Spring has Sprung

Good morning! While we aren’t exactly in the “home stretch” for the Academic year, more and more of the spring semester is behind us (and winter, I hope!). Out of curiosity I read what I wrote in a Provost’s Update written at this point last fall, and it holds doubly true…..”It’s that time of year when the first doubts about finishing that “to do” list for the (academic year) start creeping into your mind (at least, into MY mind), to be temporarily pushed aside with thoughts of “I can still get that done”. So, I imagine many of you are accelerating your activities to get everything done before the end of this academic year.

OUR NEW PRESIDENT:  President Smatresk has hit the ground running in his first 6 weeks, and has quickly created a highly effective working relationship with Academic Affairs. He has met several times with the Deans and with the Provost Office’s senior staff, and has indicated his interest in meeting with individual departments and colleges in the very near future. Particularly exciting are his ideas for creating a much stronger regional identity for UNT, as well as promoting the research agenda for the university. You may have read about the progressive new tuition plans we are introducing, as well  http://eagleexpress.unt.edu/ Stay tuned for more!

RESEARCH:  In pursuit of our goal of becoming a Tier 1 research university, the offices of both Academic Affairs and Research and Economic Development continue to coordinate closely to drive our research agenda forward as rapidly as possible. We recognize the urgent need for new, high quality research space, as well as the need to improve existing space, and are examining every possible way to support the creative activities of our faculty and staff. We are also doing everything possible to support both existing productive researchers and the many new great faculty hires we are making for Fall 2014. Additionally, Vice President Tom McCoy is making some significant staffing changes to the Research Office, which will really impact the pre-awards area of his operation. Look for more coordinated actions between Academic Affairs and Research and Economic Development as we press forward on the research agenda. 

ENROLLMENT AND SUMMER SCHOOL:  You can bet on me mentioning enrollment in my Provost’s Updates – it’s a central focus of what we do. In our quest for ever better students and managed growth, we are doing ever more sophisticated enrolment modeling. The President has authorized the appointment of a vice president for enrolment (a national best practice), who will be focused specifically on enrollment issues. This will be an interesting recruiting season. The competition from the surrounding states for good Texas students is increasing and, curiously, this year Texas will experience a drop in high school graduates followed by more than a decade of growth. Summer school is a key link in our enrollment.  The so-called “base year” on which UNT’s state funding is based begins with this year’s summer school. We have accelerated our advertising, are working on changing course offerings and faculty compensation over the next few years. While I wouldn’t say that summer is or ever will be a “third semester” similar to the other two, the truth is that success or failure in summer school significantly affects our ability to offer raises, hire faculty and staff, build buildings, etc. Hence, we appreciate you discussing the option of UNT summer school with your students, and look forward to receiving ideas from you as to how to further improve the health and quality of the summer school experience.

EQUITY AND GENDER: I recently had a very productive meeting with the Faculty Senate Committee on the Status of Women. Unlike most such meetings over the years that typically end with “We need more data”, it is clear from the existing data that there are significant issues of inequity in terms of teaching, support and salary that we must deal with. For instance, in general, newly hired women teach more SCHs than newly hired men, and women’s salaries are lower than men’s upon hiring. After faculty have been at UNT for six years, the gender salary discrepancies remain and, in some colleges, the gap widens over the years. We identified some positive and concrete steps to be taken (without more data!). The Committee will be briefing the Faculty Senate on proposed next steps.

SETE:  We heard you and have responded – the student evaluation of teaching effectiveness is being revisited. As the Faculty Senate works with us to populate a committee that will evaluate potential instruments for student evaluation of teaching effectiveness, let’s keep in mind the following:  1) To support faculty development, the best education of our students, and by accreditation and legislative mandate, we must have end of course teacher evaluations in place at all times; 2) For consistency, one evaluation needs to be used throughout the university; 3) The evaluation needs to be electronic (we are green!); 4) To the extent possible, evaluations are best when benchmarked nationally within the same discipline.

VARIOUS and SUNDRY:

  • Science Research Building (SRB):  Those of you who venture to the North side of the campus have noticed that the SRB has had cyclone fence around it for several months. While it remains open on a limited basis, there are some structural issues with part of the brick façade. Safety concerns have led us to keep people away from most areas of the building. None of us like having the fence around the building and many parking spots have been eliminated by the fencing. We are actively working on solutions to the SRB issue (modest fix, full renovation, demolition are the options). Stay posted!  
  • Student Union Renovation: It’s amazing, at least to me, to see the Union reduced to a concrete stick figure. The crane over the construction site is a symbol of progress, however, and we’ll soon see demolition turn into actual construction. The Fall ’15 opening will be exciting for all of us.  In the meantime, remember that the noise, dust and detours are worth the prize at the end of the road. One interesting, unintended outcome is that we are discovering new places for meetings in all sorts of locations around the campus. 
  • April Celebrations: Although most in higher ed administration agree that April is the most hectic of all months, it is also one of my favorite. April is the month for celebrations of achievement in the various colleges, schools and departments. Many groups have award ceremonies, end-of-year banquets, etc. It’s a wonderful time of year to look back on the achievements of our students during this academic year. I’ll see many of you at these events, and look forward to hearing about the wonderful accomplishments of our university community.
  • On a Lighter Note:  In case you need a guide for translating academic jargon (not that we use any at UNT!)…..  http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/jokes/jokes_academic.htm

Best,

Warren