Student Success

Questioner: Anonymous 

Posed to President Szymanski and Provost Chally

President Szymanski
Listening to the President talk at different time about the faculty’s role in promoting student success led me to reflect on the administrative team he has surrounded himself with to lead UNF in this effort. My reflection was not encouraging.

In the past year UNF has had one Dean fired for being caught engaging in sexual misconduct, another Dean was the subject of an investigation into allegations of promoting a hostile workplace and other complaints, and yet another Dean recently received a vote of no confidence by the majority of his faculty.

Do these individuals reflect the type of administrators the President plans to depend on to, lead UNF in promoting student success? While these administrators were hired by the past President, what plans does the current President have for hiring the best administrators going forward? Many of the circumstances that UNF now face are the product of decisions by current administrators. What is the President doing to change this and what is being done to insure that better administrative decisions are made in the future?

Student success requires effort and excellence on the part of both the faculty and the administration


President Szymanski and Provost Chally
There has been considerable discussion about the metrics and improving student success. However, most of this discussion has been about “tactics” – steps faculty can take. Can the President and Provost please talk about what they are doing in “strategic” terms at the administration level to improve student success?

For example, education research shows that online courses have notoriously high withdrawal rates. Yet UNF has ramped up online learning without apparent consideration of this fact. Is it really wise for the administration to be increasing online learning at the rate it is at this time? If not, what is being done in strategic terms to insure student success in the increasing number of online courses?

Research also shows that student retention is highly correlated with the use of tenure track faculty. Yet UNF is at a 5 year low in the percentage of tenure track faculty it employs in the classroom. For example, in the President’s own department, tenure track faculty teach less than 40% of the students – an all-time low. What is being down to improve student success through hiring more tenure track faculty?

Finally, research shows that faculty engaged in research are often more engaging in the classroom and this increases student success. Yet at UNF revenues from grants and contracts (a recognized measure of research engagement) is at a 10-year low and support for research assistants is at an all-time low. What is being done to address these deficiencies and improve research productivity and support and thereby improve student success?
Finally, in many of the above circumstances, the challenges described did not result from error or oversight. Instead they were the product of judgements and decisions on the part of administrators, many of who are still in office. What is being done to put administrators in office who recognize what is needed to reverse the challenges that UNF faces and thereby result in decisions that increase student success?


Answer from the floor by President Szymanski

So we have a writing center that can help with the issue with “finally, finally, finally” and that kind of thing. But beyond that, now there’s a couple things that I want to point out. One is an error in terms of something that was said because it is really important. There was not a dean who was fired. There was a dean who resigned from the university, and that’s an important point. We’ve had some turnover and I think the most important part, as I get to some specifics as these are pretty complex questions.


So one is hiring a provost—really, really, really, really, really critical to an institution. Pam’s worked really hard over the past year or so, but having a permanent provost position who can also partner with the President is really important to an institution. So when you think about the academic side of the house, without that it’s really a difficult sort of process. And so I’m excited, as I mentioned before, I’m excited about having a provost in place. Having someone who is going to lead our institution, is going to partner with the academic side of the house and make sure we have a strong, strong foundation for our institution, and I think that’s probably the most important part of this. You have to have the leadership, and I think we have somebody who’s coming in—we’re all going to cross our fingers and he’s going to cross his fingers, but someone who through your support is going to be successful. But that’s key to a lot of these parts of these questions. It’s important to have vision, that person who is committed, dedicated, who is someone who aspires to success. And that’s going to be key to us moving forward.


Some of the other questions that were asked. So if you do have research, just please give me cites so I can read research, to evaluate it and to make sure that I’m also learning as we go along, because some of the data that I asked Jay to quickly get for us suggest that withdrawal rate is actually lower in DL classes than it is in non-DL classes. And then the other part that I asked, I said, can you give me a little bit of a breakdown in terms of retention with respect to faculty rank? And there really is no difference among all the different faculty. It’s a real quick cut because we just didn’t have enough time to do a deep dive, but it’s actually the person who’s probably the visitor, which we talked about, who’s actually slightly better in terms of retention. There’s some data in there that I think it’s important for us to think about. We will think about a lot of these things.


There’s questions, a lot of questions about support. You have to realize that we finished at the bottom three years in a row. Support for research, support for administration, support for travel, all those kinds of things—there’d be an extra $30 million for a lot of different things. So it’s important for us to perform well with respect to the metrics because it does give you the cash flow and the resources that allow us to be discretionary and to reinvest and strategically invest in your success. So I think that’s a really important part of who we are moving forward. The reason why we talking about tactics with respect to faculty, why we didn’t sort of talk about other things, it’s because you’re the faculty. And so some of the questions are to faculty too. Jay does a wonderful presentation sort of laying this out there. David had an opportunity to hear it at a Board of Trustees meeting. It’s really not DFWs. There a huge explanatory variable above the variables explains the most in terms of  retention. Student retention is the thing we do the worst. We’re going to get zero points on the metrics with respect to student retention. You can’t compete for dollars when you get zero points. So it’s not just because of that, but it is about student success. It’s about the opportunity costs when people pay money to come to an institution. It’s about having to take classes over again, getting discouraged and dropping out. It’s about delaying graduation, the opportunity costs of what it costs when you don’t have a job for a semester and you compound that over the lifetime; it gets pretty expensive pretty quick. So when we talk about tactics, because those are the things that you can control. In your profession, you can control the quality of your teaching. You can’t always control what editors and associate editors and reviewers have to say about your research, but you can control the classroom experience. So we talk about strategy. There are many moving parts. It’s not just faculty; it’s everybody who has to play a role in moving the institution forward. The Student Association did a great job of reducing fees, then reallocating fees, to make sure that they are focusing in on student wellbeing, being very proactive.


It’s about staff and what we do and how do we make it a better environment for our students. So when we’re talking about these things, there is a strategic part to this, and in the few seconds we have, what can we move the needle on? Really, it is about classroom experience, and that’s what you control. You can always control what you do in a classroom, how motivated you make your students, how successful you want them to be, and how you can inspire them, because we’ve all been inspired; otherwise, we wouldn’t be here. So it’s not that we just focus in on talking—there is a lot of strategy going on, a lot of things around—raising funds, scholarships, reducing costs of education—that aren’t really looked upon as the faculty’s role necessarily except when it comes to the books. So the cost of books and how can we reduce that? And how can the library help with respect to open access? Those are important issues. So it’s a collective. So I just don’t want to give you the impression that it’s about the faculty—what can the faculty do? It’s what all of us need to do every day to wake up and move our institution forward. So we’ve got a lot of great things, and people appreciate them externally now. And that’s important, because the community also needs to know more about us and who we are and what we’re all about, so we get the best students and become a destination institution. We’ve got great students, and we want to continue to have good students moving forward.


So it’s kind of a long-winded answer to two pages’ worth of questioning, but I’m also happy to have this discussion when I come to your colleges, so feel free to raise your hand and ask again. We’ll have longer than a couple of minutes to respond to questions. I don’t have all the answers. It’s a collective part of this, it’s a change culture, change perspective, but we have excellent people here who are passionate, as I tell people everywhere. Passionate professors, passionate students, and passionate administrators.

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