to our neighbors by inviting them to a special production of the musical-drama I Dream—about the friendship between Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, Jr.—at EMPAC this fall.

Our individual schools are also planning upcoming events. Professors Michael Oatman and Anthony Titus of our School of Architecture and Senior Lecturer Sara Tack of our School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences are curating a special bicentennial exhibit of student work at the Chasan Building.

The School of Science will host a celebration of the 60th anniversary of our partnership with Albany Medical Center, which created the nation’s first accelerated bachelor’s-MD degree program. We will celebrate CBIS’s 20th anniversary with a special series on health issues held in Troy and open to the community.

Our School of Engineering is planning a Space Day to honor RPI’s history of leadership in space exploration. 

It will include a panel discussion on some of the most fascinating topics for the future, including the search for life outside our planet; the potential uses of space in mining, manufacturing, or energy production; and the prospect of colonizing the moon or Mars. 

Graduation in this bicentennial year is going to be particularly special. I am delighted to announce that we will award an honorary degree to astronaut Reid Wiseman of the RPI Class of 1997, who will be our commencement speaker. He is commander of NASA’s Artemis II mission—which will conduct a lunar flyby with a targeted date of September 2025. This will be the first crewed mission to leave low-Earth orbit since 1972. The goal of the Artemis program is to establish the first long-term human presence on the moon, as a stepping stone to the exploration of Mars. 

And we might have another surprise up our sleeve for Commencement – so stay tuned!

This 200th year is shaping up to be very exciting!

Let me wrap up with two things; an acknowledgement and hopefully an inspiration. First, I want to acknowledge that the change we need to go through will not necessarily be easy or fast, but it is needed. And at times, maybe we need puppies and cupcakes to lift our spirit. Thank you Lyn and JoJo!

Second, let me come back to where I started, and hopefully offer some inspiration. When I decided to apply for this position, I did so because I felt that this next decade can be a transformative decade for RPI, and indeed for the Capital Region. Why for RPI? 

Because, and I should say that this is more clear to me now than when I was sitting in my office in our home in Gloucester, MA, in the summer of 2021, Because our nation cannot survive just by relying on well-endowed private institutions. Institutions like RPI need to find their path to survive and thrive, to continue to contribute to society as higher education has throughout the years. But, we need to think deeply about what that future looks like.

The architects of RPI, Stephen Van Rensselaer and Amos Eaton, had a bold vision, in creating the first polytechnic institute in the nation. Recognizing that with the advent of the industrial revolution, being in a part of the U.S. that was an epicenter of that revolution, the nation needed a new type of institution. To quote Stephen Van Rensselaer in his letter dated November 5th, 1824, to Samuel Blatchford, who would be the first President of RPI, Van Rensselaer said that he wanted to establish a school (and I quote), ‘for the purpose of instructing persons, who may choose to apply themselves, in the application of science to the common purposes of life.’

He went on to further say in that letter that ‘My principal object is, to qualify teachers for instructing the sons and daughters of farmers and mechanics by lectures or otherwise, in the application of experimental chemistry, philosophy, and natural history, to agriculture, domestic economy, the arts, and manufactures.’ Folks, this was bold stuff, and certainly not what was happening or discussed in Cambridge, MA, or New Haven, CT, or Princeton, NJ.

I believe this is an important moment for us. 

Can we think about a RPI with a similarly bold vision? The challenge of course is that we don’t have one of the wealthiest persons in the US writing our new charter, as Amos Eaton had in 1824, and perhaps, with a dose of humility, we can accept that perhaps this is a somewhat different moment. But is it?

And that brings me to this book, authored by some friends, and former colleagues at MIT, Simon Johnson and Jon Gruber, economists that have a thesis. Their thesis is that the nation cannot survive by a few superstar cities with a huge concentration of wealth: Boston, New York, San Francisco, LA, you pick your favorites. Indeed, one could argue that much of the division we feel as a nation is a result of this uneven distribution of wealth. In their book, they offer a thesis that other metropolitan regions have the potential to excel.

I say ‘potential’ because it will not happen automatically. The region needs ‘to lean in.’ In their book, they analyze a number of regions, and identify 102 regions in the U.S. for which they believe this is possible. One of those regions is Albany/Schenectady/Troy. I believe them. But this is not our birth right, we need to work for this one, just as did the modern day ‘sons and daughters’ of Van Rensselaer’s ‘farmers and mechanics.’ But maybe, just maybe, we can together create a new RPI, an RPI that is as transformative today as RPI was 200 years ago, and led to many similar institutions in the ensuing decades.

I believe this is possible. I believe this is our future. It will be hard, but nothing transformative is easy. The big wins will come, but they will take time and hard work. That’s why I want to be here folks.

I believe that RPI can capture this opportunity, I believe that RPI can transform this region, and I believe RPI can point the way for other similar institutions that can follow us.

So yes, it requires change, and yes, that change is hard, and at times it may feel that it isn’t coming fast enough. But my job is to inspire you, to challenge you, to support you, to lift you up when you stumble, and to celebrate you when you succeed – and I suppose I ask that you return the favor – as you have done these past 21 months.

 I thank all of you for listening, and now I’d be happy to answer questions.

Back to top