Presentation to the Board of Trustees of the University of Arkansas

Chairman Goodson, Board of Trustees Members, President Bobbitt, and colleagues; thank you
for this opportunity to provide a campus update for UA Little Rock.

The last time I presented a campus report to you was in November of 2019. A lot has happened
since then.
I’ll provide a brief recap of the last 15 months as context, but I’ll spend the larger balance of my
time talking about our institutional priorities as we move forward.

Looking Back

In the year 2020, UA Little Rock faced at least five major challenges, any one of which easily
could have consumed 100% of our attention and energies. At the beginning of the 2019-2020
academic year, we were preparing for our institutional accreditation visit in February, while at
the same time responding to a 9% decline in enrollment and the budget shortfall that it
produced. We started making cuts in October, just after I became Chancellor, but based on the
net position loss that we had already carried over from the previous fiscal year, I knew that we
would have to seek retrenchment to make any real progress. So, in January, we began the
process of academic planning and submitted a retrenchment and restructuring proposal in May
that would consolidate our academic colleges and eliminate or downsize some academic
programs. At the same time, we were in the first cohort of the Workday ERP transition. Even
though we were excited about the potential of Workday, the process of preparation and
implementation was, and continues to be all-consuming for critical members of our leadership

In March, as everyone knows, our world changed dramatically with the COVID-19 pandemic.
We immediately assembled a Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT) to help us with
our plans to close the campus. Simultaneously, we assembled an academic team to help faculty
move all classes online, which we did by spring break. Even more complex were our
preparations in May and June to begin reopening the campus and to prepare for a fall semester
like no other. The management of COVID-related accommodations continues to be a significant
burden for all of us.

On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis and the racial
justice movement became intensely urgent across the country and on college campuses like
ours. UA Little Rock has had a diverse student body for many years and has celebrated that
diversity in a number of ways; but we were not immune to issues of inequity and intolerance. It
became clear that we needed to do more. Over the summer I began to meet with students, faculty, and staff of color one-on-one and in small groups. I asked them to tell me what they
believed our campus priorities should be with respect to race and ethnicity. By July I was
holding campus-wide open forums for the same purpose and continued to do so through the
fall semester. Based on the input from these meetings, we put in place a number of initiatives
to raise awareness, promote conversation, and examine our practices for unintended
consequences. We have much more work to do on this front, but we know what is needed.

Throughout the year we faced all of these challenges with determination and unprecedented
levels of collaboration and collegiality no matter how exhausted we were. That’s not to say
there weren’t disagreements, but we rose above all of that to get the job done and I am very,
very proud of the work of our campus community at all levels. From the facilities staff that
disinfected our classrooms every day to the Workday team working long hours without
vacation for months on end, to our faculty and staff that worked with our students to keep
them going in the face of isolation and discouragement. Everyone had an important role to play
and did so with dedication and fortitude.

Looking Ahead at Our Institutional Priorities

This last October, I delivered to my campus a state of the university address. One of the things
that I shared with them is that times of crisis are an opportunity to reflect on what is truly
important—to sort out the transitory from the eternal, and to focus on what is lasting. I called
upon our campus community to remember our core mission and focus on our institutional
priorities in all that we do. For the last 15 months, I’ve been working to instill this message in all
of our units and operations. I’d like to turn to those priorities now.

In accordance with our role and scope as defined by this Board, UA Little Rock identifies four
institutional priorities that fulfill our purpose as an institution. In this slide, you will see a
version of our role and scope narrative that condenses it into a concise statement of purpose. I
won’t take the time to read it to you, but will point out that it highlights our obligation to serve
a diverse student body, to offer degrees that meet the demand for professional and advanced
level preparation in areas of critical need, and to apply our expertise and resources to public
concerns and community wellbeing.

In the priorities graphic shown on the next slide, you will see that the four priorities are all
really part of one whole because they are symbiotic and not mutually exclusive. Below the
priorities, you’ll see a box labeled “Foundations and Strategic Planning”. These are the methods
and strategies we use to work on these priorities. Everything we do from enrollment and
budget management to academic planning, to fundraising has to be explicitly connected to one
or more of these four priorities.

After I quickly describe these priorities, I’ll outline the work we’ve done in each area.
Based on our fundamental purpose to provide educational opportunity to a wide variety of
students, priority number one is enhancing access to higher education and enhancing student success once we get students enrolled. We enhance access through broadening financial
assistance, better outreach across different populations, and by creating a more welcoming and
inclusive learning environment. We enhance student success by ensuring the high quality of our
instruction, and by building a sustainable student support infrastructure that is timely,
responsive, and effective.

Based on our obligation to provide educational programs that fulfill our role as a
comprehensive institution and that meet the needs of our community and state, priority
number two is to develop, maintain, and strengthen the right mix of liberal arts and pre-
professional undergraduate and graduate programs that will prepare our students for viable
career paths or career enhancements. We do this by maintaining a solid liberal arts core as the
basis of our general education and by making sure that our academic programs have demand,
both from prospective students and prospective employers. Whether it’s a liberal arts program
or a pre-professional program, we must be able to demonstrate the value of the credentials we

Based on our role as an urban research 2 institution that is dedicated to addressing public
concerns, priority number three is to develop, maintain, and strengthen a research and
creative work portfolio appropriate to our Carnegie status and one that applies our talent and
expertise to real life issues. We do this by supporting grants and contracts through our
sponsored research office, but also by providing opportunities for professional development,
incentives for pilot projects, and alternative funding sources for both sponsored and
unsponsored research.

And finally, based on our public service mission, priority number four is to promote community
engagement through our educational programs, our research and public service programs, and
through Trojan Athletics. By maintaining focus on this aspect of our role and scope, UA Little
Rock ensures that we maintain a strong connection to our community through a variety of
services and partnerships.

What Have We Done So Far?

So what have we done so far to advance our priorities?

Priority 1

Let me start with educational access and student success? One of the things I realized early on
is that nearly all of our institutional and private scholarships were exclusively merit-based and
many were designated for continuing students. These are important and valuable assets, but
they didn’t fully address the needs of our diverse, often first-generation incoming students. So,
for the last 15 months we’ve put an emphasis on raising funds for need-based scholarships and
as you may recall, we secured a large anonymous donation last year addressing this priority.
We have also taken the opportunity to overhaul our recruitment, admissions, and financial aid
infrastructure to become more efficient, more effective, more data-driven than ever before.

We are now getting students admitted and “scholarshipped” in a day when it used to take us
weeks or months. We are using data more than ever to fine tune our recruitment efforts and
we put into place a strategic enrollment management plan with specific goals and

In the area of student success, we made significant investments, mostly with private funds
raised for this purpose. We have created a fully endowed Office of Student Retention that
provides proactive support for students in the form of academic coaching, mentoring, crisis
intervention, and life-skills training. We have created what we call a Care Team with licensed
social workers and other support specialists that can assist students with a wide range of
personal challenges that might otherwise derail them in their pursuit of a college degree.

In the division of Student Affairs, we had gone through several years of bleeding out our student
experience programs and when I became chancellor, I realized that we needed to do something
about that. One of the things we heard from our students of color over the summer is that they
didn’t feel that they had the support for their organizations and activities that they once had.
So, once again, mostly with private funds raised for this purpose, we are reinvesting in this area.
This includes support for the Chancellor’s Leadership Core and a newly reconstituted
Multicultural Center. I don’t know if there is a causal relationship here, but I’m happy to report
that our freshman retention rate has gone up 10 percentage points from (64% to 74%).

Priority 2

Much of our efforts for the second priority were tied to the comprehensive academic planning
process we undertook in the last fiscal year. Academic planning is really a continuous process of
review and we had started on this several years earlier as we prepared for our HLC
accreditation visit. So, we knew a fair amount about the internal metrics of our programs, but
we didn’t know enough about the external perceptions of them. At the beginning of 2020, we
hosted focus groups of business and community leaders to find out what they knew about us
and whether or not we were meeting their needs. What we discovered is what you might
expect; some programs were well known and appreciated; some were not known or were not
seen as meeting needs. We incorporated that information into our academic planning process
and ultimately to our retrenchment proposal.

In alignment with our institutional role and scope, we are placing a renewed emphasis on
career path assistance. We are asking all of our academic units to be more explicit about how
the activities their students are doing in the classroom connect to what they will be doing after
they graduate. Whether it is core skills like critical thinking and effective communication or
disciplinary experiences in the majors, our students need to understand how these academic
experiences give them an advantage in their post-graduation endeavors. To that end, we are
redirecting our marketing efforts to focus on programs, student experiences, and career
potential, and we are also launching a new Career Center later this spring. We continue to
collaborate with business, industry, government, and community partners to develop high
quality programs and to provide unique applied experiences.

Another key ingredient to ensuring that our academic programs are effective is professional
development for faculty members. We have long supported our faculty-led Academy for
Teaching and Learning Excellence. In recent years we have been able to expand their capacity
and we now have an endowment for that unit. We are also supporting innovative training
opportunities such as the Mobile Summer Institute on Scientific Teaching that promotes
student-centered teaching practices.

Priority 3

For an institution of higher education, research can sometimes be a tough sell to people who
see it as something isolated from, or extraneous to, the core mission of educating students. So,
one of the first orders of business for me was to develop a better way of explaining what this
part of our mission is for and why it’s important. Research is not just something that professors
like to do or that we require as a rite of passage into tenure. For universities like ours, research
is a way to engage our communities to develop new products, solve urgent problems, and
contribute to the overall health and wellbeing of our society. But as important as that is, it is
not the only benefit. If you were to walk into one of our research centers or accompany one of
our faculty members in their field work, you would see something that might surprise
you—students. Lots of them, both undergraduate and graduate working alongside their
mentors on projects that give them invaluable experience in their fields and a leg up when they

The young man that you see in this slide is Hunter Dunne, he came to our Nanotechnology
Center to participate in a science fair when he was still in high school at ASMSA. He
subsequently enrolled in our Engineering program and was able to work in our nanotechnology
lab throughout his undergraduate studies. Hunter now has a masters degree and is pursuing a
career in the space industry.

We continue to promote student involvement in research through our signature experience
program and other research mentoring programs as a way of enhancing their education. Much
of this can be supported through research grants, but not all of it. There are ongoing costs and
investments that are needed to support this work. Therefore, I have made this a fundraising
goal as well as a grant-making goal. And we are developing marketing and outreach campaigns
to make the value proposition of research clear to our community.

Priority 4

Much like research, it is important that everyone understand that community engagement is
not just something that’s nice to have—it is a critical component of how we educate our
students. And this is where you really begin to see the blending of all four priorities. We build
community engagement in all that we do. Our academic programs work with community
partners who serve as clients for student projects, as internship and clinical placement
providers, as sources of mentorship, and as investors in our educational infrastructure. Our
research and creative work projects either directly engage community members in problem-
solving and cultural enrichment, or indirectly by sharing the results through public lectures, concerts, and workshops. Our public service units such as our public radio stations and Children
International engage our community constituents very directly and also provide internship
opportunities for our students that help keep them engaged and successful.

Our Trojan Athletics program is a model of increasing educational access and enhancing
student success. Athletic scholarships give many students an opportunity to attend college they
might not have otherwise, and the mentoring and academic support they get as part of their
program helps them to be very successful students, second only to our honors students in the
Donaghey Scholars Honors Program in average GPA. At the same time, Trojan Athletics is the primary
point of contact for many of our local community members and serves as an important
reflection of our identity.

One project that I’m very excited about and that I think is a good example of how we can utilize
community engagement to benefit UA Little Rock, the University District community, and the
City of Little rock is the University Plaza redevelopment project. We are at the beginning of this
effort, but we have assembled committees made up of campus and community partners who
are exploring the possibilities of this development. They will canvas the needs and wishes of
students, neighbors, faculty, and other constituents to help us formulate a new vision for this
important gateway into our campus. We will keep you posted on our progress as we prepare to
release an RFP later this spring.


To wrap up my presentation this morning, we will share a brief video that illustrates how these
four institutional priorities come together to serve our students and our community. I would
also like to conclude by saying that in spite of our considerable challenges this past year, we
have not lost sight of what is important and eternal. And although we still have much work to
do, I believe the path forward is clear.

As always, we appreciate your support and encouragement on this journey.

Posted in: Presentations

Comments are closed.