January 21, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

I hope that you had a wonderful holiday break and are feeling recharged to engage with the spring semester.

I keep on my desk and often carry around with me a printed copy of our 2015-2021 University strategic plan.  It is a bit tattered and has more than a few coffee stains.  Sometimes it is useful just as a source of university facts, but primarily I keep it with me as a constant reminder of our institutional goals and the metrics that we have identified to measure our progress toward achieving them.  Looking at it also serves as a reminder that the University community devoted almost an entire year toward formulating the plan, and that we have an obligation to use it and be guided by it.  You may recall that the strategic plan is built around the core themes of Learning, Discovery, and Engagement.  These themes, of course, are intertwined as well they should be.  The core themes are supported broadly by what we have referred to as "Sustainability", which includes all of the critical infrastructure needed to reach our goals, including the look and feel of our beautiful campus.

In my October letter I indicated that "a committee" would be reviewing metrics associated with the University strategic plan, and that I expected to report back to you by the end of the fall semester.  The review actually consists of four committees that are focusing on the three core themes and sustainability.  The committees have made good progress but have requested more time to review the plan and its metrics, and to make recommendations on our progress and path forward.  I will be reporting back to you later this semester on their recommendations.

Our University plan clearly identifies the importance of additional faculty, staff, and graduate students to meet the needs of our growing student population and move toward our goal of being recognized among the most prominent universities in the U.S.  We have added many positions over the past three years and, fueled by revenue from enrollment growth, we anticipate that additional faculty, staff, and graduate-assistant positions will be funded for FY17.  Many of the positions have been pre-committed through the multi-year, cluster-hiring initiative that was implemented last year.  Regardless, I do expect that additional positions will be available, and you will hear from me in the next month regarding particulars.

Sustainability, is a key element of our strategic plan.  Last fall I appointed John Sagebiel to chair the UNR Sustainability Committee.  This committee had been inactive for several years, but I found that there was considerable enthusiasm, including encouragement from the Faculty Senate, to reactivate this committee.  I am very excited about the new energy and ideas that John and his fellow committee members - which includes academic faculty, administrative faculty, classified staff, and students - bring to this important aspect of our community.  Their first order of business will be to complete a comprehensive review of UNR's status as it relates to areas that include academic curriculum, campus and community engagement, operations, and administration.  The review will employ the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), which is used by many universities nationwide.  It will result in a rating (ranging from Bronze to Platinum) and most importantly will provide clear guidance on areas where we can improve.  You will be hearing more about the committee's activities, and there will be many opportunities for participation.

"Engagement" is a substantial component of the sustainability initiative described above.  It will complement nicely our pursuit of a formal recognition that is integral to our land-grant mission.  Toward that end, in April of 2017 we plan to submit an application to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching for recognition as a Carnegie Engaged University.  You may recall that we applied for this recognition two years ago.  While our previous application was not successful, we learned a great deal through the process.  I am very optimistic that our next application will be successful.  I am grateful to Fred Holman for his leadership of the ad hoc committee that will guide us toward submission of our application next year.  There will be an opportunity and need for broad university participation in this initiative.

Hopefully you have heard about the Student Success Collaborative (SSC) that UNR has joined.  The Collaborative includes over 140 universities and colleges nationwide, and provides powerful software analytics that allow us deep insight into the factors that influence academic success among undergraduate students.  We anticipate that our software will go live in the spring of 2016.  Academic advisors have been getting training for the last several months, and within the next few weeks we will get our first glimpse of the software's analysis of institutional data over the past 10 years.  The SSC will allow us to provide much more powerful and meaningful advising to students and to quantitatively scrutinize our degree programs.  Derek Furukawa is leading the charge on the SSC initiative.

Dean Jeff Thompson and the College of Science have decided to make ScienceFIT (their version of NevadaFIT) a requirement for all entering freshmen for the fall of 2016.  This will include approximately 600 students.  All other programs that conducted NevadaFIT programs in fall of 2015 will offer them again in the fall of 2016 (Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Community Health Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering, Journalism, and Psychology).  Collectively, these other programs expect to accommodate approximately 400 entering freshmen.  The total projected participation of approximately 1,000 will more than double the number of students that participated in NevadaFIT in the fall of 2015.  The fall 2016 NevadaFIT will be offered as a one-credit, pass/fail course (ACE 110).  Also, for next fall, students who have not decided on a major will be allowed to participate in NevadaFIT and will be placed in a program that is closest to their interests.

Included in our strategic plan is a commitment to thoughtfully expand online degree programs and courses.  Over the past year we have been in dialogue with Pearson/Embanet regarding a partnership to launch strategically identified online degree programs.  Late last fall we agreed to terms with Pearson/Embanet to launch a fully online Master of Social Work program.  Social Work Director Goutham Menon and his faculty are excited about this new opportunity, and new faculty and staff are being hired now in anticipation of an inaugural class in the fall of 2016.  In addition to serving hundreds of students in Nevada, the region, and the nation, we anticipate that the program will generate substantial positive revenue for the School of Social Work and the University.  There are active discussions with Pearson/Embanet currently underway regarding possible additional online programs

The search for the next College of Liberal Arts dean was launched last fall and is underway.  With the assistance of Storbeck/Pimentel and Associates, several promising candidates have been identified and active recruiting is continuing.  The search committee should be meeting to evaluate and make recommendations for finalists within the next few weeks.

An historic event will occur February 10 and 11, as the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board will hold its quarterly meeting on the UNR campus.  This gathering will be the board's first meeting at a public university in the West, and will serve as the kick-off event for the Fulbright Association's 70-year history.  UNR Professor Emma Sepulveda Pulvirenti was appointed by President Obama to serve on the board, and she was instrumental in arranging for the meeting to be held on our campus.  There will be an open session to which faculty will be invited; I hope you will be able to attend and participate.  Details will be forthcoming.

If you have read this far, you are probably ready for a break.  Monthly faculty socials for academic faculty have been well attended, and I plan to continue hosting them for the spring semester.  Mark your calendars for February 5, April 1 (no fooling), and April 29, all Fridays at 4 pm.  Enjoy snacks, an adult beverage on me, and, most importantly, get acquainted with your wonderful colleagues from across the spectrum of the university.  I hope to see you there!

Regards, Kevin C.