As I indicated in my fall convocation remarks, there is increasing evidence that higher education has entered into a period of paradigmatic change. Some of this change clearly was precipitated by the recession, but while the economy eventually will rebound there are many prognosticators who are predicting that the funding formulas in higher education have been altered irrevocably. True or not, fiscal austerity has, if anything, only intensified the extent to which institutions are being held even more accountable than they were in the past on issues such as the relevance of their academic programs, the preparation and success of their graduates, and the efficiency of their operations. In light of the understandable anxiety that these pressures are causing, I believe you will be pleased to know about the gains that were achieved last week as a result of President Delaney’s presentation to the Board of Governors at their meeting at FAU.
President Delaney, you will recall, was charged by the chancellor with leading a task force to formulate a response to the governor’s request for a dialogue centered upon the proposals put forward in Texas for the evaluation of faculty performance. That request was further elaborated upon in a letter that the governor sent to the presidents and board members of every SUS institution that outlined a number of additional questions regarding institutional performance on metrics of perfectly justifiable concern to the governor. (Dr. Plumlee distributed a copy of the governor’s letter in an all-faculty email.)
President Delaney, in collaboration with his fellow task force members, acknowledged the legitimacy of the governor’s concerns. But he also persuasively demonstrated to the Board of Governors how, with less regulation and greater institutional flexibility for aligning resources with mandated outcomes, institutions could actually do a better job of responding to statewide needs than they could if they were obliged to adhere to rigid and uniform prescriptions for revenue allocation or program management. While much work will need to be done to provide adequate proof of institutional and system compliance, preliminary indications are that the BOG and some members of the House and Senate are responding favorably to the task force proposals. At the very least, I believe we can all be assured that the task force’s report was received as exactly the kind of constructive rejoinder that the governor was hoping to elicit when he sought to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Florida’s higher education leaders.
While there has been a great deal of activity within Academic Affairs since the start of the academic year, I will mention several issues in particular because of their relevance to the statewide conversation. The first issue pertains to the moratorium that I declared on new program proposals. This was necessitated by the fact that we had literally dozens of proposals in the pipeline that, according to the existing process, we only could judge on a rolling basis and without reference to BOG priorities. The deans and chairs will soon be considering a new process according to which proposals for new degree programs will be reviewed once annually—which will put the review process into closer synchronization with our budget process—and in a context that takes into consideration both institutional and system needs and resources. Once the deans and chairs have endorsed this process we will formally adopt it and lift the moratorium. Lest I inadvertently create the impression that we only will be advancing for development degree programs in STEM areas, I would like to remind you that UNF’s newest baccalaureate program is in Religious Studies, and at the most recent Faculty Association the faculty endorsed for implementation a new degree program in Art History. In other words, UNF will continue to be comprehensive and to provide strong support for programs in all areas of study, including the liberal arts.
I also would like to mention that, as a consequence of the decision to make freshman on-campus residence compulsory, Jeff Coker, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies, has been working with a group of colleagues from across the university, including many colleagues in Student Affairs, to develop or to enhance existing components of a robust First Year Experience program for all entering students (both those who live on campus and those who do not). While the primary beneficiaries of this FYE program will of course be our students, the adoption of mandatory housing is especially timely in light of the likelihood that retention and graduation rates will become metrics in a performance-based funding model that is being contemplated by the BOG. I think it is also the case that a strong residential presence at UNF will create a vibrancy that will further distinguish UNF from non-residential state colleges just as graduate programs do at a more advanced level.
Another initiative that we are hopeful will facilitate greater student success—particularly in those courses that function as obstacles or impediments rather than as gateways to more advanced courses—and thus also contribute to improved retention and timely graduation, is the National Center for Academic Transformation effort that has been advanced by the task force that I convened on the matter of academic redesign. I hope your chairs have shared with you the call for proposals that I issued on behalf of the task force, and that you will give careful consideration to the possibility of joining with your colleagues in exploring pedagogical innovations that have proven to be highly effective at other institutions in contributing to improving student performance in traditionally challenging courses.
I suspect you are all familiar with the lame joke about the simpleton who threw a clock out his window because he wanted to see “time fly.” Given the exciting times in which we are living there is no need to resort to such a measure at UNF. With the end of the fall term nigh upon us, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a good conclusion to what I trust has been a fruitful semester.
Mark E. Workman
Provost and VPAA