Harvey Perlman, Chancellor
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Now, looking forward. Let me address ongoing initiatives of continuing importance.
NCA Accreditation and Strategic Planning
Last year we began the process for the renewal of our academic accreditation with the development of a self-study. This involved over 100 faculty and staff on eight task forces and a steering committee of university leadership. The "gang of six" led by Jim O'Hanlon, and consisting of Barbara Couture, Susan Fritz, David Wilson, Lori Anderson and Kim Hachiya, did most of the writing and editing. It is on the Web and I would encourage you to take a look. It was written not as a defense of where we are but rather to provide a better understanding of what we need to do in pursuit of our core values. It documents the interrelationship of our efforts in teaching, research, and engagement, the importance of matching our programs with our resources, and the significant progress we have made. The review team will be on campus November 6 through 8 and will schedule upwards of 150 meetings with various individuals and may spontaneously talk to any of you.
Our strategic planning efforts continue to evolve. This process will be the focus of the accreditation. Because we are not following traditional formulae for planning exercises, we are all learning as we proceed, with the hope that we will find a planning process that fits this campus and supports our progress. We continue to work toward a process that reflects the realism, discipline, and accountability that are important to our success. For the first time in my memory at this institution, we are having systematic conversations between the deans and the campus administration on the future direction of the campus. We are having meaningful discussions of priorities, of opportunities, and of strategies to move forward. I have changed my stripes. This old "anti planner" is now fully committed to the sensible strategic planning process that is emerging.
General Education Reform
Continuing efforts to enhance the experience and success of our undergraduate students advances our core values and is central to our reputation as a university. There is no more important issue relating to the quality of our undergraduate program than the revision of our general education curriculum.
Last year we embarked on an ambitious effort to implement a new general education program for the class that enters the university in the fall of 2007. Under the leadership of Senior Vice Chancellor Barbara Couture and professor John Janovy, a number of faculty members have been working to engage a broad segment of our community in this initiative. Their effort has produced a clear and concise statement of the aspirations we all must have for the common experience of our undergraduates. This is a far advance from the definition attributed to a famous actress who is reported to have said: "I read Shakespeare and the Bible, and I can shoot dice. That's what I call a liberal education." I know we can do better than that!
The General Education Advisory Committee will present two proposals to the campus community this fall: An articulation of the common objectives for the learning outcomes of undergraduate education and the structural criteria for achieving these common objectives for all students. I would encourage every faculty member to become engaged in this process so that we can meet our target of a new program for students entering next fall.
This is our opportunity to provide a "Nebraska solution" to an issue that is engaging university faculties and the public at large across the country. Higher education is in the spotlight and we are increasingly being asked to show the added value of our programs. The Spelling Commission at the national level is one high profile example, but our own Board of Regents is also asking important questions about how we change students for the better. A coherent articulation of our expectations and efforts to assess our effectiveness are imperatives if we are to answer these challenges. I believe this university is smart enough and engaged enough to fashion a response that is thoughtful, realistic, and enhances our students' success.
Our new program should be practical, so that it facilitates transfer of students into UNL from other institutions as well as between our own colleges. Its objectives should be clear so that both students and faculty can share a dialogue about its importance. It should also be based on learning outcomes - an "Achievement Centered Education" expected of each and every undergraduate student. Such a program will provide the unifying element that guarantees the life-long value of the undergraduate experience we provide.
Notwithstanding our recent success, enrollment continues to be critical to our future. I recognize that in some areas physical and faculty resources are beginning to limit our capacity for growth, and conversations have begun, with deans, to ask what our overall enrollment target should be. We also need to be creative in expanding enrollment by pursuing the potential of distance education and of non-traditional students who present differential demands on our resources. Similarly, we need those academic units who have capacity to grow to find a way to do so, either by intensified recruitment efforts, program alterations, or collaboration with other areas where demand is stronger.
In the longer term, we must address Nebraska's college going rate, a rate that is decreasing as the state experiences an influx of populations whose families do not have a history or tradition of college attendance. The recently announced University of Nebraska-Lincoln Preparatory Academy, a partnership with Grand Island High School, is one step in that effort. The high school will select 40 students from low-income, first-generation families who have high academic potential and provide them with intense mentoring toward college preparation. We have agreed to assure these students, that if successful, they will have the financial resources necessary to graduate from UNL.
In considering enrollment, I don't want to overlook graduate education, which is also critical to our role as a research university. We are moving toward a society where a graduate degree is the expected level of education for many of the best jobs. This creates opportunities for us to develop more specialized graduate programs, particularly but not exclusively through distance education. The quality of our graduate programs and our graduate students is also intimately tied to our research success. We must continue to find creative ways to become more competitive for the top graduate students, particularly in our high priority programs.