Dear Faculty and Academic Staff,
The UNT System Board of Regents met this month and approved UNT’s FY22 operating budget. As you know, it has been a difficult time financially for UNT and every other university in the country. In the face of a challenging fiscal environment, Academic Affairs engaged in strategic budget reductions and reallocations in Fiscal Years 19-20 and 20-21.
As UNT plans for a full Fall 2021 university experience, Academic Affairs received a restoration of the 5% ($10.3M) temporary reductions taken last fiscal year. Academic units received a restoration of 3.5% ($6.5M), and the remaining 1.5% ($3.8M) was strategically reallocated to support critical needs within the division, including support for routine personnel expenses and high-growth programs. Additionally, the hiring freeze has been lifted for Fall 2021 in anticipation of resuming more typical operations, with searches underway for approximately 60 Academic Affairs staff positions.
The current COVID surge creates risk as it relates to how we will operate this academic year, and any unexpected changes in our operations will directly impact the university’s resources. While we are hopeful, we understand that we may need to make changes in our budget this year should we need to shift operations.
Despite these challenges, we will not lose focus on advancing the institution in three priority areas:
Goal: We will support, communicate and celebrate a dedicated culture of scholarly activity at UNT to expand UNT’s innovative impact for our students and our community.
UNT has made enormous progress in building the scholarly environment. Last year was a Carnegie reporting year, and the report has been submitted. Results should be available toward the end of this year. In the three years since the last measurement was taken, we have grown our tenure-track/tenured faculty by 7%, increased our number of doctoral graduates by 16%, increased our number of post-docs/research staff by 13%, and our research expenditures have almost doubled. I encourage us all to take a moment to reflect on the hard work our colleagues have invested to reach this level of achievement.
Our faculty growth would have been even higher had it not been for the need to engage in a hiring freeze and voluntary separation agreement program. Even with this short-term setback, our budget is positioning us for continued progress. This fall we welcome 99 new faculty members, with 44 in tenured/tenure-track positions — a remarkable hiring season considering the fiscal challenges of this past year. Plans for searches in this academic year are being reviewed and finalized as we consider our budgetary position. Details of the hiring plan should be available by October 1.
This year we are allocating approximately $4.8M in funding dedicated toward start-up packages for anticipated new faculty hires. An additional $8.4M is allocated for improvements to faculty and staff computing, classroom upgrades, research equipment and other initiatives in support of scholarly activity. Planning is underway for a new vivarium and renovation of the Science Research Building.
Goal: We will empower and transform our students in their educational and social environments to set them up for lifelong learning success.
Student retention has been a major focus over the last year and will continue to be a high priority effort. Our Drop, Fail, Withdraw and Incomplete rate decreased by 2.0% this spring with the challenges students may have experienced during the pandemic. Our retention rate fell for First Time in College Students from an all-time high of 82% last year, and depending on enrollment in the coming days, it is likely our retention rate will be approximately 76%. We know that returning to more on-campus learning will help more of our students succeed.
Federal HEERF funding will be invested to better enhance and support the student learning experience. Investments are being made to virtualize student computer labs and provide students with access to software applications outside typical operating hours; update classroom technology to support a hybrid learning environment; increase supplemental learning support services for students; and provide equipment needed to support faculty and staff.
We are committed to keeping a UNT education affordable. We are engaged in initiatives to provide affordable textbook options by developing curriculum to expand utilization of open educational resources or lower-cost textbooks. The Tuition Benefit Program — a critical component of our research infrastructure that supports student success — was prioritized and protected as part of the budget reduction process. This academic year, UNT will distribute more than $50M in federal HEERF funding to directly assist many of our students who are struggling to stay in school due to financial challenges. As a result of changes in federal guidance, we are now able to assist a wider range of students, including international students.
Furthermore, there are university-wide plans to strengthen our role of ensuring career readiness for our students. President Smatresk will be sharing more details about these plans during his State of the University address on Sept. 21.
Goal: We will attract, develop and celebrate our campus community to make UNT an outstanding environment in which to work and learn.
While our resources are limited this year, we are anticipating a merit raise with details that will be finalized and released in the upcoming year. The Anti-Bias & Cultural Awareness program was launched this past year to provide faculty and academic staff with the foundation to facilitate an inclusive, affirming and equitable environment for our Mean Green Family and the diverse communities we serve. We are continuing progress in implementing Courseleaf, our course scheduling system, and Huron, a new research administration software that will become a primary hands-on portal for all principal investigators to execute grant submissions, compliance adherence, inventory management and more.
Although there is still uncertainty on the horizon, I feel confident in UNT’s path moving forward. I am immensely proud of our community’s continued resilience and creativity in responding to the COVID-19 crisis -- as a university, but more importantly as educators dedicated to advancing UNT’s mission of supporting student success through even the most difficult circumstances. Thank you for all that you do.