As we enter the last month of the regular academic year I thought it would be an opportune time to take stock of our circumstances.Had I done so a month ago I would have had to say that our circumstances were not pretty, as the initial House and Senate budgets were not favorable to higher education. Fortunately, in part through the good work of our president, the budget has ended up being far more positive than we had initially feared it would be.Nevertheless, it is still the case that UNF will enter the 2012-13 year with reduced resources.The reduction has been apportioned across the five colleges, as has the enrollment growth that we will be taking on in order to generate additional revenue.The other units that make up Academic Affairs also will be contributing their fair share to address our deficit.I am acutely mindful of the fact that additional enrollment will place a demand on faculty to teach some larger classes during some less than preferred time blocks. Please know that I appreciate the spirit of cooperation that you have displayed in accommodating these demands.
Last week, recognizing that departments need to finalize their schedules and that they need as robust a cohort of faculty as possible, the president permitted Academic Affairs to authorize the deans, depending upon the extent of their resources, to resume hiring permanent faculty (in those cases where there are still viable candidates) and/or to re-sign or recruit visiting faculty.
It is important to be explicit about why it has taken this long to authorize further hiring despite the imminence of the fall semester. Optimistic as we might wish to be, there are two uncertainties that require us to exercise fiscal caution. The first is the as yet unresolved issue of differential tuition. There are many reasons to believe that the Board of Governors will approve a tuition increase for UNF at its June meeting, but until it does that is not a revenue source that we can regard as guaranteed. The second uncertainty centers on what appears to be the likelihood that the Florida Supreme Court will mandate a restoration of the pension dollars that have been subtracted from employee compensation; should this occur, it is possible that the University will itself have to fund this restoration. So it remains the case that, while the legislative budget cycle is never perfectly in synch with the University’s faculty hiring cycle in the first place, the indeterminacy of the University’s forthcoming budget remains greater than at any time I can recall in the past 18 years.
I am pleased to say that fiscal uncertainty has not prevented us from sustaining significant opportunities for student and faculty enrichment. Along with support for faculty development, funding for the TLO program has been held inviolable, and thus students and faculty have been working together on an impressive array of projects, some locally and some in far-flung regions of the world. With the opening of the new biology building students and faculty will have available to them a first-class facility that will accommodate everything from basic education in biology on the one hand to advanced research across multiple biological sub-disciplines on the other.I am told that the recent dolphin necropsy was a sight to behold! I also should mention, as highlights of the semester, the CNN Republican Presidential Primary Debate that was held on campus in January and the terrific lecture by CNN's Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin, both of which events energized the campus and brought terrific exposure to the University.
Last week we also had another distinguished visitor on campus, Dr. George Mehaffy, Vice President of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.Dr. Mehaffy led a spirited dialogue with the deans and chairs regarding the structure of the University (which it shares in common with many other institutions across the nation, including prominent research universities with far deeper resources than UNF’s), the sustainability of this structure in light of the vertiginous shifts that are occurring in higher education funding, and the enormous potentialities being created by the rapid emergence of electronically mediated learning. Dr. Mehaffy’s presentation coincided with a conversation that has been going on over the past several months among the deans and Academic Affairs regarding this same range of issues. In the months ahead we will seek to engage the broader University community in this conversation, as these issues are of course vital to the interests of every member of our faculty and staff.By way of prelude to this conversation I am attaching a review (see side column link) that Dr. Mehaffy wrote of a book that has been generating a lot of discussion in higher education circles, The Innovative University, as well as a copy of the power point presentation he shared with the deans and chairs.
Despite the vicissitudes of the past year there are many reasons to maintain a positive outlook about the place and purpose of UNF: the University has a strong and dedicated faculty who have enabled the University to achieve regional and national esteem, and the campus itself has never been more beautiful or more vibrant. The remarkable success of the current capital campaign further confirms the regard in which the University is held by members of the greater Jacksonville community, who recognize the fruitful bond that exists between the University and the region. And perhaps most importantly of all, our graduates—those students who have given the lie to the vernacular interpretation of UNF—unfailingly sing the praises of their alma mater.
It is a pleasure to be able to express my gratitude to you for your forbearance under difficult and uncertain circumstances and for the good work that you do to advance the mission and reputation of the University. I hope the semester concludes for everyone on a positive note and that the summer ahead provides an opportunity for rest and restoration.
Mark E. Workman
Provost and VPAA