Mid‐Summer Update

Good morning!  It’s nearing the middle of the summer, with all the signs of summer on campus: cheerleader and band camps, quiet Fridays, broken water mains….  I know many faculty are either hunkered down in studios, library, laboratories, etc., or are off campus.  And, many of our staff are very busy taking advantage of the summer to prepare for the upcoming year (and for taking a well-deserved vacation).  Yet, I do want to update you on a few things that continue full bore this summer.   

THE BUDGET AND HIRING FREEZE UPDATES: The regular legislative session had both good news and bad news.  The good news was an approximately 4% increase in state funding to UNT. The bad financial news is that the mandated tuition waivers that we have to provide for a small but significant percentage of our students (e.g. veterans and their dependents and other “legacy” waivers), as well as a large increase in insurance benefits costs which continue to grow disproportionately, collectively consume millions of dollars annually. Moreover, as of this writing, a bill providing us with a major infusion of tuition revenue bonds – the primary way we build our new buildings - was not voted on.  We are hoping that TRBs will be introduced as an agenda item in the special session currently underway in Austin. On other budgetary news, UNT has eliminated 100 positions from the books as part of the President’s stated goal of reducing some 100 staff positions from the budget, which will provide for reinvestment in areas that contribute directly to the successes of our students, including areas in academic affairs.   As a consequence, we anticipate the nearly year old hiring freeze will be lifted soon.  We present the UNT FY14 budget to the Board of Regents on July 29th, and then subsequently will be able to determine individual-unit funding. 

REORGANIZATION AND REDUCTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE POSITIONS: In Academic Affairs we have been working steadily over the past year to reorganize several of our administrative units, including Enrolment Management and Undergraduate Studies. I know that change can be difficult and stressful, but it can – and should – also be invigorating once the dust settles. Along with this reorganization, as well as the detailed examination of our administrative structure that we have undertaken, we have eliminated numerous management/administrative positions, mostly through attrition. However, we have made some necessary reductions in staff positions, amounting to considerably less than 1 percent of our total UNT staff workforce to become more efficient (Bold Goal 3). Our intent in Academic Affairs is to convert as many of these dollars as possible into faculty positions to provide instruction for our growing student body and support staff positions to aide in this mission.  I will present a full accounting of the total positions eliminated and savings accrued at the first Faculty Senate Meeting in the Fall semester. Speaking of a growing student body….. 

FALL ENROLLMENT: I continue to be impressed not only with the work put into marketing to and recruiting ever more talented new students to UNT, but also with our increasing sophistication in predicting that enrollment weeks and months out.  In fact, our current model has ~100 variables in it, and is predicting a good Fall semester in terms of quality and quantity. Semester credit hour production (which is the factor our funding is really based upon) looks to be up  – in fact, more so than head count, meaning our students are taking slightly more hours than last year (a hallmark of improving student quality).  Now, we also have to retain them once they are here, of course!  Let’s all work to create a culture of student success that ensures our students have not only an inspiring educational experience (that’s Bold Goal #1, by the way!), but also have the one-on-one attention and assistance they need to succeed. 

FACULTY HIRING – LOOKING PRETTY GOOD. It appears that the promising budget picture above translates into not only moving forward with our one-year plan to swap adjuncts for 30-35 permanent, full-time Lecturers, but it appears that we will be able to move forward with some tenure-track hiring as well – conservatively, I estimate about a dozen assistant professors at this time.  Incidentally, the movement from part-time adjuncts to full-time Lecturers that we are proposing is so unusual in these times for higher education (which is moving quite smartly in the opposite direction), that there is discussion of shopping around a potential article in a prominent national higher education weekly highlighting UNT’s actions in this arena.

UNT-DALLAS ACCREDITATION.  UNT-Dallas received their SACS accreditation this last month! Along with their recognition last year by the State of Texas as a free-standing university, they are one step closer to being a full-fledged university.  However, they are still not recognized by the Feds as separate from UNT for purposes of financial aid, etc., and that process could take another year.  Thus, there remain significant linked functions for some time. Irrespective of their status, we look forward to continuing our collaborations with them.     

CHANGING THE CULTURE OF “TAKE THE SUMMER COURSE AT A COMMUNITY COLLEGE”.  It is our obligation to offer high quality courses, and courses that are helpful to students in the summer.  To this end we have just hired a Summer School Director (see below) who will work with the Colleges in putting forth an optimized array of courses, perhaps with some pricing breaks.   Unfortunately, I’ve heard via the grapevine that some faculty and advisors have been telling students to take summer school courses at community colleges where they are “cheaper and easier.”  Putting it simply, to advise students to go somewhere else for the summer is directly undercutting our fiscal health for the entire year, affecting raises, new buildings, instructional capacity – basically everything we do.  Summer school enrolment is down another 10% after a similar decline last summer and the year before that, and this is directly affecting the funds available at UNT, including funds for faculty and staff merit increases. As I said, it is our primary responsibility to put the best courses, in the best format, with the best instructors forward and we are determined to do that.  But actively sending students away for the summer is counterproductive on several fronts.

VARIOUS and SUNDRY

  • TWU Collaboration Rolling Along. I’ve always thought that it was ironic that we collaborate with universities in Thailand and southern Chile, but not too much with a fine university just 16 blocks away!  So I’m really pleased that new opportunities for collaboration continue to unfold between TWU and UNT.  Jim Poirot (UNT) and Don Edwards (TWU) are the point persons for this overarching initiative.  If you have ideas or thoughts, be sure to pass them along to Jim at jim.poirot@unt.edu.
  • Summer School Director. Dave McEntire, a long-serving Professor in Public Administration at UNT, has just been appointed as UNT”s Director of Summer School.  He will begin his duties August 1st, with the charge of generating recommendations for invigorating our summer school, which as mentioned above has been on hard times the last few years. I’m sure that he will invite you to weigh in with your views and opinions of what is right, and what is wrong, about summer school once he settles into his new duties.  David will retain his faculty appointment in Public Administration.

Best,

Warren