Spring 2023 Welcome Back Message

Posted on January 18, 2023

Dear colleagues,

Welcome back to spring semester.  I hope you enjoyed your break and found time for fun, family, and rest.

Please see below for an update on several pertinent items:

  1. Budgets: Deans have resubmitted their 4% and 6% budget reduction plans with the goal of finding the best ways to focus on our mission while meeting necessary budget reductions. Deans were asked for plans that did not result in student credit hour loss with consideration of differential teaching loads. Senior Vice Provost Alan Boyette and I will review the plans and determine the amount of reduction for each school/college and will communicate the decisions as soon as possible. The plans and decisions occur in the larger context of budget reductions across all divisions.

    As we continue to respond collectively to our fiscal situation, we want to ensure you are as informed as possible. Towards that end, the Faculty Senate is committed to curating budgetary information that has been communicated from a variety of offices and is working on making it available on their website. Visit the senate website, which will be updated soon for more information, including budget memos from the Chancellor. 
  2. rpk GROUP: UNCG has agreed to work with rpk GROUP to support our efforts to respond to our current budgetary situation.They will provide data support, working alongside the UNCG team to create dashboards that can be used to inform decisions about academic and administrative programming (see teaching productivity dashboard as an example). rpk’s work will align with ongoing efforts, such as the chair/head/program director workshops facilitated by Andrew Hamilton and Dave Teachout. A meeting with department chairs/heads/school directors, deans, and Senate Executive Committee members and rpk representatives will be scheduled soon to discuss scope and timeline, as well as answer any questions.

    As a follow up to a recent deans’ retreat where we discussed our current and future situation, I have asked two smaller groups of deans to work on suggestions from the retreat. One group will  recommend a process for and composition of a task force that will engage in program review. This group is convened by Dean Debra Barksdale and will develop a recommendation for my consideration, which will then be shared with chairs/heads/school  directors, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, and other groups for their consideration and feedback. This is just a preliminary step in considering a program review process as was done by Faculty Senate members in the open space meeting held in December.  A second group of deans, convened by Dean bruce mcclung, will prioritize academic efficiencies that we might consider to reduce costs and will recommend a plan of action for each. Similarly, this document will be shared with chairs/heads/school  directors, the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, and others for their review and input. 
  3. Health & Well-Being: As a community, we have chosen to focus on our health and well-being in a number of ways, including choosing Health & Wellness for our Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) and health and well-being for our biannual special projects initiative. Representatives from your colleges and schools are working together as a QEP team to design carefully and focus our existing health and wellness efforts to help our students have a greater sense of well-being and belonging. We know students tend to have higher motivation, increased self-confidence, and higher levels of engagement and achievement when their campus shows dedication to community care. Have a look at the “Find Your Well-being Here” site for campus resources you can use right now to help you and your students Thrive at the G.

    We also have a health and wellness requirement in the MAC. Focusing on our health and wellness, both personally and collectively, is especially critical during challenging times. However, one of our current challenges includes reduced staffing for new initiatives, which is exacerbated when both faculty and staff become physically ill from the current round of influenza and COVID-19 variants. To honor our collective need to take care of ourselves, we are suspending the Provost’s Special Project Initiative, led by Provost Fellow Connie Jones, for the spring semester. While suspending an initiative focused on health and wellness may seem like a movement away from this priority, it is actually a way to embrace it. The work that takes place behind the scenes for these initiatives is substantial and for the health of the team involved, we need to identify ways to reduce some work effort this spring. The Provost’s office remains committed to initiatives supporting our collective health and will hold a second Faculty & Staff well-being gathering event this spring to help prepare for the launch of the initiative next academic year.

If you are in need of support and haven’t already done so, please consider using Ginger, an on-demand emotional and mental health support resource available through an app you can download on your mobile device.  Ginger is 100% confidential and is available to yourself and your dependents (age 18 and older).   Ginger provides access to behavioral health coaches, licensed therapists and psychiatrists, and a self-care library with more than 200 clinically validated resources.  Additional information regarding Ginger can be found here https://hrs.uncg.edu/benefits/ginger/

UNCG also has a Employee Assistance Program: ComPsych,which offers confidential consultations with trained clinicians 24 hours a day, seven days a week to you and your dependents. The EAP offers up to 3 in-person sessions at no cost to you on a range of concerns including anxiety, depression, relationship conflict, grief, substance abuse, and more.  In addition, ComPsych’s website has a variety of tools and resources on their website.

While we continue to face challenges, we also have much to celebrate in the new year. Our faculty and researchers continue to excel in generating new knowledge and advancing their fields. Whether it is providing students that game changing research experience (see https://research.uncg.edu/students/) or creating interdisciplinary solutions to challenging issues (e.g.,  https://research.uncg.edu/news/racial- reconciliation-and-the-design-studio/) or receiving national and international recognition for their accomplishments (see https://hhs.uncg.edu/featured_stories/peace-and-conflict-studies-associate- professor-awarded-second-fulbright/), you have continued to raise the bar for excellence in scholarly activity with our external awards trending ahead of last year’s record breaking levels.

Faculty have also excelled in teaching. For example, UNCG’s math professor, Dr. Dan Yasaki, has been awarded the Board of Governors Alumni Teaching Excellence Award for his passion for teaching and student success. We also recognize the efforts of 34 faculty who recently completed the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) training, which is designed to support their pedagogy designed to increase student engagement and retention. Over 100 UNCG faculty have signed up for ACUE training this spring. 

Additionally, your individual and collective efforts supporting student success in the fall deserve recognition and celebration. Our first-year students in Fall of 2022 turned in a much better performance than we saw in Fall of 2021. While we are not quite back to “normal,” term GPAs, course failure rates, and the proportion of new first-year students who are in good academic standing are all trending in the right direction. We should all be pleased with these trends because they are good indicators of the success of your efforts, and enhanced student success and retention are important parts of our ability to work through the current fiscal challenges. Your overall commitment and attention to students, including your work with Starfish, midterm grades, the Summer Reboot, the ACUE training, and all of the contributions being made at the program and section levels are paying off. Grade performance continues to be the best predictor of student persistence, so this news is particularly welcome.

We also appreciate the groups and individuals who submitted proposals for student success and retention grants. Fourteen of these proposals were funded to support local departmental or unit retention and belonging initiatives. For more information on funded proposals, visit the student success website to see our innovation grant awardees. Thank you for your continued support of students as they navigate life and our new realities and reach out to the Provost’s office or others if you need support as well in the process.

This is my second spring at UNCG, and I am excited to see the blooms on the Japanese cherry trees on College Avenue, signifying the start of a new season. I hear the students in the Mossman Building as they meet with staff to register for classes and their lively conversations as they walk across campus. The students make our campus come alive. Thank you for brightening the way for our students. I am wishing you a great start to the spring semester.

Debbie Storrs
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor