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URI Making a Mark

The following editorial was printed this summer in the Narragansett Times and its sister publications, the Chariho Times, the Standard Times, and the East Greenwich Pendulum.

After what’s happened so far this year, officials at the University of Rhode Island must suffer from a variant of the “Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome” - it can’t get any respect from within Rhode Island, especially from the General Assembly, but it gets a heap from outside the state’s borders.

First, through some intensive behind-the-scenes efforts, URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography landed Dr. Robert Ballard, the famed undersea explorer who found the resting place of the Titanic and most recently the remains of John F. Kennedy’s PT 109 that helped launch him into the national spotlight. Ballard is a URI alumnus, and his mere presence on the faculty should serve as a draw for international attention and grants, while adding prestige to the URI image.

Shortly after that good news, the General Assembly passed a budget that has all sorts of flaws, including a nice monetary package for race dog owners and a cut for all three of the state’s institutions of higher education. As a result, URI, Rhode Island College and the Community College of Rhode Island have to endure major economic hardship. At URI that means a job freeze; current vacancies cannot be filled. Further, a major boost in tuition could end the dreams of a college education for many young people.

Recently, URI announced that it has signed an alliance with the Cousteau Society, which was founded by the late undersea exploration scientist Jacques Cousteau. Through this collaboration, URI and the society hope to boost outreach programs in research and public education in ocean and coastal environmental matters.

It’s only the latest in URI’s significant accomplishments that underscore the prestige and recognition the university receives outside the state.

Its engineering department was involved with Ford in the development of one of the best engines Detroit ever produced. Another section of the engineering department was a pioneer in robotics.

Fisheries experts from URI long have been involved in helping Third World countries develop and protect their fishing industries.

URI researchers have developed new varieties of grass for use in the burgeoning golf course business and other types suitable for the turf industry.

Scientists from URI have also added immensely to the data base used to study Lyme Disease caused by ticks.

URI is home to the highly successful International Engineering Program, whereby students are on an exchange with some of the most prestigious companies and universities in Germany and France.

The URI campus is home to the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, and distinguished scholar-in-residence Dr. Bernard LaFayette is internationally respected for the furtherance of this life-or-death cause.

Next month, a small delegation from England’s BBC will meet with officials of the URI Master Gardener Program because BBC would like to sponsor an educational program similar to the highly successful one at URI—that to be done in a nation where gardening already has a motherhood status.

There are myriad other instances where URI has left its mark on the world. But the lack of respect and support from those who hold the pursestrings at home continues.

It’s time that the legislators on Smith Hill open their eyes, look at URI and begin to realize what untold numbers around the world see so clearly and appreciate so dearly.

(Reprinted with permission of Southern Rhode Island Newspapers.)

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