I would like to welcome you back to the new academic year. While I have to qualify my optimism as cautious, I believe there are many reasons why the year ahead promises to be a good one. Enrollment is on the uptick. Athletics is now “D1.” With the opening of the new student union, the new College of Education building, and the new residence hall, and with the addition of new landscaping and attention-grabbing blinking crosswalks, the campus which claims to be a site of transformation has itself been transformed. But more importantly from the perspective of Academic Affairs, while the budget news out of Tallahassee is not exactly rosy, it certainly is not as glum as it was this time a year ago. President Delaney (who deserves considerable praise for procuring, in his capacity as president-in-residence, a favorable budget outcome for the SUS) was sufficiently confident in the stability of our resources to have authorized searches for permanent faculty on two-thirds of our 60 or so vacant lines. These lines will not get us all the way back to the starting line, but it certainly feels to me like we are making the kind of progress toward recovery that remains out of reach for many institutions in the state and nationally. Every college will be doing at least some strategic hiring this year, and my hope is that with a favorable job market we will be able to recruit the kind of faculty to UNF who will help advance our reputation in years to come.
Advancing our reputation—and the quality upon which it is grounded—remains the incentive behind the strategic planning and budgeting process which continues to gain both in reach and refinement. Our ultimate goal is to develop a strategic planning process that will facilitate vertical integration between unit-level and university-level strategic plans, which will incorporate the assessment of institutional effectiveness, and which will drive our long-term budget allocations. Thus far the Strategic Planning Committee has identified the strategies that will enable us to fulfill our institutional goals and it has compiled a set of performance indicators that will enable us to measure our progress toward doing so. We have developed baseline data for each measure so that we actually have a precise way of specifying where we are and where we aspire to get to. The next, and arguably most consequential step, will be to set the targets that will determine how we allocate precious resources. Last week I met with the Faculty Association Strategic Planning Committee to apprise them of the status of the university’s strategic plan, and I will continue to meet with them and to seek their input throughout the year.
Two measures of particular concern to our BOG, our BOT, and President Delaney, are our retention and graduation rates, as both provide crucial confirmation of the effectiveness with which we are facilitating student success. Currently, UNF’s freshman to sophomore retention rate is 77% and the six-year graduation rate is 45%. These rates do not compare especially favorably with our peer aspirants. The best available evidence on student retention points to the importance of social integration and student engagement, particularly in the first year, as factors that contribute significantly to students’ immediate institutional attachment and long-term success. It is evident, therefore, that we need to develop and enhance programming for students in transition—first-year and transfer students–that both socially integrate and academically engage them through first-year seminars and different types of learning communities. With the opening of The Fountains, which is physically designed to facilitate academic programming in a residential setting, there are new opportunities to develop innovative living-and-learning communities for freshmen and other student populations. For all these reasons, President Delaney has directed Academic Affairs to create a new position tentatively titled Executive Director of Retention and Transition Programs. This position will be located within Undergraduate Studies and have responsibility for working collaboratively with both Academic and Students Affairs units across the campus to develop, support, and improve programs designed to strengthen student attachment to the institution and promote academic success. A search committee will be formed shortly.
Speaking of the Office of Undergraduate Studies, I want to announce with considerable personal regret that David Jaffee has decided, beginning next fall, to focus his efforts (after many years in academic administration at SUNY New Paltz and UNF) on full-time teaching and research. With regard to the latter, David has embarked upon what promises to be an extended investigation of the socioeconomic impact of the Port of Jacksonville, and he is eager to engage students in this work. He also has applied for a Fulbright Fellowship for next year. I will miss David’s unrelenting commitment to enhancing the undergraduate experience at UNF, a commitment which has benefited students in myriad ways. Given the vital important of the Office of Undergraduate Studies to the mission of the university, I will be convening a committee in the coming months to identify a suitable replacement for David.
Two other administrative search committees will commence their work within the next two weeks. Shirley Hallblade, dean of the Carpenter Library, will be convening the committee charged with recruiting a new dean of the graduate school. The growth of graduate programs, both in size and scope, will continue to be a high priority at UNF, particularly as Florida State College at Jacksonville develops baccalaureate programs and provides an alternative to UNF for those students who might not opt for a university education. The second search will be for a new dean of the Coggin College of Business to replace John McAllister who has elected to return to teaching as he finishes out his professional career. These new administrators will join Dr. Judith Miller who assumed her position as our new Executive Director of Assessment over the summer. I believe you will enjoy working with Judy as she brings both expertise and good sense to the assessment of student learning, an obligation that we must continue to address regardless of the fact that, while we await the official outcome, our most recent SACS review—with the significant exception of the QEP—is substantively behind us.
My personal focus in the year ahead will be on identifying ways, especially through the strategic planning process, in which UNF can build upon its areas of greatest potential to achieve meaningful distinction locally and nationally. While there are many areas of the university that are in obvious need of nourishment and improvement, there is also much about which we have every reason to be proud. That starts with what you do in your capacity as UNF faculty, the university’s most fundamental resource.
I hope the year ahead proves to be productive and rewarding.
Mark E. Workman
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs