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 con­fi­dent 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 median SAT score of 1361, up 131 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.