We started this year full of good news, enrollment increases, new money, challenging issues in front us, and a new attitude of pride in our school and of where we were heading as an institution. As I sit down to write to you I am reminded of what Robert F. Kennedy said, "There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May he live in interesting times’." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. Whether the phrase is a curse or a blessing or even Chinese, it certainly applies to us today.
I especially want to address the faculty today. I stood before them in August and told them that as part of the overall plan of making ULM one of the South’s premier student-centered universities, one of our immediate focal points would be faculty development, improving their resources and increasing their opportunities for professional development. At that time I said, “Our goal of having a student-centered university can only be accomplished by regarding the faculty at every turn. Our design is to create a university in which the student is, and feels, essential, but we can only accomplish this goal through initiatives that increase the involvement of the faculty.” We have had to adapt and alter our timeline, but not our commitment, and the coming months will see renewed efforts to enhance the work and appreciation of our faculty.
Mr. W. Edwards Deming, the most influential thinker behind today’s Total Quality Management movement, coined the phrase “Plan, Do, Check, Adjust.” Today I am announcing the creation of a Reorganization Evaluation Committee to “Check” the progress on our academic administration reorganization effort. Dr. Ruth Smith, Department Chair in Foreign Languages has agreed to chair this committee. We will be working with Dr. Smith to select the organizational model and members for the committee. We want a thorough review of the strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and shortcomings of the reorganization effort. We are proposing this evaluation so that we can “Adjust” the effort to continue to improve the operations on campus. I expect this effort to begin this spring and start again in the fall with an expected report date at the end of the fall semester. I am establishing this timeline so that we will have a full year of implementation, including the summer session, on which to base our evaluation. You will be hearing more about this committee in the coming months.
Over the last four years we dealt with a host of critical issues facing the institution. Together we successfully addressed accreditation issues, budget deficits, appropriation cuts, hurricanes, recruitment, retention, fund-raising, and most recently a mascot change. Now it is time to move from that rapid pace to a more measured, thoughtful approach to needed changes. That is the approach we will use as we began to explore the issue of shared governance. We need a strong faculty voice in the decision-making process of this institution. This includes a strong Faculty Senate and faculty committees that add to the decision-making process. While this administration has put special emphasis on faculty, staff and student representation on both standing and ad-hoc committees, we do not have a strong set of governance policies at ULM. Dr. John Rettenmayer, Chair of the Faculty Senate, Provost Richters and I have had discussions about this issue for some time and decided that we should formally address the issue. The three of us agree that we will establish a Shared Governance Committee, to develop a governance philosophy, structure, and set of policies to guide our institution in the future. Dr. Lisa Colvin and Dr Rettenmayer agreed to serve as co-chairs of this committee and will be working with Dr. Richters to select its membership. We must address this important issue with that measured, thoughtful approach, and therefore I am asking the committee to deliberate through next fall semester.
In addition, the SACS re-accreditation review is approaching, and the accreditation procedures have changed substantially over the last several years. Under the former system SACS took a “static look” at a university; the new approach involves examining the ongoing dynamic processes at work within the institution. These new accreditation principles call for several assessment and review practices to be in place well in advance of the SACS on-site visit. Currently, Dr. Jo Galle and her staff are working with many of you on one of these processes, the designing of student learning outcomes (SLO’s). Before we submit our final SACS report in 2009, we anticipate that all of our faculty will be involved in some phase of the self-study. Because of her fine work on the SLO’s, we are placing Dr. Galle in charge of our re-accreditation effort. Later this month, Dr. Galle will make a presentation about the changes in the SACS policies to our University Community, and we will make sure that everyone is informed of the time and place of this important discussion.
Shortly before I arrived at ULM in March of 2002, I received a letter from the Parking Committee. That letter basically said that they had looked at the parking situation at ULM and they requested that I solve the issue when I arrived. While we are very successful at addressing most of our issues, parking still remains problematic. This is perfectly illustrated by the recent parking fee discussion. The decision was not communicated properly nor was the issue settled before it was released. We were working with our attorneys to see if we could exempt certain employees, such as our low-paid classified employees, from the fee. The latest information we received is that we cannot exempt anyone from the fee. Therefore, we will not implement the parking fee until we satisfactorily address this issue.
Lastly, Governor Blanco released her budget this week and there is plenty of good news for higher education and ULM. First, approximately $2 million of mandated increases (health insurance increase, civil service raises, and state liability insurance increase) are funded. Second, the College of Pharmacy received a recommendation for an additional $1 million. This represents the second installment of the arrangement we negotiated last year. In addition, the Governor is proposing a five (5) percent salary increase for faculty, an item that is sorely needed and deeply appreciated. The bad news is that the $2 million dollar budget reduction we received this year is not reinstated in next year’s budget.
Therefore, I asked Dr. Richters and Mr. Nicklas to re-engage our budget committees and we will be asking them to develop plans to absorb these cuts into the upcoming budgets. When an institution gets a mid-year cut like we did, the reductions are taken as “cuts of opportunity.” In other words, if a position is vacant you use those funds to satisfy the budget reduction. All of us know that with increasing enrollments and several accreditation visits looming, we cannot maintain the cuts we took this spring. We must retain our faculty and continue to hire the best we can find. I will be asking the committees to make some hard decisions and prioritize what must be done to assure the academic vitality and fiscal integrity of ULM.
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