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As many of you know, in March representatives of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges visited our campus for the process known as reaffirmation.

Every 10 years, universities like ours undergo an extensive review – one that takes months of time and hundreds of people across our campus to prepare for – as part of being an accredited institution.

As a practical matter, the process of accreditation – and reaffirmation – is important because it, among other things, ensures our eligibility for federal student financial aid.

But beyond the necessary and practical importance of it, affirmation means that we are doing things right – right by our students, right by our people and right by our state.

Yesterday, I am pleased to report to you, we received official word that our affirmation has been approved by our accreditors with no areas of noncompliance or concern out of more than 70 standards evaluated.

Our report totaled more than 600 pages with some 3,000 points of evidence. It was a massive undertaking on behalf of people in every part of our community. I want to thank Provost Bob DiPaola and so many others who spent untold hours preparing for this process and ensuring its success.

That success, of course, has many mothers and fathers – faculty and staff who work tirelessly on behalf our students and who conduct and perform research and service that takes them into every community and our state and around the globe.

I am honored to announce their success to you on their behalf.

When the review team, composed of several long-time educators, visited us in March, several made the point that a recurring theme they heard throughout this campus was our commitment to advancing Kentucky.

Whether the conversation focused on a particular program or our efforts to initiate transdisciplinary educational approaches to advance Kentucky (or what we call TEK) across the curriculum, the commitment to our state was there.

It informed and guided everything we do.

Indeed, one review team member, who has evaluated several institutions over the years, said many schools and universities are obsessed with rankings.

At UK, he said, the focus is firmly fixed on educating and advancing Kentucky.

That focus – that unyielding sense of commitment – is part of what makes our community so special. It is what has always guided us. And, as you know, from our strategic plan and our recent retreat, it is what guides us still.

I hope that you have heard that theme throughout our time together this week – particularly in the report from working groups that are, at your direction, seeking ways to accelerate our progress as Kentucky’s university.

A 21st century economy requires a 21st century university.

That means an institution that is nimble … that is responsive … and that listens to its stakeholders and supporters.

And we must do that without sacrificing those timeless values to which we are committed – a well-rounded education that helps ensure well-rounded young people … scholarship and research that pursues discovery wherever it takes our talented faculty … and care and service guided by what our commonwealth needs.

That question of how to respond to the pace of change all around us – and in the context of what our state needs from us – is the central question that this work group is grappling with.

Throughout our meetings, you have heard from each of the work groups that have been established to quickly, but thoughtfully, make recommendations that honor the critical and compelling direction you provided to us in October.

We have a strategic plan that sets a course for this institution as we seek to advance Kentucky in everything that we do. In October, you directed us to focus on aspects of that plan that you believe – and that we agree – are essential to accelerate our progress and that of the state we serve.

I hope you agree today that we have assembled the expertise – the depth and breadth – so readily available across our campus to bring to bear on these important issues and in response to the direction you have provided us.

We are early in this effort, although we are mindful of the fact that you have charged us to move very quickly in making progress. I hope you can tell from the report outs from each group that we have the right people at the table, and they already are thinking substantively and creatively.

Early on, already, common themes and important connections between and among groups have emerged.

We are positioning ourselves to grow enrollment. But how does that enrollment match the workforce needs of the state?

And how do we partner with others – such as the community and technical college system and its new leadership or with communities, both urban and rural – to maximize our efforts and our reach?

We have a curriculum that offers expansive – and, in many places, deep – opportunities for distinctive learning.

But can students navigate it easily and successfully?

And do they see the connections between what they are studying and learning and where they see themselves going?

As one student wrote recently in a column in our student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel, “while I appreciate UK’s efforts to offer a variety of courses that appeal to every student, it’s unclear what overarching purpose these classes are all achieving.”

How do we make those connections clearer? How do we ensure that those connections are the right ones for our students as they seek strong and sustainable careers but also lives of meaning and purpose?

None of these efforts will be successful without a strong and stable workforce. And all around us, companies are evaluating their total compensation programs, particularly their benefits and the changing desires of employees. How do we keep pace – and move quickly – with a benefits package that attracts and retains a workforce that will stay and grow with us?

And, as we just heard, policymakers are moving to assess a number of aspects of higher education in Kentucky – from what is offered and where, to governance structures and oversight that would impact how we do what we do and the speed with which we do it.

How do we respond to those forces in such a way that demonstrate that we are listening to policymakers and stakeholders, and we are responding in ways that clearly show we can move quickly to meet the state’s needs?

It is an exciting time for us. It is a challenging time. I am convinced that, with your leadership, we are asking the right questions, seeking answers in the right ways and positioning this place for success – success that, as always, we measure by how we are advancing this state, now and into the future.

I look forward to the acceleration of our efforts together and your engagement in this process.

Thank you.