Provost Update - November, 2014

Good morning! Even after decades in academics, I still find it amazing how fast the end of each semester comes up on us. We’ll soon have Thanksgiving in our rear view mirror, and we will be organizing the last few lectures with hopefully grand effect! In the meantime, I want to update you on several activities around campus.

DEPARTMENT EVALUATIONS:  There has been much buzz ― as well there should be ― about the process of department evaluations that are ongoing. First, let me point out that, while small groups of individual departments are evaluated on a 7 year cycle, it has been at least a quarter of a century since all of UNT’s departments were evaluated concurrently. Our goal here is to be diagnostic and proscriptive in an attempt to help elevate our departments to higher levels of ranking, performance and achievement ― it is not driven by cost-savings or intent to eliminate individual departments. Having said that, we have gone through an evolution in how we are approaching this. In the first phase, we used the two dozen metrics approved by the Faculty Senate for evaluation of graduate programs to come up with a ranking of our departments, all compared against each other in student success, SCH generation, faculty scholarship ― a whole series of metrics. We quickly realized that a single ranking ―  No. 25, for example ― was useless, because a department could be ranked 25th out of 50 and be there because it was very good in some areas and not as effective as others. This actually diverted attention to both further enable the good aspects of performance, and to see where help could be rendered where improvement was desired. Instead, we are now developing a much more nuanced way of looking at our departments that groups performance in three areas ― essentially, student success, SCH/revenue generation and scholarship ― all weighted by the number of faculty in the department. We are still working with Deans and Chairs in an iterative process to ensure that the data used are as robust as possible, and that the process is clear and transparent to all. Once we are there, we will be rolling out the results. Importantly, we can’t just say “Oh, that’s interesting.” Instead, and what universities are typically not very good at, we need to figure out the actions that will improve the profile of each department. Much more to follow on this, likely at the start of the Spring Semester. 

COLLEGE OF ARTS AND SCIENCES – TO BE OR NOT TO BE:  As I indicated at the most recent Faculty Senate meeting, there is discussion about whether the College of Arts and Sciences should be reconfigured. Certainly, if it were to be done, now would be the time before we search again for a permanent Dean. Yet, at the same time, this is not a trivial undertaking, and there needs to be compelling, long-term reasons to do so. Let me state in most certain terms that absolutely no decision has been made. There have not even been any detailed discussions as of yet. To help guide us to the best choice for the college, we are going to create a Qualtrics survey for our faculty and staff to use to provide important feedback. I hope to have this survey up shortly after we return from Thanksgiving break. While some universities have taken a year or more to (endlessly) debate such moves, we need to resolve this as quickly as possible so that we know which direction to go with a Dean search or searches. In this respect, your input will be invaluable. I’ll announce the survey as soon as it is on our website.  

GRADUATE TUITION AND HEALTH BENEFITS:  We have been working hard on a plan to provide tuition to many of our graduate studentsnext year. I won’t go into details here (there are MANY details), as I have talked about this at Faculty Senate meetings and other venues. However, what seems to be getting the most buzz is that we are “taking away the health benefits” from our graduate students. Apropos of health benefits, as we go down the pathway of improving the remuneration for our students, I have consistently evoked the Hippocratic Oath ― first do no harm! Our sincere intent is to make as many graduate students better off financially, and to leave none disadvantaged in this regard. All state employees (graduate students are considered state employees) are entitled to payment of half their health benefits by the State of Texas. About five years ago, UNT somewhat curiously, decided to pay the other half, with the idea that this would help offset the glaring fact that we didn’t pay their tuition, as so many of our competitors do. With our new tuition plan in lieu of paying health benefits, students will have much more net money in their pocket, and they will have choices about how and whether or not to get health coverage. This approach toward health benefits will bring us in alignment with every other public university in Texas. More importantly, every graduate student that I have talked to, when asked about whether they would rather have their tuition or half of their health benefits paid for, has chosen tuition ― it is pretty simple math. We are excited about rolling out the details very soon!

VARIOUS and SUNDRY:

  • UNT on the Square: UNT on the Square just celebrated its fifth year in existence! It has been a great addition to Denton’s downtown vibrancy, and we look forward to an even greater activity at this facility. Drop by the next time you are downtown!
  • New Historical Signage: Our UNT campus has a rich and storied history. I hope you have noticed the Historical Signs that have been steadily appearing around campus. The first stages of the signs rolled out in 2013 and commemorate not only existing buildings, but as importantly, the sites of former buildings and grounds that have long ago disappeared. For example, did you know that our football field used to be where Willis Library is now located? Stop to read the signs (there are more than 30 of them around campus), and learn a little bit more about the history of our campus.
  • Website for Academic Affairs: The website for Academic Affairs has been reorganized for greater effectiveness.  Check it out.
  • On a Lighter Note: And, lest we take ourselves to seriously, flip over to A Short Compendium of Academic Humor!

And, I hope you have a pleasant and restful Thanksgiving holiday.

Best,

Warren