January 2011

Please find below my remarks to the Faculty Senate at its meeting on Friday, January 28, 2011.

Student Progress Meetings with Chairs and Deans

As you may recall from my University Assembly address last August, the Chancellor and I decided to hold student-major progress meetings with chairs and deans during the course of the year as part of our student success efforts. These meetings are modeled on those which the Chancellor has been conducting for about 6 years with Athletic Director Chris Peterson and individual coaches about student-athletes and their academic progress. We finished those meetings yesterday. There are 34 departments with undergraduate programs; we met with half in the fall and half in the last couple of weeks.

These meetings were extraordinarily interesting and informative. I learned about initiatives which departments have been undertaking on an ongoing basis for a number of years. Additionally, the data with which chairs grappled in preparation for these meetings have prompted some departments to reexamine internal processes and to discuss some of the challenges which the data revealed. I am very impressed with the work of the chairs in preparation for these meetings and the concentrated efforts of faculty around campus who are taking the student success charge seriously.

I should note that several ideas for policy changes emerged from discussions with department chairs. For example, one chair, who happens to be a member of this body, has suggested that perhaps the withdrawal deadline should be earlier in the semester than it currently is. This topic is certainly worth discussion and exploration and I look to your leadership in assessing the merits of a variety of such proposals.

Joel and I will continue to hold these meetings each year, but, with Daryl Rice’s guidance and leadership, we will work with chairs to make the process less onerous through streamlining and better timing.

Strategic Plan

Allow me to give you a very brief update on the strategic planning process. As you will recall, I sent out the initial draft of the strategic plan to the campus community in the late fall; we received a number of good, helpful comments. I had planned to host two meetings with external constituents (alumni, community leaders, donors, etc.) on January 10-11, days which ended up being snow days. We rescheduled those meetings for Monday and Tuesday of this week and received excellent feedback from people who love this institution and the growth and transformation they are seeing here.

The next step is to send campus and external comments back to the subcommittees for review and revision. I hope to have the next iteration of the plan out to you for your own review and response by the end of February.

Book Discussion Report

Some of you may have participated in the annual book discussion event which we have been hosting annually for the last eight years. The last of this year’s discussions will take place later this afternoon. The purpose of this endeavor has been to bring together UALR faculty, staff, and students and community leaders to read and discuss a book which has implications for universities and communities who seek to work together on issues of mutual concern and importance.

(I may have told you that the idea for this annual event grew out of a conversation which Roby Robertson and I had in the middle of a keynote address during a conference we attended in my third month on the job. I am grateful to Roby for that conversation.)

This year, 70 faculty and staff, 64 community members, and 6 students participated in the meetings. I have already received a lot of positive feedback, and I hope that those of you who have participated found the experience rewarding.

Budget

Finally, budget planning is upon us. While we have very little concrete information about budgetary prospects this year, I think it is safe to say that few anticipate a great deal of additional money allocated to higher education.

We are proceeding with budget hearings soon. You may recall that, given the budget situation last year which included 3 cuts from the state, we decided not to have the hearings in February 2010 as normal.

While that made sense on one level, not having the hearings robbed us of the opportunity to share campus-wide priorities with one another. We lost that aspect of campus-wide dialogue. So, regardless of budgetary prospects – and they do not appear to be as bleak as last year’s, we will host budget hearings this year. They will take place on February 14-16. As is our custom, we have invited the membership of the Planning and Finance Committee to attend in order to glean their input in the process. I will certainly keep you informed on the budget planning process as it unfolds.

Sincerely yours,
David Belcher
Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

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