As published as an opinion in The Hartford Courant, July 24, 2011.

Taking on 'Myths': New UConn Chief Is Proud to Aspire

President Takes on 'Myths': Where Some See Flaws, She Sees Strengths

By Susan Herbst

This is a presumptuous commentary, given that I'm a newcomer. But I've come to know the University Of Connecticut's challenges well; they're not all that different from those most public research universities face.

UConn has made tremendous progress in recent years, resulting from the state's investment in us and also from the stunning variety of talents across our schools, colleges and departments. We're proud of our academic excellence in many areas, athletic prowess and, of course, our fantastic students.

We are not perfect. UConn, like any large organization, occasionally makes mistakes. And when they occur, I am committed to addressing them appropriately and promptly.

Yet, as with most complex organizations, we view ourselves as being misunderstood by some who judge just one aspect or another of the university. It's understandable; a research university has so many facets.

How is UConn misunderstood? Here are three myths I've heard repeatedly since coming on board:

Myth No. 1: UConn is Greedy

Some argue that where UConn is concerned, "it's never enough; they keep seeking more investment, more faculty, more buildings." This is true, because universities that hope to get better need more investment. It's a bit odd to say that our constant desire for self-improvement smaller classes, improved student-faculty ratios, better facilities, more help for needy students, the latest equipment for our scientists, producing more jobs and providing patients the best medical care at the UConn Health Center is greedy.

The state's investments in UConn are paying off. We graduate record numbers of students, bring hundreds of millions of outside dollars into the state annually and generate thousands of jobs, all of which help fuel Connecticut's economy. It is exactly UConn's ability to be this kind of economic and research vehicle that draws private and public investments such as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's Bioscience Connecticut initiative and the science and technology park championed by Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams.

We strive to be as fine an institution someday as the University of Michigan or Penn State. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is exactly how they got there through investment. And we will need to be far more strategic and creative, given that today's economy is far different than the glory days of the early 20th century, when those institutions made their moves to greatness.

Myth No. 2: UConn Spends Too Much

The university is unique among state agencies in that we exist in a highly competitive environment. We must attract and retain outstanding students, faculty, researchers, donors and staff in order to excel as an institution and meet the expectations of our students and state. This requires having great people, programs and facilities. It comes at a cost, however, in the form of salaries, equipment and buildings.

Many of our faculty researchers are partially or entirely self-supporting through the grants they secure. Outside funding helps pay for their salaries, the salaries of their research team and even lab equipment they use. Similarly, the Health Center's clinical operations generate a great deal of revenue that covers the salaries of our medical and dental faculty and supports our mission.

I will always champion the need to invest in higher education. At the same time, we clearly have an obligation to spend wisely and we will not lose sight of that responsibility.

Myth No. 3: UConn Is Arrogant

I have heard this about all six of the public and private research universities with which I have been affiliated. Unlike the business world, where acting like you are terrific is seen as shrewd and strategic, educational institutions are expected to be modest and even self-deprecating.

The conundrum is that we want to brag about what we do well. It's a joy to talk about our faculty accomplishments and the incredible students we have. We need to keep bragging and promoting UConn to show our strengths and stay even with our competitors. I hope that Connecticut brags right along with us, sharing Husky pride far beyond athletics.

I promise that we will be good financial stewards, in good times and bad. But I do ask that everyone take pride in what you the people of Connecticut have built. Be proud with us and be ambitious with us. We are a great university and we belong to you. We need your affection, your support and your respect. We will try to earn it, every day.

Susan Herbst is the president of the University of Connecticut.