State of the University Address 2014 - Undergraduate Education

Investments tailored to our priorities must continue. Under the leadership of Amy Goodburn in Academic Affairs we continue to develop and refine programs that assist individual students to be successful participants in our academic community, to graduate in four years and to move on to the next important phase of their life and career.

A central priority is to support our students’ transition from high school to college. Last year we created the Office of First-Year Experience and Transition Programs. In its first year, over 1,800 students participated in one-on-one academic coaching and over 1,300 students attended group workshops on academic topics. The office also created study stop spaces staffed with learning consultants four nights a week. Over 2,300 students took advantage of this opportunity.

We have expanded the number of first-year learning communities from 10 to 24, including one created specifically for transfer students. All of these programs are designed to connect students with the faculty, staff, and resources that support their progress toward a degree.

The Exploratory Advising Center and our Career Services Office are collaborating to highlight career considerations as students choose an academic major, and faculty and staff from all 8 colleges are examining how career exploration and career development is most effectively integrated into our curriculum and advising.

The first floor of Love Library South is being transformed into a one stop hub for student success services. Construction will start soon on Love Library North to reestablish the library as the central core of academic life in the digital environment, where faculty and students can engage in collaborative, cross-disciplinary scholarship and learning 24/7. Renovation of the Student Union has reenergized that building as a crossroads of student activity.

Brace Hall becomes UNL’s first building devoted exclusively to teaching. We achieved three new larger classrooms that were critical for our expanding enrollment. Smaller classrooms and life science teaching labs designed for collaborative learning directly support the use of research based instructional strategies shown to increase student success and student learning outcomes. Brace Hall also includes an experimental classroom where cutting edge instructional strategies and technology can be tried and evaluated for their efficacy. This year, Academic Affairs will invest $1.5M in renovation and modernization of general purpose classrooms across the entire campus.

Revitalizing undergraduate life on East Campus is also an important focus. The East Campus recreational center is under construction and we are currently considering plans to greatly improve student housing, dining, and other facilities. Vice Chancellor Green has ambitious plans to repurpose C.Y. Thompson library to better enhance the student academic experience.

We again saw considerable growth in our freshman enrollment. We attracted the second-largest enrollment including the second-largest freshman class in history. We saw increase from every region of Nebraska, in our target markets across the country, and in our focused efforts throughout the world. We are fortunate to have the luxury of accepting every qualified Nebraska student and still welcome students from elsewhere—always with the goal of retaining their talents in Nebraska. Twenty-nine percent of our student body is non-resident; 10% is from abroad, and 12.6% are students of color. Even with this growth, the academic credentials of the entering class are the highest in the history of the university. Most admissions deans will tell you it is impossible to produce simultaneously growth, diversity and excellence.

With Alan Cerveny and Amber Williams and their staff we surely have the most professional admissions and recruitment organization in the country. And they would acknowledge that our recent success is due to the commitment of the academic colleges and their faculty to make enrollment growth a priority and to accommodate that growth.

I had thought, of course that the real reason for our enrollment success were the Perls of Knowledge videos until I arrived at the last shooting to discover that the story line featured the dissembling of the set and the removal of my chair. This was very disappointing because we had some really effective “Perls” left over:

Here’s one: “College is designed to answer some of life’s most intractable questions. Like why don’t sheep shrink when it rains? Or, when cows laugh, do they snort milk through their noses? “

Or this one: “It is generally agreed that ‘hello is an appropriate greeting because if you entered a room and said ‘Goodbye’ it could confuse a lot of people. It’s like naming your dog ‘Stay’ and then calling ‘Come, stay’!

The Division of Student Affairs continues to improve the contribution student life can make to academic success. Sue Gildersleeve and her housing staff have made considerable investments in academic support services within student housing units. Service learning, student organizations, and student activities all play an important role in both attracting students and making them successful.

Union Bank and Trust of Lincoln, a long-time supporter of the University, was the successful bidder to provide banking services on the campus. From the revenue this contract provides, we will expand UCARE, our undergraduate research program, by 40%. Undergraduate research is the bridge between our two priorities, a central initiative to prepare students for the innovation economy.

I also intend to use part of this revenue to provide scholarships for students who wish to study abroad. Every student when they walk across the stage at graduation should possess a passport with at least one foreign stamp.

Our students come to us to spend their formative years on their way to adulthood and in the process they must build a variety of skills including leadership, critical thinking, social engagement and the techniques of living and succeeding in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-cultural world. Our ultimate objective should be to give each individual student the opportunities and experience they need to be successful.

We were reminded by events of last year that our campus is not immune from the tensions in the larger society that circle around issues of race and gender and sexual orientation. Words were spoken, skits were performed, images were displayed that made our community appear less welcoming to some categories of students. Whatever legal protection these words or actions are thought to enjoy, they clearly fractured the level of civility one should expect among educated citizens. To the extent we fall short of being open and respectful of all, we undermine our own entitlement to respect.

Many of the conversations held on campus after these events were tense and uncomfortable but I believe constructive. They have encouraged us to take a number of steps to enhance our efforts to make a difference, recognizing that administrative steps alone are insufficient.

We are restructuring the administrative effort to deal with diversity issues. In the past the formal responsibility was focused in the Office of Equity, Access, and Diversity—an office that was expected to deal with both legal and compliance questions as well as lead some of our more proactive activities. While the office was effective, issues of compliance have become pervasive.

Accordingly we are focusing that office and its staff primarily on matters of compliance and investigations. We have reassigned some of its routine employment related efforts to Human Resources. The Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs will create a strategic plan for advancing diversity, to focus responsibility for diversity matters on a single person in their respective offices, and to engage more proactively in addressing diversity concerns among faculty and students. I am charging the Office of Human Resources and our campus units to be accountable for improving the diversity among university staff.

During the spring, under the leadership of Vice Chancellor Franco, the Division of Student Affairs sponsored a variety of activities to continue the important dialog among students and within student organizations. He has asked Andre Fortune to expand his responsibilities for the Gaughan Center to become an Assistant to the Vice Chancellor for Diversity. Andre will work to assure a more inclusive and welcoming environment for students. These issues were prominently addressed during orientation for new students. We will continue to work with student organizations, including fraternities and sororities, to assure they are open to diverse memberships. The Division has made efforts to engage and include minority and international students into the mainstream of our campus and while at the same time celebrating the diversity they provide.

Senior Vice Chancellor Weissinger has assigned oversight for these issues to Lance Perez. He has created a new “Academic Leadership Fellow” position designed to add expertise and administrative capacity related to diversity and academic excellence. Joy Castro, Professor of English and Director of the Institute for Ethnic Studies, will join the SVCAA office for the 2015 calendar year. Professor Castro will provide the Senior Vice Chancellor with a set of recommendations that will form the basis for a new Associate Vice Chancellor position. That position will bring focus to the efforts across the campus to broaden the diversity of our faculty, and enhance the ways in which diversity is reflected in our research, our curriculum and our teaching strategies.

We will create a Diversity Administrative Council to assure the work of these individuals is coordinated, accountable, sustainable, and effective.

Colleges, like the military, are now the focus of efforts by the federal government to lower the incidents of improper sexual behavior. We are experiencing increased regulatory requirements to document and address allegations of sexual misconduct. Universities are being held accountable for the sexual climate on our campuses. This will require renewed efforts and increased sensitivity on all of our parts to address the issues in a firm but fair and effective way. Among other steps, Student Affairs is increasing its investment in and expansion of the Bystander Intervention program to help reduce the risk of sexual misconduct on campus. And the University system has adopted revised policies for handling allegations of sexual misconduct.

We have implemented the “Tips Prevent” situation reporting system for our campus this fall -- a web-based system that allows any person to report incidents, including concerns about discrimination, sexual harassment, or other inappropriate conduct. These incident reports are automatically directed to appropriate teams for investigation and follow-up. These reports can be made anonymously. We recognize the potential misuse of anonymous reports and have built in protections against such abuse.

This university does not have a disproportionate number of incidents. Indeed, I believe the overwhelming majority of this community are well-intentioned and work hard to create a safe and respectful environment. Tips Prevent is just one more tool to allow us to address such matters that arise and to assure members of community that their concerns will be heard and acted upon.

These steps will not suddenly immunize this campus from the tensions that are inherent in the general society. This will require the hard work of all of us. We recognize the true measure of our success should not be statistics or administrative processes, but how freely persons of diverse backgrounds can both be embraced by the larger community and at the same time freely express, with pride, their personal identities.