A New Semester, A Fresh Start!

Provost's Update: A New Semester, A Fresh Start!

Good morning! During this last week I’ve been caught in several “traffic jams” in various buildings across campus as students are changing classes. Isn’t that wonderful? Students everywhere who are talking, laughing, texting and studying (hopefully not in that order)! Their presence reminds me of one of the key reasons we are here to educate future generations. It doesn’t get any better than that. While I have to confess that the relative quiet of the summer is welcome after a busy academic year, I also always look forward to the influx of our new and returning students. It provides an opportunity for a “fresh start” to get right those things that last year I didn’t quite pull off the way I wanted to. So, in the “fresh start category,” there are lots of updates to report on as this new academic year begins.

ACADEMIC PLAN: UNT’s Academic Plan, currently in draft form, is going to be rolled out in the next several weeks with one final opportunity for our Academic Community to comment on it. As you remember, there were web links, forums and email opportunities last spring, and, through those mechanisms, many excellent suggestions made their way into the current draft. The Academic Plan will provide a “bridge” between UNT’s Four Bold Goals (you can name them by now, right?) and the strategic plans of the individual colleges and departments. Essentially, it will see these Goals through the specific lens of Academic Affairs. Ultimately, by the end of this academic year, an individual department should be able to trace its own role up through the Academic Plan to the UNT Strategic Plan and its Four Bold Goals. This “vertical alignment” will allow for better measurement of metrics achieved for resources invested. Some departments or colleges already have excellent strategic plans in place, and they will merely be asked to ensure that their plan aligns with the Academic Plan. Others may have expired plans, or be lacking plans all together. More … much more … on this to follow.

THE BUDGET AND HIRING FREEZE UPDATES: President Rawlins has announced the end of the hiring freeze, which lasted about a year. Given a good legislative outcome for higher education (including UNT), and UNT meeting its enrollment goals, we are on solid financial footing. However, nobody particularly enjoyed this past year and its belt tightening, including those in units with frozen positions. Thus, we will continue to watch our finances very carefully as we move forward. Even so …

FACULTY AND STAFF HIRING: … We are moving forward with the hiring of 52 full-time faculty searches, a mixture of Lectures and Tenure Track faculty, with most of those hired to be starting in the Fall of 2014. Clearly, we need to re-establish a vigorous faculty hiring process to return to and move well beyond our previous historic highs of faculty numbers. Of course, faculty are enabled in their teaching and research functions by highly talented staff. Through the hiring freeze, our departments and colleges/schools have worked diligently to increase efficiency and reduce the number of staff members required in Academic Affairs. However, we will need to look carefully at where staff are required as we continue to meet the service needs of our students and our scholarly activities.    

FALL ENROLLMENT: We expect to have met and slightly exceeded our enrollment forecast goals for this academic year. We won’t know for sure until after the 12th class day, but all signs point to success. And, both our new and returning students have been very strong, in terms of headcount and semester credit hour generation (the latter is our “payline” in terms of tuition and state formula funding). Very importantly, however, the average SAT scores of the incoming freshmen class is 1107, which is at or slightly above UNT’s score average last year. The average SAT for Texas high school students last year was 973, while the national average SAT score was 1,010. We are now turning away about as many students as we admit, and it is showing up in the quality. I sincerely hope that this statistical improvement also is showing up in terms of the academic “feel” in the UNT classrooms.  Enrollment is, of course, a UNT team effort, and Academic Affairs faculty and staff play a huge role in the quantity and quality of our student body. Thanks so much for your efforts this past year – they are making a difference!

ATHLETICS AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT: Many on the academic street carry stereotypes of college athletes and athletics. At UNT, these images can and should be positive ones. For example, I just learned from Athletic Director Rick Villarreal that our Mean Green Swimming Team has the highest cumulative GPA of any such NCAA Division 1A team in the nation, and our Football Team has the 4th highest cumulative GPA of any NCAA Division 1A football team in the nation!! I’ve always been impressed at the culture here at UNT that strives in every way to have our student athletes (not athlete students) achieve in the classroom first, and the athletic venue second. The athletes’ success in our classrooms also is a testament to the great instruction that they receive from our faculty. (Job well done!)

THE AUDITORIUM – A PROVERBIAL SILK PURSE FROM A SOW’S EAR!  Many of you may not have been in the Auditorium in years (or even know where it is – it is a 1400+ seat venue in the Auditorium Building, probably known to most as the home of the Department of English). This past year the Auditorium has undergone a $1.6 million retrofit, and the results are amazing. The past issues of lighting, sound, background noise and general dinginess are gone, and in its place is a very attractive, even architecturally interesting, large auditorium with tunable acoustics to accommodate the multiplicity of functions that occur in it. Over the winter break, the seating will be replaced with seats with writing tablets, but it is essentially finished now – and just in time, as the Lyceum is off line with the closing of the University Union. Next for renovation is the University Theater, which will be upgraded to allow dual functions of daytime lectures and evening performances.

VARIOUS and SUNDRY:

  • TWU Collaboration Rolling Along: We continue to find interesting and productive ways for UNT and TWU to enter into academic collaborations. As I’ve said previously, if we have a field station in southern Chile and an office in Thailand – surely we can increase our activities with an institution just 12 blocks away!!!  Jim Poirot (jim.poirot@unt.edu) continues to serve as our point man – feed him your good thoughts and ideas!
  • Internal Academic Department Moves: The UNT System Board of Regents has approved, and a request has been submitted for approval to the THECB, for the Department of Sociology to join the College of Arts and Sciences,  and for the Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences to join the College of Public Affairs and Community Services. Both of these moves, endorsed by the “movees” themselves, will provide for a better alignment of departmental and college goals. These are, incidentally, administrative rather than physical moves.
  • Continued Student Services Improvements: Many improvements have been made, and will continue to be made, in student services. A new, consolidated Veteran Students Services Center has opened in Sage Hall. We’ve rolled out the Succeed at UNT campaign (succeed@unt.edu) with the six student success messages: Show up; Find support; Take control; Be prepared; Get involved; Be persistent. And, students can now put their names on a wait list when they register, which has by all accounts been a great success. 
  • Classroom Seating: The beginning of the semester always presents challenges in getting faculty and students needing appropriate classrooms matched up to our available lecture rooms. During the summer, a total of 1,200 classroom seats across campus were necessarily removed due to fire and life safety regulations. The International Building Codeand the National Fire Protection Association state that classrooms with non-fixed seating must provide 20 square feet per student. Fixed seating, commonly found in assembly or large classroom spaces, do not fall under these regulations. We are asking for everyone’s cooperation in this process. Please don’t remove or add chairs/desks in the classrooms. Our number one priority is the safety of our students, faculty and staff.
  • International Graduate Admissions: During the past academic year, international graduate admission has been moved from UNT-International to the Toulouse Graduate School. Among the many efficiencies on campus, is the fact that admission turnaround time for international students is 1/3 of what it was previously. We look for more improvements in both UNT-International and the Toulouse Graduate School this year!
  • On a Lighter Note: You might read this short article about “The Very First Unteachable Students” to bring a lighter moment to your day. It made me laugh.

Best,

Warren