A remarkable tour of UNH 2016

How a recent visit brought great pride to one alumnus

The University of New Hampshire is the flagship public institution in New Hampshire. For those of us who are graduates of UNH over the years, an in-depth visit to today’s campus in Durham is a remarkable experience, full of pride and hope. 

On Sept. 30, the combined advisory boards of the various parts of the university (UNH Law School, UNH Manchester, School of Liberal Arts, Athletics, School of Engineering, Paul College of Business, etc.) met in Durham for part of a day, culminating in the announcement of a capital campaign celebrating the 150th anniversary of the founding of UNH in 1866. 

Listening to the accomplishments of the various divisions, led by the fundraising prowess of the UNH Foundation, created great hope and confidence. 

A visit to the new football stadium (which is much more than that, as a place where corporate meetings can take place, events can be held, statewide sporting events can be celebrated and which provides a focus for athletics at all age levels throughout the state) was impressive. 

The facility was created without state funding and is a gem worthy of an institution of UNH’s quality, regardless of the enthusiasm one might have for football or any particular sport. While many, including this writer, may think that the priorities of the university are better aimed at scholastics than athletics, viewing the accomplishments and hearing the plans for the new facility have a major effect on that attitude, especially combined with the other, more academic achievements evident on campus. 

Visits to the Entrepreneurial Center and the InterOperability Lab, located at 21 Madbury Road in the newly built Madbury Commons that has transformed downtown Durham, were eye-opening.

At the Entrepreneurial Center, any student on campus, regardless of major, can come with an idea for a product, service or a business and receive assistance and the expertise of professionals. This already has resulted in the establishment of many businesses. The list of sponsoring corporations in New Hampshire is impressive as they support the next generation of entrepreneurs and their ideas.

The InterOperability Lab, which has been around for some time, helps businesses that want to have their products tested to make sure that their security codes, passwords, communication devices and other equipment really are secure and work as designed. Students are given the opportunity to work on projects for real companies with real issues, providing a real service, and the university gets paid for providing it. 

The Entrepreneurial Center and InterOperability Lab demonstrate the creativity, flexibility and entrepreneurial nature of the university itself and shows how UNH is current and creative in seeking revenue-producing ventures while affording students a real-world learning experience. 

At the kickoff of the capital campaign, President Mark Huddleston announced the goal to raise $275 million to celebrate the 150th anniversary. While this is an astounding amount of money, as with most capital campaigns, it was announced after the majority already had been raised. Also astounding was the fact that few in attendance doubted that the goal can be reached.

As a result, scholarships, scholastic projects, facilities and the stability of the university will be strengthened and improved. (As someone who chaired the UNH Fund in the mid-1970s and was gratified that we could raise $300,000 that year, the 2016 numbers are mind-boggling.)

At the luncheon, President Huddleston faced squarely the recent controversy about the university’s purchase of a scoreboard at the new athletic facility using a portion of the funds left by the late UNH library employee, Robert Morin, who left $4 million to his alma mater. 

There has been controversy that the money should have been used for some purpose other than the scoreboard. Huddleston was straightforward in saying that the decision had been made to complete the athletic facility, which in turn would attract more people to the university, more students from in and out-of-state and would allow advertising revenue to be created by selling ads on the scoreboard.

He also indicated that had the money been used for a scholarship, it might have created two half-scholarships for New Hampshire students and the analysis of the situation was that more revenue would be created by having the scoreboard than by creating the scholarships. 

Interestingly, those close to Morin did not criticize the decision and noted that he had left the vast majority of his gift as undesignated. The university also could have played games and substituted the funds for some other purpose and diverted other money to the scoreboard but did not do so and was direct in giving Mr. Morin credit for this impressive addition to the university’s athletic complex.

It is easy to criticize decisions, but listening to the rationale and understanding it brings confidence that the decision was made after thought, analysis and planning. Perhaps those who criticize this UNH decision and others should examine their motivations!

On campus, the new UNH custom is for someone to say, “It is a great day to be a Wildcat!” The response to which is, “Every day is a great day to be a Wildcat!” 

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

Categories: Cook on Concord