STORRS -- Susan Herbst doesn't believe university presidents enjoy honeymoon periods when they run a place the size of the University of Connecticut. Either they are the right fit from the start or quickly figure out they just don't belong, she said.
From all indications, UConn is Herbst's glass slipper.
One year at the helm of the state's flagship university -- Herbst confides it feels like three -- and the freshman president has already managed to tackle a good number of things on her "to do" list and is not slowing down.
"The whole university is the list and I came wanting to make this a stellar first class research university and having been at those places, I know what that looks like," said Herbst, 49.
She got more done than she thought she would in this first year. "People are really ambitious here,'' she said, "and I arrived at a place that was ready to go the next step."
Since June 2011, Herbst has helped advance Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's plan for a Bioscience Center at the UConn Health Center, which won legislative approval just as she took the helm. The center, along with a research technology park planned for 2015, aims to help the university become a leader in biomedical research and, with the jobs it creates, help the state's economy.
What she's done
So far her hardest task, she said, has been to start implementing the cost efficiencies recommended by a consulting firm brought in to help the university cut costs. The university had to close a $45 million gap in its fiscal year 2012 budget of $1.03 billion, which was caused by a cut to UConn's state appropriation.
Another rough patch has been dealing with the NCAA decision to keep the men's basketball team out of tournament play next year because of the academic record of past players. Herbst said she won't let it happen again.
Herbst reshaped her administration, hiring the university's first vice president of economic development. She replaced the athletic director, combined several positions and set a goal to build the university's endowment from $329 million to $1 billion.
Seen by many as her boldest move, Herbst put into motion a plan to increase the number of full-time faculty -- there are 1,300 now -- by 300 positions over four years and to pay for it by raising tuition. Full-time undergraduate tuition, room and board this year is $21,486. By 2016 it will be $25,302.
"Some were worried, but our sticker price is competitive, a little below our aspirational peers," said Herbst. But Herbst said the university is committed to ensuring that the growing number of students who need financial aid can get it.
She is counting on Wayne Locus, her new vice president for enrollment planning and management, to not only build a great incoming class but to make sure that class has the financial aid it needs.
"I won't say that I like it," said Annie Oakes, 18, of the plan to raise tuition.
However, Oakes, a second-year student from upstate New York who wants to study veterinary medicine, said it is hard to argue with the increase because the money will be used to hire more teachers, allowing her to get the courses she needs over her eight-year program.
New hires, future
The hiring plan has been praised by just about everybody. The hiring of new faculty will help eventually reduce the 18-to-1 ratio of students to professors to 15-to-1. Some 30,000 full- and part-time students are spread between UConn campuses.
Lyle Scruggs, a political science professor and head of the UConn chapter of American Association of University Presidents, called the move to hire more faculty -- even as the state is coming out of recession -- unexpected, unprecedented and impressive. He also likes Herbst's commitment to increasing the intellectual climate on campus.
UConn in Stamford
Karla Fox, interim dean of UConn School of Business, said there is also innovation in the way new staff is being hired. Instead of sprinkling new hires thin across the university, they will be hired in clusters for a bigger impact. The idea, said Herbst, is to figure out what the university can really be good at teaching -- say, Asian history -- and concentrate on building a faculty pool that can excel in those areas.
Fox, who was on the search committee that hired Herbst, expects several of the new faculty in the coming year to be based out of Stamford, which is undergoing an expansion.
"We want to make it a more exciting place for students to go," Herbst said of Stamford.
`a real smart lady'
Herbst is UConn's 15th president and its first woman president. In her second year she will earn a salary of $500,000 (same as last year) of which $145,000 is paid by the UConn Foundation. Shortly after arriving on campus last summer, she donated $100,000 back to the university to be used for scholarships.
Kent Holsinger, interim vice provost and dean of the graduate school called Herbst energetic, thoughtful and anxious to get things done. "It is hard for me to tell how much credit she deserves for the major things that have happened. Obviously Malloy and the Legislature played a role," Holsinger said. Herbst said it wasn't all her. She said she and Malloy are on the same wavelength. "He definitely sets a high bar," she said of Malloy.
Herbst said one of the best parts of her job is her weekly open office hours for students. Most come to her with ideas about how to make things better, not complaints about professors.
Chris Fortson, who graduated this spring with an economics degree, called Herbst a "real smart lady." He is especially impressed that she wants to increase the university's endowment. "She has got the school going in the right direction," he said.
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