President’s model

Questioner: Dr. Robert Slater

Question from the floor posed to David Fenner, FA President

your assessment of the president basing this model on a business school, is that your personal assessment? Because from what I’ve seen he’s micromanaged even down two tenure candidates he’s got now doing lit reviews and citations analysis, which is not a business school model. The business school model is the dean respects the recommendations of the committees and the people below him while he’s out fundraising. It would seem that this president is actually micromanaging the parts of the administration that he wants to and more or less ignoring parts that he doesn’t. That could explain why he’s not here.

Answer from the floor by David Fenner, FA President

What I said is my personal opinion and also that of an outsider.

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.

Strategic Priorities for the Board of Governors

January 10, 2019

Questioner: Anonymous

Posed to: David Szymanski, UNF President

The president has said that he is required to present to the Board of Governors a set of strategic priorities and directions for UNF this month.  Will the president share what he presents to the BOG with UNF Faculty?  Does the president expect that this will change the current UNF strategic plan that was adopted last year? 

Response from the Floor by President Szymanski: 

President Szymanski stated he will be presenting information shared with the BOT. Because the President only has five or ten minutes with the BOG, the current strategic plan is pretty general and there is nothing in the presentation that will contradict the current strategic plan. The President will examine the strategic plan moving forward. The strategic plan was not formally approved by the BOG yet.

Policies and Restrictions on Drinking Alcohol on Campus

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

Can you please explain the recent new restrictions on students drinking alcohol?  Are these warranted?

In my country, most of universities give the students freedoms for drinking the alcohol when legal age is attained. To me it now seems that UNF wants more restrictives for students drinking the alcohol. How come is this? We know the students will drink – we now should focus the efforts on education and safety. Please someone to explain the reasons for more alcohol restrictives.
Thank you much.

Response from the Floor:

We have a new alcohol policy. It is modeled off of national trends set forth by the National Institute of Fraternity guidelines will be followed; alcohol will be allowed on a permission basis.

Leadership Crisis on Campus

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

What are you doing to address the current crisis in leadership on our campus? We have some ineffective deans, a severe lack of inspiration, and the metrics failure fiasco. Are we going to see bold, courageous, long-term solutions from you?

Response from the Floor by President Szymanski

Yes, they plan to work on inspiration, leadership transformation, and success. We are going to be a great institution.”

Data Analytics Recent Announcement

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David Fenner, Faculty Association President

The recent announcement of an internal search for a Vice President of Data Analytics made me look up the definition of Analytics on the web. It says that it is “the discovery, interpretation, and communication of meaningful patterns in data. It relies on the simultaneous application of statistics, computer programming and operations research to quantify performance”. In that definition, the word statistics comes first because statisticians are professionally trained to interpret and communicate data.  The previous administration had enlisted statistics professors to help precisely because the data analytics people came short in that. This year BOG Performance Metrics indicate that effort paid off with 10 points increase in the score over the year before. Why doesn’t the position announcement underscore the importance of a PhD statistician?

President Szymanski’s response copied from his report. 

The Vice President for Analytics search is ongoing. Finalists will be interviewed during the second week of October. The President addressed an anonymous question about whether or not candidates could or should have a PhD in statistics. The President stated that while that was one acceptable degree, there were finalists with other backgrounds as well.

Online Education and Metrics

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

Once again UNF scored at the bottom of 11 schools on the Board of Governors (BOG) State University System Performance Metrics and once again the metrics on which UNF scored the lowest included student retention and student graduation rates. UNF’s bottom ranking means the loss of tens of millions of dollars in performance-based funding. Correctly the new president has chosen to embrace the metrics and is working to, among other things, increase student retention and reduce the time it takes students to graduate. However is anyone in the new administration giving thought to the prospect that a major of cause of UNF’s low scores in student retention and graduation rate may be UNF’s decision to increase the percent of students in online courses? Under the metrics, each university is permitted to select one goal to be evaluated on (the others are chosen by the BOG). Under the past administration, UNF selected the percent of undergraduate students in online courses as its chosen goal. However, a growing body of education research documents that student retention rates are much lower in online courses (50-70% lower) and lower retention rates mean longer times to graduation. It should therefore not be surprising to think that UNF’s choice to increase online courses as one of its metrics is having an adverse effect on the metrics of retention and time to graduation. Isn’t it time that UNF reevaluate its choice to increase online courses as a metric goal? While online classes are an increasing part of the educational landscape and technology enhanced teaching should not be avoided, no other Florida school has ever selected online courses as its chosen metric. Although an important decision, the choice by UNF to increase online courses was never a strategic one. According to one high-level administrator involved with the decision, the online course metric was chosen because it was considered “low hanging fruit” that UNF could accomplish quickly to increase its metric standing. The decision was also questionable in the face of UNF’s “high-touch” brand of “no one like you and no place like UNF.” Is anyone in the new administration giving thought to the apparent contradiction of UNF’s choice to increase online courses and the consequences of that choice for student retention rates and time to graduation? Has research been conducted to check if student dropout rates at UNF are higher in online courses like research documents? Has research been conducted to determine if UNF’s low retention rates and longer time to graduation are adversely affected by students taking online courses at UNF?

Response from the Floor by President Szymanski

I do not have an answer to all of these questions; however, we are strategically pursuing answers to these questions through our Institutional Research office.

Research Productivity at UNF

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

Under the past administration research productivity at UNF dropped precipitously. As revealed by the Faculty Union, revenues from grants and contracts – a key indicator of research – dropped from 28% of revenues to 6% of revenues leaving UNF ranked last among all other Florida schools. This decline has affected research productivity and also resulted in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in annual revenues that could have supported faculty, students, and staff. Remarkably, according to a Times Union story, this was part of an “intentional” strategy on the part of the past administration. The new president and the BOT have rightfully chosen to put UNF back on track. UNF’s current president is quoted as saying he expects to “grow UNF’s research offerings and reputation.” Moreover, the Board of Trustee’s (BOT) new strategic plan calls for UNF to “attract, support, and reward talented faculty and staff who promote student success through research, inquiry, the creative process, and the application of knowledge.” As a long-standing research oriented member of the faculty, I applaud the new president’s and BOT’s recognition of the importance and role of research at a major university like UNF. Question to the President: going forward what plans does the president have to “grow UNF’s research offerings” and its “research” reputation. Many current administrators, wedded to the past, have shown little initiative to grow UNF’s research offerings and to increase UNF’s research reputation. Question to the BOT: Going forward, what plans does the BOT have to “attract, support, and reward talented faculty and staff who promote student success through research, inquiry, the creative process, and the application of knowledge.” Under the BOT, faculty salaries necessary to attract research oriented faculty to UNF have fallen to the lowest level in the state.

Response from the Floor by President Szymanski

We have taken the first step in the Leadership Awards. These awards will be provided to faculty who are excellent in teaching and in their research efforts.

Smoking on Campus

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

UNF has an official “No-smoking” policy. Since its creation, both the Faculty Association and SGA passed resolutions asking for enforcement of the policy and more prominent signage on campus about the policy. And yet, we still see students and staff smoking on campus, spreading carcinogens on the rest of us. Can you please find a way to enforce this policy as other SUS institutions and other universities do?

Response from the Floor by President Szymanski

Yes, we will.

Board of Trustees Bargaining Representative

Questioner: Anonymous

Posted to: David S. Szymanski, UNF President

Can we please know how much UNF paid Leonard Carson each of the past two years?


Response from the Floor by Vice President Shari Shuman:
In fiscal year 2017, we paid our Chief Negotiator $54000, in 2018 fiscal year, we paid $124000, and this year, we have paid $4200 so far. If we did not pay our Chief Negotiator in this way, we would be paying more for a full-time staff member to support the negotiation needs of the university administration.