Transcript: 2011 State of Academic Affairs Address

Delivered by Dr. William Michael "Mike" Sherman, senior vice president and provost/chief operating officer, on Thursday, April 14, 2011.

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Harvey [Sterns] for your kind introduction, and for your impactful leadership. I am honored that the Faculty Senate is co-hosting the 2011 State of Academic Affairs Address.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment and recognize the many University of Akron friends and partners with us today. I am pleased you could join us, and thank you for your commitment to the University.

I came to The University of Akron with the knowledge that this is a great institution, and I was excited to be a part of its future. And I continue to be impressed with the people and the place that are creating the Akron Experience.

A few months ago, President Proenza introduced our strategic plan: Vision 2020: the New Gold Standard of University Performance. This vision for The University of Akron as a leader in globally competitive clusters of innovation and entrepreneurship is within reach. Our ability to act as a change agent for addressing the social, economic and physical needs of the region will only grow from here, resulting in a community that values, invests in, and supports higher education. We will reach that potential in our classrooms and laboratories, and through strategic partnerships.

To do so, we have determined that we will:

  • commit to excellence through student success;
  • assert our global position through dynamic and globally relevant programs;
  • foster distinction through faculty successes and provide staff with professional advancement to help achieve our goals;
  • engage the world around us by building and sustaining vital partnerships;
  • support our community by promoting vibrant and engaging environments; and
  • practice integrated planning to reach measurable success.

Today, I am pleased to introduce to you aspects of our strategic pathway that will ensure that we attain the goals of Vision 2020. In particular, I will focus on how we will succeed by addressing three major themes: student success, academic quality and organizational effectiveness.

Student success is the yardstick

The first thing we must do – and will do – is measure our success as an institution by the success of our students. Our foundational commitment is student success, and we must adhere to it vigilantly. When students succeed, we succeed.

A colleague recently shared with me a conversation with a student. When asked why The University of Akron was her university of choice, she said “When I visited Akron, I knew no other university was for me. The opportunities, the people, the energy, were what I was looking for.” This student’s initial reaction has remained unchanged – and she will graduate as a member of the spring 2011 class. This is the type of reaction we must strive to achieve every day.

On an individual level, we must insist that each University of Akron employee come to work prepared to put student needs first. We should approach each and every student interaction with a focus on the student’s needs. When we drive home at night, we should all be thinking about what we could have done better, or differently to support student success, and be ready to implement those improvements the very next day. We must take a step beyond providing necessary basic support, and understand that interactions are not transactions, they are opportunities by which we create a remarkable experience for all of our students.

On an institutional level, we must ensure that our programs support student success by preparing graduates to be active participants in a global society. We must address our General Education requirements, the foundational curricula of our undergraduate baccalaureate degree. It has been 17 years since they were revised. We must revisit these to ensure that a University of Akron diploma represents a combination of basic knowledge and applied skills critical to a 21st century workforce.

In addition, we must further extend program support by increasing evening, weekend, and especially summer offerings, so that students can graduate in three-years, if they so choose.

Students also should be able to complete a program or degree by attending in the evening or weekends. Even more important, we must strive to provide every qualified student an opportunity for experiential learning, in the form of co-ops and similar programs to better prepare them to compete in the global economy.

Increasing persistence

Our commitment to student achievement will be reflected in the number of students who persist and subsequently graduate. Therefore, we will increase our persistence in such a manner that by 2020, our six-year graduation rate will be at least 60 percent for those pursuing undergraduate baccalaureate degrees. Statistics indicate that students can save an average of $30,000 a year for each year of full-time study they can avoid. That alone is sufficient reason to graduate students in no more than six years.

We will enhance student success before students even step foot on our campus, with continued and expanded partnerships with the Akron Public Schools. And we will enhance student success by engaging with our students in new and innovative ways - from orientation to graduation. We already have begun applying this institutional focus by hiring 12 additional academic advisors across the University. In addition, New Student Orientation has been adjusted to improve student success from the very first day students attend the University.

As an institution committed to the establishment of a new gold standard of university performance, we will not be judged by how many students we exclude, but by the value added through their University of Akron experience.

We must address student readiness for college, and expect that each new student can graduate. For example, Honors students demonstrate a high-level of readiness based upon superior ACT scores, which translates into strong retention rates and strong graduation rates.

But we must also define what constitutes meaningful support for students at other levels of readiness. We must coach, rather than merely advise, with an approach that includes tutoring, counseling, peer mentoring, and financial aid support. If our actions reflect our mantra of ‘student success is our success,’ we will quickly see persistence rate gains, which then become graduation rate gains, for a large percentage of students.

It is critical that we provide services in a way that reaches students early and consistently. Case in point: our Summit and University Colleges are, in a sense, an entry point. They provide wrap-around services to a great percentage of our students. By placing both colleges under the direction of one dean, we can deliver services more consistently, efficiently and effectively, as it is easier for one individual to recognize and remove redundancies, or identify links between services. This will enable us to better deploy both colleges’ resources for the good of our students.

In addition, our services and offerings must reflect the needs of our student body. First-generation, minority, international, veteran, adult and transfer students all have unique circumstances and needs. We are making progress in this area, as witnessed by the Service-members Opportunities College Consortium, accelerated degree options, evening classes, and support services extended beyond the freshman and sophomore year.

But we must go further. And that is why I have asked for a specific redesign in how we support students in academic need across the institution.

Economics is a major factor in determining whether or not a student remains on-track to graduation. We can do more to ensure that our students do not leave the University simply because they cannot afford tuition. This is why we have invested $680,000 in a new scholarship program. Students in the middle 50 percent of the academic readiness continuum, and students who have an ACT of 21 with a 3.0 GPA, will be eligible for these scholarships. After all, an ACT score of 21 indicates the individual is “college-ready” and we should support such preparedness and achievement.

But what about students who did not initially warrant a scholarship, but who earn a 3.0 GPA or higher after two semesters of taking a full course load? Their hard work merits recognition. We will provide it in the form of a Provost’s Success Scholarship. To my knowledge, this program is unique in the State of Ohio.

In addition, we are the only university in Ohio with an Osher Reentry scholarship, enabling many adults to pursue a bachelor’s degree. For the third consecutive year, the Bernard Osher Foundation has awarded us $50,000 to continue the program. With a University match, we expect to award $100,000 next year to these adult learners. This sets the stage for our application for a $1 million endowed gift to fund the program into perpetuity.

These actions I have described solidify our commitment to student success.

Assuring academic excellence

The second thing we must do as an institution is ensure the excellence of our academic programs. By the end of summer, all academic programs will have been thoughtfully and thoroughly reviewed. I assure you that those reviews will not go unused. We will consider the results, and implement recommendations consistent with the reviews that have taken place.

We shall also implement functional reviews of academic support units to create a culture of continuous improvement. We will selectively deploy Six Sigma to improve and redesign processes, beginning with academic advising.

We will be strategic in hiring faculty who will support both our research agenda and teaching excellence. I have worked closely with deans to achieve this aim, with the understanding that faculty turnover does not mean a one-for-one replacement. More tenure track faculty will improve the quality of the student experience, increase student retention and graduation rates, and help us reach our aspiration of achieving as much as $200M in research activities by 2020.

The President and I intend to create a strategic investment fund of $2 million annually that will be targeted to teaching and research excellence. To assure distinction in strategic academic areas, we must increase our faculty number by about 200 between now and 2020, or by about 20 additional faculty members per year. These faculty members must be recruited with the expectation to secure funding. I have asked the deans to project additional investment in high priority academic programs in two, five-year cycles. These proposals will set the framework for investment in programs that meet student needs, distinguish the University, and enhance our national and international reputation of the University.

To support strategic faculty hiring, Human Resources will focus on talent recruitment, retention, and development in the near term and beyond. This includes a concerted effort in the support of women and minorities.

Universities are significant economic generators. The State of Ohio has recognized The University of Akron’s leading role in science and industry research and technology development. We have the opportunity to further our distinction and deepen our impact by enhancing multidisciplinary collaborations.

A Faculty Senate Committee, chaired by Associate Professor Julia Beckett, addressed the barriers to interdisciplinary research. This committee recognized the importance of creating mechanisms by which strategic interdisciplinary research can be accomplished.

As we finalize Vision 2020, we will develop a framework to focus our investments. This framework will allow us to be more responsive. It will drive interdisciplinary collaborations that draw on a liberal education, and bring science, technology and innovation to bear on improving the health and human condition of our local and global communities. This framework will help us focus our unique institutional capabilities to address human development, from birth through adulthood.

The president and I are committed to developing a budget that accommodates the creation of three Clusters of Innovation. The clusters are the mechanisms by which we will develop strategic interdisciplinary research. Over the next five years, $1.5 million in seed money will be invested in the clusters. Each will receive $100,000 annually. At the end of the five years, they will be self-funded.

The clusters are an integral way for us to adapt to changing world needs, while supporting the value we place on interdisciplinary research and entrepreneurship. Details will be shared with you in the coming months.

Organizational effectiveness

And the third thing we must do is address organizational effectiveness. Our standards of success are high. The endeavors I have addressed today are crucial for the improvement and support of student success. The re-conceptualization of vice presidential units into academic support units was a major first step in making student success our top priority. The changes were founded in the understanding that academic support units enable the colleges to accomplish the academic agenda.

The re-conceptualization allows us to gain efficiency and enhance support for our signature programs. The alignment of responsibilities extends throughout the University. We are committed to better aligning our staffing levels, talent development, and performance management and enhancement with the vision, mission and goals of Vision 2020.

We will enhance this environment by finalizing the development of a University Council. The Board of Trustees has approved the underlying principles for the Council, and I am committed to moving it forward. We are making great progress with the consultation of the constituency groups, and I anticipate that they will recommend delegates to the Council by the end of this semester. We will “test” our structure by the end of summer. Come fall, the University Council will operate full speed ahead.

We also must bring stability to our colleges, schools and departments. Filling interim positions with permanent leaders begins at the deans’ level. We need all deans’ positions to be permanent - sooner rather than later. And I call upon our deans to select and appoint permanent leadership at the school and department level - sooner rather than later.

It also is time to determine our optimal college structures. Following discussions with the Faculty Senate, I have asked the faculty of both The Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Creative and Professional Arts to explore the advantages of convergence. The faculty and staff of these two colleges are part of a transformative change on our campus.

Their commitment confirms our readiness to take the steps I am describing today.
Here, I want to make special note of the potential for even greater impact by our Schools of Music; Art; and Theatre, Dance, and Arts Administration. They truly are a front door to The University of Akron. They will be key to our ability to develop partnerships, support interdisciplinary endeavors and provide rich cultural activities, all of which will increase in number, scope and capacity. Our students should graduate with the benefit of a cultural passport to the world beyond The University of Akron.

We also have an unprecedented opportunity on our campus to re-align health-related departments and leverage the region’s strengths in health care by creating a new College of Health. Moving the College of Nursing and the College of Health Sciences and Human Services into such a college will strengthen programmatic excellence in health sciences. And it presents the opportunity to forge stronger relationships with Children’s Hospital, Akron General, Summa Health System, the Austen BioInnovation Institute and NEOUCOM. It is our objective to name the inaugural dean of the new college by July 1, 2012. I look forward to the faculty senate’s assistance to secure this opportunity, particularly given the overwhelming support by faculty for such action.

We can expand our ability to ensure core competencies and support smooth transitions from associate to bachelor’s degrees in our region. Through the Innovation Alliance — a partnership amongst Lorain Community College, Stark State University, and The University of Akron we will create unique relationships to support these transitions. We will reduce program redundancies and enhance degree articulation to strengthen our Northeast Ohio workforce. The region will experience needed growth in college graduates, and our University will benefit from a greater number of associate degree graduates seeking to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Successes and opportunities

In summary, I have illustrated our successes and our opportunities associated with student success, academic quality, and organizational effectiveness.

What I have described requires change, but is grounded on the principle of student success.

Our framework for investments, founded in the intersections of a liberal education, the human condition — especially health, and science and technology innovation, when considered across the spectrum of the human continuum, from cradle to career, will further guide our actions. Student success is our success, and in order to support student success, our budget system must address the needs of our academic agenda. Our vision and mission will not languish on a shelf, we will accomplish this through innovation, entrepreneurship and a united will.

As I have noted many times, The University of Akron is a great place to be. When you put people together with this great environment, a community is created. And so the University becomes more than a place – it becomes an experience – YOUR Akron Experience.

I was, and remain today, privileged to have been tapped as provost for such a great institution.

My family and I are grateful for your warm reception and support. I look forward to working closely with our faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends to fulfill Vision 2020: The New Gold Standard of University Performance. Student success is our success, and you make this a great university.

Thank you for your presence here today.