I would like to welcome you back from what I hope was a productive and restorative summer and wish you a good start to the new academic year. From my vantage point the year ahead promises to be both intensely busy and uncommonly consequential. Aligning resources and needs remains a paramount challenge, of course, but I am pleased to note the extent to which this challenge has been translated not into an occasion for anxiety but into a fruitful and ongoing conversation about how to capitalize on existing university resources in order to advance strategic priorities. Building on the foundation established by the president’s Flagship Program initiative, the deans and Academic Affairs have identified Coastal Science, Health Care and Biomedical Science and Commerce as three “constellations of excellence and relevance” where there are particular opportunities for synergistic collaboration. Along with several “enduring commitments”—to liberal education, institutional sustainability and globalization—we will target a modest amount of discretionary dollars to support these priorities, all of which provided the cornerstone of the university’s work plan that it presented to the Board of Governors this past June and that was lauded by the BOG for affirming the university’s dedication to its regional mission. We will be holding open faculty forums a bit later in the semester to explore ways in which faculty from across the university can contribute to and avail themselves of these opportunities.
Another significant conversation that has commenced at the state level that will have major local ramifications pertains to the implementation of the recently adopted state statute on the reorganization of the general education requirement across both the State University System and the Florida College System. This statute calls for a reduction of the general education requirement from the current 36 credit hours to 30 credit hours, 15 of which will be common across both systems and to be provided by a limited number of courses (as opposed to the current smorgasbord), and 15 of which will be unique to each campus. I will be serving on the statewide steering committee that will oversee this process, and UNF is likely to have one or more representatives serving on disciplinary sub-committees. Restructuring the general education curriculum and redeploying faculty to provide this curriculum are obviously complex matters that will require significant input from the faculty in order to be accomplished effectively and with integrity. I will keep you informed about this project as there is news to report.
General education reform is being driven, as I understand it, at least in part by a desire to gain efficiency within and across the state’s higher education systems. That same goal is driving the academic coordination initiative that has been assigned by the BOG to the CAVP (Council of Academic Vice Presidents). The CAVP has been charged with ongoing responsibility for monitoring the duplication of academic programs within the SUS, recommending the elimination (or at least the need for justification) of those that don’t meet productivity thresholds (as measured by the number of graduates they produce), endorsing those that fill unmet academic needs or that provide critical access to underserved populations, and seeking opportunities for inter-institutional cooperation among programs that could be jointly delivered, especially through the utilization of technology.
Changes being wrought by the evolution of academic technology deserve a newsletter unto themselves. Suffice it to say for the moment that, while UNF has not yet entered the universe of MOOCs (either as a provider of such courses or as a recipient of student credits derived from such courses), distance learning is growing rapidly at UNF, driven not by an edict from the administration but by the desire of students and faculty to experience all the advantages that high quality on-line learning provides. The distance learning fee has assured that we can develop our technology and training to remain apace with demand.
Academic technology is impacting teaching in another way as well: the Department of Mathematics is moving forward with the development of a “math emporium” in accordance with the innovative design for effective instruction promoted by the National Center for Academic Transformation. The School of Computing also has received funding from Academic Affairs to redesign elements of its curriculum in accordance with NCAT best practices. This means that significant redesign efforts are underway in around a half dozen programs on campus as departments experiment with ways of transforming “gatekeeper” into “gateway” courses for the good of our students and ultimately to the benefit of our rates of retention and graduation, two metrics of obvious concern to our Board of Governors.
In the context of institutional performance it is not too soon to mention that UNF’s SACS fifth-year reaccreditation review will take place in two years, almost the length of time it will take to prepare a comprehensive report on our alignment with the multiple criteria on which the university will be judged, including the progress we have made toward implementation of our Quality Enhancement Plan on Community Based Transformational Learning. I am pleased to say that we will be going into this review from a position of strength as a result of the practices we put in place in preparation for the last major 10th-year review in 2009. By way of gearing up for this review personally, I will be chairing a SACS “off-site” review committee this fall so as to fully reengage with the principles and standards of accreditation.
I trust that many of you are aware that last spring Academic Affairs sponsored an external review of our Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. In response to that report I have established an ORSP Enhancement Task Force constituted of members of the faculty and administration to guide me in determining which recommendations to implement and in what order. The ORSP has been most cooperative throughout this process and is eager to make whatever changes might be necessary in order to provide the most effective support possible for the sponsored research endeavors of our faculty and students.
On the topic of scholarly endeavor, I am pleased to report that we will very shortly be announcing the procedure for applying for summer 2013 grants in the areas of research, teaching and grant development. As challenging as our circumstances might be, we have maintained our institutional commitment to this important faculty development opportunity (as we have to faculty travel).
In the context of faculty development, I would like to congratulate our 22 newly tenured and/or promoted faculty and librarians who achieved those distinctions last spring and who assumed their new status at the start of the current academic year a few weeks ago. And while 22 members of our faculty have moved up, I also am delighted to note that 30 new faculty members and a director of the Medical Lab Sciences program have joined our ranks this fall. Other changes to the Academic Affairs organization include four new department chairs: Brian Striar (English), Charles Closmann (History), Randy Tinnin (Music) and Dan Moon (Biology).
In addition to these administrative changes, I am pleased to report that Leslie Kaplan has accepted the appointment of Interim Director of the Honors program assuming the responsibility following Mary Borg’s return to full-time teaching.
I would like to close by expressing my gratitude for the accommodations many of you made to enroll more students in your classes this fall, or to take on late reassignments in response to unanticipated distribution of course demand. You are not only the brains behind this operation, but also the heart.
Mark E. Workman
Provost and VPAA