University Assembly Remarks April 24, 2014

Remarks to the University Assembly

By: Chancellor Joel E. Anderson

Dickinson Auditorium 

April 24, 2014

This has been a pivotal year for UALR.

Restructuring

  • Thank you, Provost Zulma Toro, for leading the campus through the restructuring process.
  • Restructuring is coming to an end. I hope you are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • I commend you for your service on the legions of task forces.
  • I appreciate very much the seriousness and the dedication people all across campus have shown in working through the implementation of restructuring.
  • There is going to be much good payoff.  Not only have we protected existing strengths but also we are going to see more vitality in a number of important areas—not just in student success, which is at the top of the list, but also in interdisciplinary programs, collaboration within and across units, and better data systems, to name only a short list.
  • We are going to be a stronger university and better positioned to serve and to prosper in the future.

Restructuring will change the scene next year. I want to comment also on four other issues as we move toward the close of this academic year and look ahead to next year—budget, eVersity, safety, and student success.

Budget

  • This year we have had significant budget challenges. Next year promises more of the same. Because of the enrollment decline, we made a major budget cut right after the fall semester began and put in place a semi-hard hiring freeze.
  • I want to thank you for how you have responded.  Our students have been minimally affected and that is due to your doing your job during lean times that have significantly affected all of us.
  • Two currently unknown variables will determine what we will face next year.
  • The first of these is the tuition level the Board of Trustees approves in their May meeting.
  • The second is fall enrollment. We are hopeful that our enrollment will at least be level.

Each of those variables will significantly affect next year. But neither a tuition increase nor level enrollment, as helpful as they would be, will keep next year from being a very tight year. They will only make it more or less so.

Last year classified employees received a modest raise, and nonclassified employees did not. We are working hard and hoping to make a modest raise possible this year for nonclassified employees, the category of employees which includes faculty.

eVersity

During the last month one of the most talked-about topics on this campus and across the University of Arkansas System has been eVersity.

  • The UA System is proceeding with the new online initiative by that name.
  • I want to reiterate that there are many details about how the eVersity will operate and what our relationship with it will be that are not known at this time. That is a way of saying that there are important questions for which there are not answers at this stage.
  • As I said in my comments at the Board of Trustees meeting in March, our online enrollment is so significant that we have much to offer the eVersity and, therefore, much to lose.
  • eVersity presents a challenge and an opportunity. While we will work cooperatively and constructively in the development of eVersity, we have legitimate concerns about its potential impact on UALR and we will keep those in front of the campus and in front of UA System officials.
  • In the meantime, I would urge that (1) we continue to develop and strengthen our campus-based online courses and programs. There will continue to be a demand for such programs well into the future. Let continue to use and learn and master and exploit all the available instructional technologies and make our existing offerings better.
  • I would urge that (2) we make a push for more online graduate programs and certificates.  They are more likely to target the needs of professionals. The students they enroll are already college graduates and a therefore more mature than most undergraduate online students. Graduate programs and certificates are also shorter in terms of required total hours, which makes them more manageable than a full undergraduate degree curriculum.

Safety

One of the competitive disadvantages we carry is the perception that our campus is not safe.

  • As many of you know, Dr. Jeff Walker and a committee of faculty, staff, and students carried out a campus safety study and offered a sizable list of recommendations.
  • We are going to endeavor to address and implement each recommendation, at least substantially, over the next three years, with a major push this next year.
  • Addressing the recommendations will require new and dedicated funding.
  • I met with the Council of Presidents, convened by the SGA President Lauren McNeill regarding the recommendations and how to fund them. That group of student leaders expressed  support of a student safety or “campus environment” fee for which we will seek approval from the Board of Trustees in May.
  • If the Trustees approve such a fee, next year you will see a “surge” related to campus safety – more police officers, more bike patrols, and better lighting. Reflecting attention to “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design” as urged by the safety committee, you will also see a more manicured campus in the interest of longer clearer sight-lines for persons walking around campus.
  • These changes should be noticeable enough to help change the persistent negative perception regarding safety.
  • The Green Dot program remains a key part of our campus safety campaign and trains faculty, staff, and students so that they are prepared to intervene (directly or indirectly) when they sense the potential for violence or see someone in danger. Green Dot develops an attitude of action. Green Dot is fostering a greater sense of community on campus.
  • I encourage you to look for ways to get involved in Green Dot activities. The more folks participate, the stronger our message becomes that “we look out for each other here.”

Student Success

Student success is multi-faceted. I want to speak about the front end of it.

  • Each person at UALR can help or hurt our enrollment, which impacts our budget. Our interactions with students and family members while they are on campus and when they telephone for assistance will often be the determining factor in their decisions to choose UALR or to choose one of the many other college options.
  • All of us must treat prospective students and parents like royal guests with a goal of having each of them admitted and enrolled before they leave campus. We should never tell one to come back if someone on campus can resolve an issue today. We should resolve any issue they have that very same day.
  • We should treat every guest exactly like we love being treated whenever we are doing business—whether shopping for a car, setting up a bank account, renting an apartment, buying a house, seeking treatment at a medical center—or trying to find the right college for ourselves or our children.
  • This past Tuesday’s Orientation Day should be a lesson to us all. That was an opportunity for us to demonstrate UALR at its best. When they left, not all prospective students and their families had had a great experience.
  • Our campus may not be more beautiful than the last one they visited. Some of our labs and our classrooms may not even be as nice as the ones some students had at their high schools. We do not have either an endowment or state funding for a swanky place with flashy amenities.
  • What we DO have is you.
  • Our greatest asset and strongest selling point should be the faculty and staff of UALR. Our enrollment total is up to us—the people who work here.
  • I am proud of the good people who make up the UALR community. I know that you take pride in your work and care about student success. Your area of expertise is where you shine. Whether that be in teaching, in research, in community engagement, or campus programming, or in a multitude of other essential roles across campus.
  • At the same time, you should not lose sight of the very people we are here to serve—our students.
  • What I ask—what I insist—is that you show our students, their family members, and guests the best of who you are. You are the reason students will choose UALR. Make sure every prospective student knows we want them here. It matters.
  • Just last semester, a transfer student from out of state visited campus with her parents. She knew very little about UALR except an endorsement from an alumnus they knew. She came here because of her interest in Audiology and Speech Pathology.
  • She decided to enroll at this university because of the warm welcome she and her parents received while they were on campus.
  • The department chair met with them. Members of the department invited them to observe a class. The admissions staff walked them through the necessary paperwork involved.
  • Each person this student encountered during her campus visit could have been either an obstacle or a cheerleader and facilitator. I ask that each of you decide every day that you will be a cheerleader and a facilitator for students. Whether incoming freshmen, transfers from other institutions, or students returning after an interruption in their studies.
  • What UALR has is you. You will make the difference.
  • Speaking of student success, did you see the presentations at the student research expo earlier this week? What impressive successes, capstone experiences, for students from freshmen to doctoral. We have some very outstanding students!
  • In only a few weeks we will assemble across the street in the Jack Stephens Center for a very large, end-of-the-year celebration of student success. We will join with friends and families…honoring the accomplishments of this year’s graduates.
  • Earning a college degree is a significant achievement for every degree recipient, but for some of them it is an enormous achievement that will benefit them profoundly, along with others, all their days.

Conclusion

Now is an important time in the life of this very important university.

This year has been a time of big change. It has not been easy for any of us. Although I know next year will bring its challenges and at times we will feel overloaded, I am confident that next year will be easier because the intensity level this year has been higher than normal for many of you.

But how fortunate we are to get to work at a university, at a place which makes a difference, a beneficial difference, in the lives of so many people, year after year.

Thank you for all your contributions to the accomplishment of the university’s noble mission. As we end this year, and begin to look forward to the next, I look forward to working with you to build the university our students deserve and that the community and state need—grounded in the capital city and global in reach.