As we begin the new academic year, the return of our students inspires us to renew our commitment to their well-being and education. They are the reason for our existence as an institution, and how successful we are in dealing with them is a measure of our dedication and effectiveness.
Our colleagues in Student Life have done a wonderful job instilling the Southern spirit into our new freshman class — the class of 2018! Their energy and optimism was on full display at the New Student Convocation and throughout the wonderful array of Welcome Week activities. I thank all of the many individuals involved in preparing and implementing this program, which gave our campus a true vibrancy that we hope will extend throughout the semester.
We will need that energy and enthusiasm as we work together to tackle the biggest issue facing us this year: enrollment. As you are well aware, there were unwelcome fiscal challenges during this past year, caused in part by a continuing decline in our student population. Tuition income goes a long way towards meeting our budgetary needs, and it is the students who pay the tuition.
When tuition falls as a consequence of declining enrollment, our budget plans can go awry. So it is clear that all of us must do what we can to reverse declining enrollments and ensure student success. This will be one of our major challenges in the coming year. Enrollment is the responsibility of the entire university, not just the enrollment management team. We will be calling on many of you to join with us in developing new strategies for attracting students to Southern and for ensuring the success of those who enroll. Creativity and innovation will be our themes for this year!
Aligned with our enrollment drive is our effort to ensure that students receive the best possible educational experience when they arrive on campus. Following the recommendations of our Student Success Taskforce, several initiatives designed to improve the university’s graduation and retention rates are being implemented this fall.
An Academic Success Center will be established, and located in Buley Library after the renovation project is completed. It will provide support for students seeking help in meeting the university’s academic standards, as well as for those who are already good students but want to excel. New Center Director Katie De Oliveira will start Oct. 17 and will develop initiatives such as increased support for success in math and writing, academic skills building and other learning enhancements.
Sal Rizza is now the director of new student and sophomore programs, creating co-curricular activities for freshmen, sophomores and transfer students. Vice President for Student Affairs Tracy Tyree reports that research shows that students who have social and co-curricular connections to the university are more likely to succeed and are less likely to drop out of college before attaining their degree. Sal will be working closely with Nicole Henderson, director of our excellent First-Year Experience program, as we seek to improve the campus experience for second-year and transfer students, as well.
A Commuter Student Lounge has also been established in the Michael J. Adanti Student Center, giving them a place to go between classes (our student affairs staff have observed that many commuters have been spending the downtime in their cars).
Enhanced student engagement is also the impetus behind a change in late-night dining options this year. The food court in the student center will remain open longer at night, while Connecticut Hall will close earlier, exposing more students to the full range of student center programming. Similarly, a section of Buley Library will remain open 24 hours a day when renovations are complete, again building the sense of community for our students.
Another student success initiative has been the creation of several new advisement positions to support specific populations, including transfer students, commuters, second-year returnees and business and nursing students. An additional position – and one that we believe is unique in Connecticut – is devoted specifically to provide financial literacy and planning information for current and prospective students, as well as their families.
As you know, managing finances has always been a challenge for college students, who are often on a tight budget and on their own for the first time. But these days, students are borrowing more than ever to pay their way through college. This has resulted in an explosion in student loan debt, which exceeded $1 trillion nationwide in 2014.
Lew DeLuca, who served in our Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships for 10 years, has been named coordinator of student financial literacy and advising. Lew will work closely with students and parents to raise awareness about financial literacy, student aid programs and scholarships, as well as the advantages of the timely completion of a degree. More information about this new initiative can be found at: https://www.southernct.edu/financial-advising/index.html
I am very happy to report that 33, tenure-track faculty have joined our ranks this year. They are an eclectic group – drawn from countries as diverse as South Africa, Argentina, China and South Korea – and from states all over the United States.
They are drawn from a range of disciplines, with a wide variety of scholarly expertise, including research in gender identities, reducing violence towards children, treasury management, urban sustainability, cyber-security, environmental ethics, stroke rehabilitation and social enterprise.
Their talents will add to the rich palette of teaching, research and scholarship expertise in our academic community. We look forward to their contributions in our classrooms and programs across the university.
GRADUATE PROGRAM PRIORITIZATION
During the past year, we have been focusing on our graduate programs, devising ways to calibrate them more acutely to meet larger workforce needs. As part of this process, we have examined our curricular offerings, our instruction methods and our delivery and also reviewed whether the support for each program is what it needs to be successful.
The public draft of the Graduate Program Prioritization Report is now available at: http://southernct.edu/academics/graduate/gradprioritizationreport_82714.pdf
A Town Hall Meeting to discuss the report will be held on Friday, Sept. 19, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom. If you have comments on the report or questions that you would like addressed at the meeting, please email committee Co-Chair Greg Paveza at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to Dean Paveza, his Co-Chair Dr. Christine Petto, and the committee members for conducting an informed and thorough review of our graduate programs.
SCHOOL OF EDUCATION
We are already working hard on making improvements to the areas highlighted by the state Board of Education when our School of Education received probationary approval last week.
While on the surface the news appeared worrisome, the board’s action concentrated on a limited number of issues, primarily involving assessment of students’ knowledge, skills and disposition to teaching in our advanced, graduate-level programs and the collection of data that tracks our graduates’ progress in the teaching profession.
Collecting and analyzing data is a time-consuming process. But fortunately, much of this work is already underway. Though we have three years to finish it, we firmly believe that everything will be completed, and the matter resolved, within the next 12 months.
As I stated in my letter to the community last week – http://www.southernct.edu/about/administration/president/school-of-education.html – the reality is that our national accreditation remains in place and our ability to grant degrees at undergraduate and graduate levels is unaffected. The quality of our faculty in the School of Education remains excellent, and the quality of our curriculum remains outstanding. Our students’ programs of study and their path to certification will not be affected, and Southern graduates will continue to teach and lead in Connecticut’s schools.
Working with our faculty, Dean Stephen Hegedus has implemented a comprehensive plan to address the highlighted areas of improvement in a timely and efficient manner. He is also spearheading an effort to improve the school’s systems and processes and reach out to its many constituencies through varied forms of communication. I firmly believe that this commitment to continuous improvement will only serve to enhance our historical position as Connecticut’s leading source of qualified teachers and school administrators.
This fall, we will continue the development of our 10-year Strategic Plan, a process that will give us the opportunity collectively — faculty, administration, staff, students and community partners — to chart the future of our university. Our planning draws upon four themes:
- Delivering exemplary, accessible, transformative education in a student-centered environment.
- Creating and sustaining an environment that results in exemplary scholarship and innovative entrepreneurship.
- Providing exemplary, ethical stewardship of human, financial, technological and physical capital.
- Engaging with local and global communities through exemplary leadership and service to promote economic vitality and social justice for the public good.
A Town Hall meeting to discuss draft goals and objectives for the strategic plan will be held in mid-October and we expect to receive all feedback by the end of the fall semester. As we move forward, the innovative ideas, vision, and energy of the campus community will be critical in our successful adoption of a strategic plan that is aspirational and visionary.
TRANSFORM CSCU 2020
While we map the future of our own institution, Transform CSCU 2020 continues apace at the system level. As many of you know, this is a multi-year year effort to increase the accessibility and affordability of higher education in Connecticut and to position the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system as a major economic engine for the state. Transform is currently in the planning stage, and it is vital that the System administration receives your input during this process.
As such, you are invited to attend a Transform CSCU 2020 Town Hall meeting, to be held Monday, Sept. 29 from 1-2:30 p.m. in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom. You will be able to meet with members of the Board of Regents, BOR executive staff and Executive Sponsors for Transform initiatives. The will listen to your ideas and perspectives on the project; and answer whatever questions you may have about Transform. At the close of the meeting, you will also be asked to join the Transform Team moving forward, and help this important program reach its goals.
In preparation for the meeting, here is some information you may find useful: http://www.southernct.edu/transform2020/. The first document introduces the Transform 2020 process while the second is an update list of the 36 Transform initiatives and their executive sponsors. Southern is already well represented as work commences on the various initiatives and I hope that you will take the opportunity to become involved in this important process for our System and our University.
PRESIDENT’S COMMISSION ON CAMPUS CLIMATE
Led by Pamela Lassiter, our director of diversity and equity, the President’s Commission on Campus Climate and Inclusion has compiled a 378-page report that is now available online at: http://southernct.edu/go/climate-report With subcommittee reports on gender identity, race and ethnicity, religion and spirituality, veterans and non-traditional students, sexual harassment and disability rights, the report covers a broad spectrum of issues that are critical to maintaining a welcoming campus environment for all.
Please take the opportunity to review the report and commit to playing an active role in enhancing inclusivity at Southern.
Pamela has also been instrumental in the planning of our inaugural Social Justice Week, which will be held Oct. 22-29. The weeklong series of films, workshops and forums will be bookended by two keynote speakers: Michael Eric Dyson, professor of sociology at Georgetown University and a public intellectual and best-selling author on civil rights and popular culture; and Jane Elliott, internationally known teacher, lecturer and diversity trainer famed for her controversial “Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes” exercise exploring the roots of prejudice.
As you know, we have had several additions to our senior leadership team in the past few months. The most recent was Jay Moran, our new Director of Intercollegiate Athletics. Jay brings with him a proven record of success from more than 23 years of administrative experience and leadership in the athletic programs of the University of Bridgeport, Albertus Magnus College, Saint Joseph College and the University of Connecticut.
During the last decade, Jay has developed, managed and promoted competitive NCAA athletics at the Division II level as Director of Athletics at the University of Bridgeport. Before that, he led the athletics program at Albertus Magnus for two years. Under his direction, athletic and recreational facilities were updated and new sports established at both institutions. He was also a key player on several strategic planning committees at Saint Joseph, Albertus Magnus and Bridgeport.
Jay’s experience is enhanced by a background in fundraising and working with community based boards as both a volunteer and an employee. For the town of Manchester, he has served as a member of the Board of Education and Board of Directors, Deputy Mayor and now Mayor. He is also President-Elect of the Eastern College Athletic Conference and former president of the East Coast Conference Athletic Directors’ Council.
Jay has demonstrated a commitment to the success of student-athletes in the classroom, on the playing fields and in the community. I believe that this experience, coupled with his organizational capabilities and background in fiscal management and development, will serve our nationally recognized athletics program – and our university – well.
STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY
As you can see, we have a busy agenda for the coming year and it will take all of us working together to ensure that we achieve our ambitious vision for our dynamic university and become a leader in the Connecticut State College and University System.
I will discuss these and other goals for the new academic year during my State of the University address, scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 1 p.m. in the Adanti Student Center Ballroom. I hope to see you there!
As we showed in 2013-14, we can accomplish a great deal, guided by strategic planning and driven by the dedication, energy, and talents of our faculty, administrators, staff and students. I hope you all enjoyed a refreshing summer, and I look forward to working with you in this new academic year to meet the challenges and embrace the plentiful opportunities that lie ahead.