Convocation, Fall 2011

Friday, September 2, 2011

Two weeks ago I sent out my first faculty newsletter of the new academic year.  After commenting on various factors that are impacting higher education both within Florida and across the country, I made the following observation:  


“While it is never untimely to be deliberate in one’s allocations of resources, if there is anything that is clear about the changes that are taking place in higher education resulting from diminished funding, the proliferation of distance learning as a viable means of curricular delivery, ever-increasing expectations regarding retention, accountability, and assessment, and shifting social values, it is that academic institutions should not expect to return to business as they once conducted it.  Consequently, our planning will have to be as prescient as possible as we adjust to an emergent paradigm whose contours we can still only guess at.”  


Since I sent out this newsletter, after further vicissitudes in the stock and housing markets and the increasing traction being gained in Florida by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “seven breakthrough solutions” for transforming higher education, I believe that my invocation of “an emergent paradigm” has even more credibility than it did a mere two weeks ago.  Nevertheless, I also believe that my claim that “institutions should not expect to return to business as they once conducted it” requires significant qualification, at least in so far as that generalization pertains to UNF.  


As anyone who has attempted to initiate innovation at UNF well knows, even a dynamic university is governed by a certain degree of inertia.  Developing a new degree program at UNF, for instance, is at minimum a several-year process, and simply changing the structure of an existing curriculum requires at least a year to traverse the entirety of the Academic Program Committee and Faculty Association review processes.  And while this rate of change can sometimes seem painfully prolonged it is not without its virtues:  arguably the deliberateness of our processes provides assurance that any changes we make to the profile of the university will not be reckless or whimsical but in the best long-term interest of the students and faculty, both those here currently and those yet to come.  


There is an even more important factor than inertia that governs what I would describe as the continuity of UNF, and it is why, even in a time of paradigm-shifting change, I have great confidence that UNF will emerge from the adaptations that inevitably lie ahead as a university of which all its stakeholders can be justifiably proud.  The factor that I am alluding to is the values upon which the university was grounded and to which its faculty remain just as strongly committed forty years later.  The president often characterizes these values as commitments to excellence, focus, relevance, and accountability.  I would distill these values even further and say simply that, in my experience, the faculty of UNF has and I trust always will maintain a steadfast commitment to academic quality and integrity, as is evident from the extraordinary colleagues whom we are here to honor today.  


In recognition of the restrictions in funding that we are anticipating over the next two years, last week I informed the chairs that, in consultation with the deans and the concurrence of the president, I was instituting a partial moratorium on the consideration of new program proposals for the immediate future.  I also observed, however, that this moratorium signifies merely a slowing down of the pace with which we are pursuing the development of the university, not by any means a reconsideration of its trajectory.  The growth of the university, of its student body, its programs, its faculty, and its facilities, will resume with utter certainty as UNF fulfills its responsibilities to contribute to the education of the growing number of Florida citizens and the advancement of the region and State.  


 If you are someone who has worked at UNF for 10 or 20 or even 30 years I would take well deserved pride in the work you have done to transform UNF from an institution modest in scope and size to one that is now academically robust and rich; and if you are someone new to UNF I would encourage you to look forward to the future of UNF with great optimism because of the multiple institutional strengths that you will have the opportunity to build upon.  In either case, I would exhort you to welcome the paradigmatic realignments that are likely to occur in the 10 and 20 and even 30 years ahead with a sense of intellectual exhilaration secure in the knowledge that you will be engaging with these challenges from within an institution whose essential quality and purpose are clear and unwavering. 


Thank you.