As we near the conclusion of the fall semester I would like to share information with you about some of the major activities that have been engaging Academic Affairs over the past several months. One topic that has been conspicuous by virtue of its absence has been discussion of the university budget. This is because of the likelihood that the university budget will remain relatively flat in the year ahead. As a result, we will seek to restrict enrollment to our funded target which will mean no new growth in the student body and thus no new growth of faculty or support staff. I hasten to add that a flat budget, in today’s economy, is not a bad thing. While it is a truism that in a growing economy to stand still is to lose ground, the converse is true in a stagnant economy: in our case, to maintain the status quo, especially in comparison to some of our less fiscally prudent sister institutions, is arguably a gain.
One need which I know the president will address as soon as it is feasible to do so is the salaries of our faculty and staff. I am certain that if there is a way to provide raises the president will do so. We should know something definite about the prospects for raises as soon as the spring legislative session reaches closure.
A stagnant budget does not mean stagnant planning. We continue to move forward with our university strategic plan, and I have encouraged every department that has aspirations to do so to continue developing plans for enhanced or advanced degree programs. In some cases new faculty lines would make it possible for departments to significantly increase the depth and quality of their current programs; in others, additional lines would make it possible to build more advanced degree programs on top of those that already exist. In either case, there is every reason to look forward to resumption of the growth and development of the university. We need to anticipate that the university will grow not only bigger but also deeper and richer in the range and quality of its academic programs. It is for this reason that I have been advising faculty to regard the emergence of Florida State College of Jacksonville not as a threat but as an opportunity, precisely because FSCJ's obligation to open access will enable UNF to focus its attention on becoming not only more selective but also among the best universities of its kind.
I am mindful of the fact that in order to live up to its commitment to support the engagement of students and faculty in the process of discovery UNF needs to have a fully supportive and efficient Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. To that end, I convened a meeting last week of representatives from that office along with the chair and representatives of our Institutional Review Board and of our ORSP Advisory Committee to discuss how existing review procedures can be improved upon or modified in order to facilitate student and faculty research. The IRB, it should be noted, is governed by very strict federal requirements, and our colleagues who constitute the membership of this review board are working in earnest to assure that subject-based research at UNF is conducted in full accord with all regulations. I am confident that we will see an increase in the near future in the efficiency with which the IRB processes research proposals. We also will return to the issue of F&A rates particularly as they are applied to locally funded grants and contracts as I am aware that this continues to be an issue to those of our faculty whose scholarly activity is supported by such funding sources.
In consultation with the deans AA has been sorting through the recommendations of the Task Force on Undergraduate Advising, and while we have yet to arrive at any firm decisions about how to improve our advising functions, there is certainly consensus that the university must take steps to improve upon its retention and 6-year graduation rates. Currently these stand at 77% and 47% respectively. Attrition of students is most severe during their freshman and sophomore years, which is why it is imperative for the university to devote consideration and resources to strengthening the bond between UNF and our lower-class men and women and to facilitating their progress into their majors, by which point—as our data indicate—students are more likely than not to remain at UNF until they graduate.
As UNF, along with the other members of the SUS, will be funded in part upon its success in retaining and graduating students, it behooves us to move forward with the appointment of a director of retention and transition to help the university improve its performance in these critical areas. A search for such a person is currently underway. Also moving along are searches for a new dean of the Coggin College of Business and the Graduate School. I hope to identify the new graduate dean before the end of the fall semester; on-campus interviews of CCB candidates will begin at the start of the spring semester.
Thus far I have visited a bit more than half of the departments on campus, sometimes accompanied by the president but, given his schedule, more often than not alone. I have enjoyed these opportunities to hear directly from colleagues about their concerns and their aspirations. In every case the concerns I have heard have been reasonable and the aspirations have been admirable. My hope, tempered only by the necessary caution imposed by the economy, is that the university will be able to address your concerns and support your aspirations. With that hope in mind I wish you a gratifying end to the semester and a happy new year.
Mark E. Workman
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs