Welcome back! I hope you all enjoyed a restorative summer break and found time to rest, pursue your passions, and spend time with family and friends.
The start of a new academic year is always exciting, with new students making themselves at home, returning students catching up with old friends, and countless faculty and staff coming together to make UNT an exceptional place to work and learn. In fact, staff have been hard at work for months preparing our campus and making improvements to Chilton Hall, the Coliseum, the Eagle Student Services Center, and more.
We welcomed three new leaders to our academic community this summer: Dr. Albert Bimper, executive dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; Dr. Paul Krueger, dean of the College of Engineering; and Dr. Lisa McIntyre, vice provost for student success. Last spring, Dr. Audhesh Paswan began his service as dean of New College, and Dr. John Quintanilla stepped permanently into his role as dean of the College of Science. And just last week, Faculty Success rolled out the green carpet for more than 130 new faculty members at New Faculty Orientation. If you see new faces in the Faculty Lounge (Union 249) or around campus, be sure to welcome them to the Mean Green Family.
The 88th legislative session has cast a long shadow over higher education in Texas. The UNT System is preparing guidance to help UNT faculty, staff, and students better understand and navigate the effects these decisions will have on our institution.
The revised Senate Bill 18 was signed into law in June and will take effect Sept. 1, codifying tenure in Texas state law. The bill requires universities to have clear guidelines regarding the granting and revocation of tenure as well as periodic performance reviews for those who earn it. For us, Policy 06.004 (Faculty Reappointment, Tenure, Promotion, and Reduced Appointment) already provides clear details about the process by which tenure is granted, UNT Policy 06.052 (Review of Tenured Faculty) details post-tenure review and tenure revocation, and UNT Policies 06.025 (Faculty Misconduct and Discipline) and 06.051 (Faculty Grievance) provide further details about tenure revocation and due process afforded. We are working with the UNT System to evaluate and amend tenure-related policies to ensure full adherence to the requirements outlined in SB 18. For us, the most significant change will be around revocation of tenure in cases of serious misconduct. Under current policy, such cases must go to the Board of Regents for final approval; under SB 18 the final step will remain on our campus. The due process steps afforded faculty in such cases will remain in place.
More challenging is the state’s decision to ban DEI offices in higher education (Senate Bill 17). UNT will inevitably experience institutional changes as we work to comply with this law. As outlined in the president’s recent campus-wide announcement, to comply with the law we will dissolve the Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access (IDEA) effective Oct. 1. The offices of Title IX, Equal Employment Opportunity, and Affirmative Action will shortly move to the Division of Finance and Administration, where they will continue to function as before. The Multicultural Center, the Pride Alliance, and related programs that support student success will be reorganized in ways to be determined in a careful and thoughtful process led by Senior Vice President of Student Affairs Elizabeth With. What will not change is our commitment to serving our diverse student body and cultivating an environment that respects and celebrates the differences that make our university stronger. Our students, faculty, and staff come from all backgrounds, enriching the UNT community with their unique stories, identities, beliefs, and perspectives. It is in our DNA to be a place where everyone feels welcome and receives the support and services they need to transform their life. The work we do is making a difference, and we will continue to foster an inclusive environment of respect, belonging, and access for all. UNT System’s Office of General Counsel (OGC) will be working to help us understand what is and isn’t allowed under SB 17. In the meantime, here is some guidance that you may find helpful:
Research/Scholarship/Creative Activity. SB 17 does not affect the work faculty do in research, scholarship, and creative activity.
Teaching and Instruction. SB 17 does not address how faculty perform their instructional duties.
Student Activities. SB 17 specifically exempts student activities and groups. These will continue on our campus as before.
Guest Speakers or Performers. SB 17 provides an exemption. These can continue as they always have.
College-level Advisory Committees. Some colleges have committees charged with promoting equity and inclusion of all groups. Under most circumstances that I can imagine, these groups may continue to advise the dean as before.
Given the language of the statute, there are still some campus activities and initiatives that must be assessed. OGC will be providing us with the guidance we need in the coming weeks. We will remain focused on continuing to serve students and our community.
We are likely to be in a more favorable budget environment in the coming year, although there remains some uncertainty. Our past and continuing enrollment growth means more resources for us in the form of tuition and fees and in formula funding. Perhaps the most encouraging news is that the legislature passed the Texas University Fund, an initiative that must be approved by voters in a referendum this November. Should it pass, this will set up an endowment that would provide significant additional funding each year to us, Texas State, Texas Tech, and Houston. The president remains committed to continuing the process of bringing faculty and staff salaries closer to the midpoint of market. We are hopeful that these monies will also help us begin to address inadequate graduate compensation that concerns many of us. You may also have been following the lawsuit filed against us last year that has forced us to charge out-of-state students the same tuition and fees as Texas residents which costs us about $7 million in revenue annually. We are optimistic that this will soon be resolved in our favor.
I anticipate a raise for faculty and staff this year, most likely in the beginning of the spring semester. However, some crucial decisions regarding UNT’s funding are still up in the air, so it’s unclear exactly what that raise will look like. You will hear more from my office later this semester as information becomes available.
As of this week, fall enrollment is up 4.8% in headcount over last fall, and up 4.1% in semester credit hours. Though certainly good news, these overall figures obscure some important realities. Principally, this growth is fueled by increases in freshman and in master’s students. Enrollments of juniors and seniors are in decline. This means we all need to do what we can to improve retention rates, which have not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Faculty play a key role in supporting our students — no one on this campus interacts more with students. But all of us are important parts of this, and I ask you to consider what you personally might do in the coming year that would result in our retaining a student who might otherwise leave us. This leads me to…
How Can We Support Student Success?
Students continue to come to us less prepared for college life — not only academically but also socially and emotionally. Finding better, more holistic ways to support their success remains one of UNT’s top priorities, and that starts with providing faculty and staff with the tools and resources you need to meet students where they are.
Remember that you have partners across UNT who are dedicated to helping students develop the skills they need to thrive in and outside the classroom, whether that means bridging knowledge gaps and teaching them better study habits or connecting them with the tools and support they need to care for their mental, physical, and financial wellbeing. In the coming days I will be back in touch with some resources to help faculty in this critical work.
UNT has made great strides in its career readiness initiative by investing in career centers on each campus, embedding career coaches in every college, and successfully implementing the First Year Career Readiness Seminar, which will soon be expanded into a second-year seminar.
From Sept. 10–14, UNT will host Dallas Startup Week at Hall Park, one of the largest events for small business owners and entrepreneurs in the North Texas region. Consider encouraging your students to attend some of the sessions and keynotes, as they are able, to strengthen their networking skills and learn from industry experts.
Prioritizing Your Wellbeing
As exciting as this time of year can be, it can also be overwhelming. The past few years have upended our lives, and while some issues are stabilizing — for instance, we continue to rebuild our staff and make progress toward more equitable staff compensation — other challenges like student disengagement, faculty burnout, and funding limitations require more complex solutions. Advancing our initiatives to better care for our UNT community remains one of the president’s top priorities.
In the meantime, keep doing what you’re doing to cultivate a sense of belonging within your departments and colleges. Celebrate successes, stay connected with your colleagues, and focus on the daily acts of kindness that contribute to our collective and individual wellbeing. UNT also offers a wide range of wellness resources, including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), workshops and trainings, and campus events.
I will again be visiting the Discovery Park and Frisco campuses throughout the year, so look for communication from my office to see when I’ll be in your neck of the woods. I look forward to seeing the exciting work that’s happening in your units, but I’m also interested in hearing about the things you think we could be doing better to support you and your departments.
As always, I am inspired by your dedication to your craft and to our students, and I am deeply grateful for everything you do to move our university forward. I wish you a wonderful fall semester.
Michael A. McPherson, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs