Town Meeting

Schmidt announces IBM Quantum System One’s virtual groundbreaking, provides updates on research goals

President Martin A. Schmidt ’81 hosted the Fall Town Meeting on October 10, 2023.

Schmidt first discussed the virtual groundbreaking for Rensselaer’s Quantum Computational Center. Rensselaer will be the first university worldwide to house an IBM Quantum System One. Utilizing its vast capabilities, students and faculty can explore potential applications of quantum computing, such as drug discovery, modeling and predicting new materials, and financial risk modeling. The quantum computer will be housed in the Voorhees Computing Center. The quantum computer arrives with more than $150 million of investment, some of which was given by Curtis R. Priem ’82, vice chairman of the Board of Trustees. This funding will provide the basis for RPI and IBM’s quantum partnership, which includes the Curtis Priem Quantum Constellation, a center for collaborative research among dedicated faculty members.

Rensselaer's Vice President for Research Robert Hull and Provost Rebecca Dorge plan to steer RPI towards becoming one of the nation’s leaders in semiconductor-related research. In the wake of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the Department of Defense announced that the Northeast Regional Defense Technology Hub will be one of eight innovation hubs that focuses on prototyping military innovation. RPI is one of the five partners in NORDTECH, along with New York University, Cornell University, IBM, and New York Creates. NORDTECH is set to receive $40 million to help create its infrastructure and processes for future research. Additionally, RPI is a partner in the Micron Foundation and National Science Foundation. Six universities in the United States and five in Japan are brought together for memory-centered research to encourage women to enter the semiconductor field. Moreover, RPI will have a physical presence in Albany NanoTech, the premiere microelectronics prototyping facility in the nation. RPI is now launching a new Master of Science degree in Semiconductor Technology.

Schmidt also talked about planning RPI’s bicentennial. The bicentennial logo was revealed last weekend and a poll will be sent out to select a tagline. Along with RPI’s many accomplishments, Schmidt plans to recognize the new IBM Quantum System One and RPI’s plan to expand leadership in chip-related research.

Addressing his former promise from the Spring Town Hall Meeting to improve the faculty shortage, Schmidt announced that 33 new tenured and tenure-track faculty have been hired this fall. Thirty more of these positions are set to be filled next fall, of which three are already hired. At the beginning of this year, there were only 1,081 staff and 285 tenured and tenure-track faculty. With these improvements, RPI is readily approaching its goal with 350 faculty and 1,279 staff.

Schmidt additionally mentioned Rensselaer's highlights from FY 23. The operating budget for last year was balanced. Total revenues for last year were below budget by $4.2 million. Total revenues are $440 million annually. The $4.2 million represents only one percent of the total budget. The most significant difference is net tuition revenue, which is $16.5 million below budget. Undergraduate tuition revenue experienced the greatest difference of $9.7 million. Moving forward, Schmidt plans to focus on affordability and improving retention and transfer student pathways. RPI’s long term debt is $629.8 million, which decreased by $24.5 million due to continued principal payments. Revenue grew only two percent this year while expenses grew by seven percent. Schmidt cites the combination of growing investments and inflation as the cause of this. With the exception of the pension increase, Schmidt expected these results.

The Board has decided to commence an overall campus renewal plan. Schmidt intends to explore whether one or several buildings could be used for computing activities. This campus renovation plan will be paced by RPI’s ability to raise money for the renovations and will likely be implemented over several decades. There will be a focus on campus buildings which are relatively underutilized but are in major need of renovations, such as the Ricketts Building and the 87 Gymnasium. Part of the plan involves identifying spaces for the current uses of the buildings so that a comprehensive renovation of the building can be done.

Last fall, RPI released an analysis of the 2021 climate survey of our staff and faculty by the Climate Survey Task Force, which is co-led by Dr. Deepak Vashishth, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies. Faculty and staff made recommendations based on the draft report released in December 2022. Schmidt plans to release the results and recommendations soon. Further climate surveys will be conducted every other year.

Schmidt additionally discussed the continued work on re-accreditation efforts of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Accreditation is required for universities and their students to receive federal funding. Currently, 80 faculty, staff, and students are working to gather, analyze, and report on evidence demonstrating that the Institute is in full compliance with the Commissions’ Standards for Accreditation and Requirements for Affiliation. Next winter and spring, the Core Steering Committee co-chairs, Fead of the Industrial Systems and Engineering Department Dr. Emily Liu and Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Dr. Keith Moo-Young will integrate all of the chapter reports into one cohesive document for circulation to the RPI community, with the goal of completing re-accreditation during 2025.

Schmidt also took questions from the audience, one of which asked about research and development with the DOD. In answering this, Schmidt mentioned that the $40 million grant received is from the DOD. He also stated that RPI hosted Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on campus and listened to her concerns regarding the federal government’s workforce and its capacity to understand cybersecurity issues. Gillibrand has created a cybersecurity scholars’ program and her ultimate hope is that people can enter the program and receive an education in cybersecurity, eventually working for the U.S. Government. RPI is currently working on an application to participate in this program.