Chancellor letter: Looking backwards and forwards

"We are starting a new semester and a new year."

Randy Helm

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are starting a new semester and a new year. We are also anticipating the selection of a new Chancellor and all the fresh perspectives, new ideas, and energy that transition will bring. I am more than halfway through my time with you, and in addition to continued progress on the initiatives we have undertaken together, I am anticipating another attempt at retirement and, of course, adopting that puppy I keep talking about.

So this seems like a good time for me to share my reflections on the recent past and the immediate future. And before I start, let me be absolutely clear that our many accomplishments are not mine - but those of a dedicated, smart, and energetic team of UMass Dartmouth faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends.

We've got the wind in our sails. In the last 12 months we can take pride in:

Our reclassification by the Carnegie Foundation as a Research University;

Our ranking as a Tier 1 national research university by U.S. News and World Report (I'm not a fan of their rankings, but many seem to care about them, so why not brag about it?);

ABA accreditation of our UMass Law School - the only public law school in the Commonwealth, one of the most diverse law schools in New England, and a law school with a rare level of commitment to social justice;

The College of Nursing's full Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) accreditation for its baccalaureate and master's degree programs in nursing, as well as for Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for 10 years, extending to December 31, 2026;

The College of Visual and Performing Arts' reaccreditation by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD) with next visit for CVPA due in 2024;

The continued improvement in the quality of our already outstanding faculty. The number of full-time faculty with terminal degrees grew from 331 (in 2014) to 344 (in 2015);

The faculty is also increasingly diverse in ethnicity and gender (though we have a lot further to go before we can be satisfied). Additionally, 85 percent of instruction at UMassD is delivered by full-time faculty - more than at Boston (79 percent) and Lowell (76 percent).

2. Our facilities are getting better (but see below under "future challenges"). The new Charlton Learning Pavilion represents an outstanding upgrade in the academic facilities of our business school. The SMAST addition in New Bedford is well underway and on track for an on-time, on-budget opening in the fall.

3. UMassDTransform2020 - our strategic plan - continues to gain momentum. I briefed the campus community on this last semester, so I won't repeat myself - but you can find the update at: http://www.umassd.edu/strategicplan/. The new Chancellor will, undoubtedly, bring new ideas and vision to the task of charting our future course, and this may well involve the development of a new strategic plan. But we can take satisfaction in what we have achieved to date, and I am committed to continued transparency as we strive to complete the goals we have set for ourselves.

4. We are financially sound - and more transparent. We have developed a more transparent budget process, and we are developing a more responsive and innovation-friendly budget structure. But the achievement I am proudest of is that we finished FY 2016 with a balanced budget and submitted an FY 2017 budget that avoided layoffs. This was an almost unbelievable outcome in a time of unprecedented financial challenges. It wasn't easy and it was not without pain - but we did it together and we made sacrifices that saved the jobs of dozens of our colleagues, and we should take pride in that. The challenges continue and balancing the FY 2018 budget will be difficult - but we can do it if we work together.

5. Our Advancement program has been re-energized. No university, public or private, can hope to maintain academic distinction without strong philanthropic support. That is why revitalizing our Advancement division has been an institutional priority, and why I am so pleased by the progress this team has made in just a few months. We have strong leadership, talented staff, and an ethos of teamwork with the Deans and others across the University that lay the essential foundations of a successful effort. The payoff still lies in the future, but we are well positioned to see dramatic results in the next few years.

6. Our Enrollment efforts are also gathering steam. UMass Dartmouth's enrollment surged a few years ago and has leveled off since then, but we are positioning ourselves for continued growth - an essential component of our financial stability. Applications have increased every year (and are running ahead this year too), but now we must focus on yield (the challenge of convincing accepted applicants to matriculate). Our increasing reputation (see #1 above) will undoubtedly help with that, but there are other strategies we can and will use. One approach we will not use is overspending on financial aid to boost enrollment by running unsustainable deficits. We have been an outstanding example of fiscal discipline in this regard, and will continue to do so going forward. Having said that, we are also committed to increasing financial aid resources to ensure that talented students who are willing to work hard can afford to attend UMass Dartmouth. See #7 below.

7. We are redeploying some of our assets to focus on key priorities. The most dramatic example of this is our recently announced alliance with Rhode Island Public Radio (RIPR). Our campus station, WUMD, will continue to offer web-based programming, while RIPR will double its potential audience. UMass Dartmouth students will benefit from internships, academic collaborations, and a $1 million endowment for need-based financial aid. An additional endowment of $250,000 will support micro-grants enabling students with special financial challenges to graduate on time. And another endowment of $225,000 will support community outreach programs. In addition, the University will receive over $600,000 worth of on-air promotional time over a 10-year period, which will greatly strengthen our recruiting efforts in the SouthCoast region and Rhode Island. You can read more about this new collaboration at: http://www.umassd.edu/news/2017/wumdriprpartnership.html.

8. We are a powerful force for social justice, for community development, and for transforming lives. No, we are not perfect - nor should we be complacent. But we can be extremely proud of our mission and the extraordinary impact we have on society. You can read more in our Community Impact Report at: http://www.umassd.edu/chancellor

Some highlights include:

Almost 50 percent of our students are first-generation college attendees and approximately 40 percent come from economically challenged circumstances (as indicated by the number of our students qualifying for Pell grants). Our students know why they are here, they make sacrifices to attend, and they take their education seriously. Our faculty and staff honor them by going to the mat for our students.

Our students, faculty, and staff provide more than 200,000 hours of community service work each year, in addition to the almost half a billion dollar economic impact UMass Dartmouth has in the region. The most recent issue of UMassD Magazine highlights some of our initiatives. You can find it at: https://issuu.com/umdpublications/docs/umassd_fall_2016

Our SouthCoast Development Partnership, Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, School for Marine Science & Technology, and Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture, Leduc Center, Star Store art campus, and many other parts of the University enrich our region culturally and economically.

We are committed to reasoned and civil debate about the important issues confronting our society, as evidenced by our This We Believe program, the upcoming Teach-in, and our community discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Despite all these reasons for justifiable pride, we continue to face formidable challenges that will test our ingenuity, energy, and resolve in the coming months and years. The new Chancellor will need everyone's dedication and assistance if UMass Dartmouth is to prevail over these challenges and continue its progress toward academic pre-eminence.

The first two are massive, but relatively straightforward because they are, essentially, financial:

1. Deferred Maintenance. Our campus is half a century old and, aside from some strikingly successful projects (the Claire T. Carney Library, the Charlton Learning Pavilion), it is in shocking need of major renovations. The estimated need is almost half a billion dollars and it is unrealistic to think that our Campus alone can shoulder this responsibility. We are a public university with a hugely beneficial impact on the public. The Commonwealth needs to step up to the plate to remedy this neglect.

2. Budget stressors. Enrollment growth and philanthropic support are key to our fiscal health and we are strengthening both, but they can't do the job alone. The Commonwealth must recommit to funding negotiated increases in compensation if we are to avoid unreasonable tuition increases that compromise our commitment to access. And we must continue to be creative in finding ways to make the most effective use of our resources.

The greatest and most difficult challenge, but the one with the greatest potential reward for all of us, is not financial. It is our campus culture. Despite our admirable level of commitment to our students and our community, too many of us fail to treat each other with mutual respect, civility, collegiality, and even basic kindness and compassion. Too many of us reject the possibility of compromise when we disagree with each other. Although most of our offices and programs do an excellent job, I have encountered some departments and centers that are dysfunctional because of political gridlock over issues that have nothing to do with our academic mission. And some offices have a reputation for lackluster customer service. We can do better - and we must. During my final semester among you, I hope to organize some conversations at the departmental level that will encourage us better to understand the needs and expectations of those that depend on us and enable us to satisfy them more effectively.

We have so much to be proud of. We would not have come this far without the best efforts of every member of our community - from professors to public safety officers, from counselors to custodians, from clerical staff to managers. It has been a privilege to work with - and to get to know - so many of you. I plan to enjoy the rest of our time together and I hope all of you will too. Onward we go into 2017!

Sincerely,

Randy Helm
Interim Chancellor


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