Dear Faculty and Academic Staff,
Welcome back! I am sure you are as excited and energized as I am about this new academic year. There is nothing quite like the atmosphere on a university campus at the beginning of a new year. As exciting a time as this is for us all, it can be stressful for our newest students, staff, and faculty members. Please keep an eye out for these community members and help them find their ways (both literally and figuratively)!
Much has happened since last year, and I have a few items you may want to know about.
Enrollment and Budget Update
As you may be aware, we are in a count year (aka a legislative base year) that will have great impacts on our funding from the state. Rising enrollments translate into more resources flowing to us to meet our students’ needs. The news is very encouraging so far. Summer enrollment was up 4.9% in semester credit hours (SCH) and 4.1% in head count (HC) over last summer. And fall enrollments are also up. At a time when 70% or so of Texas institutions are shrinking, we continue to show remarkable growth. This is a tribute to a lot of hard work by our colleagues in the Division of Enrollment, the Division of Student Affairs, and UBSC’s Recruitment Marketing team as well as by countless faculty and staff in Academic Affairs.
As many of you know all too well, with rapid growth comes new challenges. We’ll work with you on these and help you as best we can. Supporting and retaining our students is an essential task for all of us at UNT.
With the historic growth UNT has experienced these past few years, it would be understandable to wonder why we are talking about another year of relatively flat budgets. As I think you’ll see, from a financial point of view, we are fundamentally healthy. But we are facing a few headwinds that Vice President for Finance and Administration Clayton Gibson and his excellent team are working hard to address in the coming year. First, COVID caused a considerable financial toll, especially in auxiliary services like housing and dining. Like many universities, we relied heavily on federal stimulus money to plug holes and keep our students engaged and progressing toward their degrees. These funds were indeed a blessing, but now they are gone. We are left with many of the original holes as well as some unfortunate new ones. You may have read about a recent lawsuit against us that is in litigation. At present, we are barred from charging out-of-state tuition to U.S. students who are not Texas residents. Until this is resolved, UNT is losing revenue each year. Furthermore, everything has gotten more expensive — our contributions to the overall UNT System budget have increased, as has the inflation we’re all experiencing.
As I have said, we’re not in bad shape. But I expect another lean year without many new investments. I do expect things will improve for FY24 once we’ve reestablished a baseline, and we’ll see the fruits of our labor reflected in the budget. We’ll do all we can to address pain points in the coming year, but I ask for your patience. There is a great deal of light at the end of the tunnel, but we aren’t there quite yet.
Public Health Updates
We’ll continue to monitor public health conditions as we move through the academic year.
- COVID 19. We will continue to follow CDC guidance. Curative will provide free testing to faculty and staff Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Lot 20. While the UNT camouflage-patterned buckets with cleaning supplies are no longer in our instructional spaces, if you’d like one in a space where you teach, please let our colleagues in Facilities know.
- Monkeypox. You may have seen the Aug. 10 message from UNT System Chancellor Michael Williams regarding monkeypox. At the moment, the risk of monkeypox in our area is low. As with COVID, we will monitor the situation and follow CDC guidance.
Caring for Each Other
We’ve long taken pride in being a caring campus. These past couple of years have presented unprecedented challenges for everyone in our community, and our collective spirit has never been more important. All of us — staff, faculty, and students — have been navigating a scary world. Many of us have been confronted with illness and loss. Many of our students are less prepared for the social and academic rigors of college life. At work, many of us have been stretched to the limit by shortages of staff and faculty — all of us have had to do more with less. You might have heard me or President Smatresk say that we are going to do our best to not launch huge new initiatives in the coming academic year. Instead, the goal will be to take a collective breath and consider whether we are doing all we can to care for each other and ourselves.
Are we doing all we can to help every student feel that they matter and belong? Helping students develop a growth mindset is also important. As you know all too well, some students have the notion that there isn’t much they can do to increase their capabilities (“I can’t do math,” “I’m no good at writing,” etc.). Such students are often more brittle when the inevitable challenges and stresses of college and life pop up. We will serve them well if we can help them to develop a belief that not only can they learn, grow, and develop capacities but also that stress is often a part of growth. Faculty and staff are in a powerful position to lead. I encourage you to share your journeys and stories of how you overcame difficulties. We sometimes tend to talk about our personal accomplishments of which we are justifiably proud. But I would argue that it’s more important that our students know that you have been knocked down many times and have gotten up just as many. Humanizing yourself is a great gift you can give your students!
The strain of recent years weighs especially on staff and faculty. You have been on the front lines — many of us are short-staffed, in part due to a staff compensation structure that needs a lot of work. And we are dealing with all of this at a time of ongoing national trauma. The strain on our community is a big problem, and a top concern of the president. It will take some doing to get this right, both in terms of resources and time, but we want to be intentional about this work. At the cabinet level, we will work on other broad initiatives to support the well-being of faculty, staff, and students. Of course, much of the way individuals feel is tied to their day-to-day interactions at the unit level. As we welcome students and faculty back to campus, I encourage you to explore ways of fostering community and a sense of belonging in your unit. Sometimes things that seem small can have outsized effects on how people feel about themselves and each other. Chairs had wonderful discussions around this at their recent retreat. I have collated those ideas and have shared them out. I look forward to hearing about your work in this important area of community-building.
Inclusive Curricula and Pedagogy
In Fall 2021, UNT academic departments were called upon to review their curricular offerings and pedagogical practices, specifically addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion. As I have said before, I believe this work is critical to our continued success. We have made a lot of progress, and I will be sharing news about last year’s successes and this year’s plans very soon.
Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities (HSRU)
As you know, UNT is a founding member of the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities — 20 universities that have been categorized as R1 by the Carnegie Classification and also designated as Hispanic-Serving Institutions by the Department of Education. In general, the Alliance will work toward completing two goals by 2030:
- doubling the number of Hispanic doctoral students enrolled at our universities and
- increasing by 20% the Hispanic professoriate in our universities.
Here at UNT, a taskforce exists and is being re-energized with new and continuing members. It has three subcommittees:
- Student recruitment and retention
- Research and grant opportunities
- Faculty and staff recruitment and retention
Institutions that are Alliance members work together on grants. One example is a grant funded by the Mellon Foundation that has created a pre-doctoral summer institute to help budding doctoral students prepare for the rigors of doctoral work. The first cohort was this summer, and we were excited that political science student Cesar Villegas could attend. Faculty in STEM disciplines also are working with counterparts at other Alliance institutions that will lead to grant proposals at NSF and other funding agencies and — we hope — help us achieve our goals. The taskforce will work on mechanisms for us to communicate grant opportunities to our UNT community.
I’m proud to announce that we also will soon become a member of a separate group: the Presidents for Latino Student Success (P4LSS), a group that includes hundreds of colleges and universities, 32 of them in Texas. This will allow us to pursue the Seal of Excelensia, a milestone that only a couple dozen schools have managed to reach. It has many metrics related to Latino student enrollment, retention, degree completion, financial support, as well as our leadership and our culture. This will be a great challenge for us. We’ll ask our taskforce to develop a strategy to help us reach this goal.
Frisco enrollment continues to grow. Thanks to those of you who have moved classes or whole programs there. And thanks to our Frisco faculty and staff who have been working hard to serve students for some years now. The first building on our new campus, Frisco Landing, is nearing completion and will be ready for a full opening in spring 2023. If you haven’t had a chance to drive by, I encourage you to do so — it’s really impressive. We’ll also continue to use Inspire Park for the foreseeable future.
The recent past has seen some dramatic and generational changes in our society, and consequently many of us in our community have some deep concerns about the future. American colleges and universities have long played a key role in discussing and debating societal changes. In the past year, our campus community witnessed just how uncivil and ugly exchanges can sometimes be. Unfortunately, I expect the coming academic year to have more, not less, of this.
We have an obligation to model civil discourse to the larger community. This, of course, is easier to say than it is to do. But understanding what is protected by law as free speech as well as understanding what constitutes disruptive behavior in classrooms, labs, studios, and other learning spaces will be very helpful as we try to navigate these difficult conversations.
We were reminded last year that community members have the First Amendment right to say things that offend, disgust, or even frighten many of us. Unless those statements represent a direct and specific threat, we cannot regulate or restrict those. It is important for us to note, however, that we do have the obligation to provide learning environments that are safe and effective. Speech and behavior in a classroom setting can be restricted if they are disruptive. Obviously, if a student commits an act of violence or you believe that they pose a threat to the safety of you or anyone in the class, you should immediately alert law enforcement. If the behavior or speech isn’t a specific threat but is nevertheless disrupting the learning environment, you have some options. While faculty cannot permanently remove a student from class without due process, you can ask a disruptive student to leave class and require that they contact the Dean of Students before they can return. It is appropriate to contact UNT Police should the student refuse to leave. In such cases, you should also make the Dean of Students aware of the circumstances at your earliest convenience. Disruption, of course, can occur in virtual learning environments as well as on campus. We should de-escalate situations when we can, but this is not always possible.
I appreciate how difficult this can be for all. The university is planning to host some events aimed at helping community members navigate these contentious times. I will be sure to share details of these events once I know them.
Keeping Me in the Loop
I am always interested in hearing from faculty and staff about the exciting work that’s happening in your units every day. I’m also interested in hearing constructive feedback from faculty and staff on how we might do even better. To this end I will be hosting monthly faculty/staff brown bag lunches. We’ll provide drinks and cookies. I would love to see you. Please RSVP to Joanna.Hussey@unt.edu to secure your spot.
- Main Campus: We’ll gather in the brand-new Faculty Lounge (Union 249) from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 22, Oct. 17, Nov. 3, and Dec. 12.
- Discovery Park: Please join me for lunch in the Engineering dean’s conference room from noon to 1 p.m. Sept. 27, Oct. 25, and Nov. 29. Also, I’ll hold office hours on those same dates from 8 a.m. to noon in A160D. Faculty and staff are very welcome to drop in.
- Frisco: I hope to spend some time on our Frisco campus beginning in early 2023.
In the same vein, I would love to visit departmental and college faculty meetings. To help my team manage this, I recently shared a webform with chairs and/or departmental administrators asking for the dates of upcoming meetings. I look forward to seeing you soon.
I am excited about this new academic year and the difference we can make in the lives of our students. I look forward to hearing all about your triumphs and successes in the coming days and to seeing you often.
Michael McPherson, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs