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  August 28, 2000

President's Column
The challenges with which we are grappling derive from the University's underlying success.

The new academic year follows an exceptionally active summer and I want to take this opportunity to welcome back faculty and students who were away for a few months.

President Philip E. Austin
President Philip Austin

In the next few weeks I hope to report in detail on some major issues. For now, let me say that in the three months since commencement , we welcomed a new chancellor and provost for university affairs; broke ground on a new hotel and conference center, moved toward completion of the new Lodewick Visitors Center and renovations in the Northwest Residence Halls; approved a budget for 2000-01 and a budget request for the 2001-03 biennium; approved a Health Center quarterly financial report to the General Assembly that reflected positive trends in hospital admissions, medical group volume, research awards and expense reductions; reported private gifts totaling $32 million; and prepared for the admission of a 3,700 student freshman class among whom are 34 valedictorians, more than 30 salutatorians, nearly 700 members of underrepresented minority groups, and, in aggregate, 3,700 young men and women ready to receive an education marked by quality, breadth and rigor.

In these pages and elsewhere I have suggested that we are in the enviable position of grappling with problems that are a function of our underlying success. Any public university in the country would be glad to meet the tests posed by a UConn 2000 construction program and increasing student demand. Any major institution, public or private, would boast about a rate of growth in private fundraising that comes close to the increase we have registered over the past five years.

Having said that, I want to make it clear that I am acutely aware of the daily challenges confronted by the people who are at the heart of this institution. Over the past year I have met on more than a hundred occasions with deans, department heads, faculty governance bodies and individual professors and staff, both at the Storrs-based programs and at the Health Center, and participated in more informal conversations than I can count. We talked about a wide range of topics and I hope we resolved some issues.

But there are at least three underlying themes that set the context for many of these discussions and it may be worth taking a few moments to focus on them here.

  • The disjunction between capital improvements - wonderful and well funded - and operating resources, where growth is slower and less visible.

This concern is an almost inevitable outcome of UConn 2000 and we are working aggressively to address it. Thanks to a strong advocacy effort, the operating budget for the Storrs-based programs has increased by well over $100 million in the past four years. In the Storrs-based programs we retained the ability to fill the 150 faculty lost in the 1996 and 1997 early retirement pools; as of this month full-time faculty will be up slightly from the fall 1995 total. The number of adjunct faculty increased by about 5 percent in the same period.

Challenges remain, due in large part to the growth in enrollment, as we attract more of Connecticut's best students. We continue to lobby strongly for the support we need to maintain and in fact improve a good student-faculty ratio. And we have undertaken significant reallocations to implement our strategic goals, putting resources where they are most needed. Structural constraints have at times slowed the pace at which we can do this, sometimes preventing the transfer of resources from areas of lesser demand (e.g., an underenrolled department) to where they are in short supply.

We dealt with short-term housing and instructional challenges this year by holding the number of new freshmen constant with 1999 totals. I expect that as we move forward, a continuing commitment to effective enrollment management, strong advocacy for additional support, and ongoing efforts to address imbalances will result in improvements.

  • The need for a financial management and planning structure that effectively responds to complex institutional needs.

As I indicated last year, at the Storrs-based programs an ambitious agenda coupled with a less than optimal administrative structure created the possibility for cost overruns that we worked successfully to prevent, but at some cost to our ability to implement strategic priorities. Structural problems existed at the Health Center as well, and these were dwarfed by external cost containment measures that affected virtually every major hospital and medical school in the nation.

We have reorganized our financial management and planning processes, clarifying reporting relationships and oversight systems. In a $1 billion organization with multiple funding sources challenges will always exist. But I am confident that the situation we confronted a year ago will not recur. We start the fiscal year with a sound and reasonable spending plan in place.

  • The need for clear definition of the University's expectations for faculty.

As at any research university, faculty at the University of Connecticut are expected to be effective teachers, productive generators of new knowledge or creative work, and active members of the community. The allocation of effort among these areas of responsibility cannot and should not be determined by administrative fiat; even within departments, there is no "one size fits all" formula.

There is, however, a clear expectation, set for us by the State of Connecticut and adhered to by institutions with which we would like to be compared, that each faculty member will perform at a solid level in all three areas and at a level of excellence in at least one. How this translates into the measurement of faculty workload is for departments to determine in a consultative process within constraints set by budget allocations, enrollment forecasts, and professional norms.

As a public university we are accountable to legislators and to the citizenry at large, and it is not unreasonable that we should be expected to communicate the reality of a productive faculty whose contributions meet high standards. This, to me, sets a basic set of expectations for each faculty member that may not be wholly quantifiable, but should be fully understood by each department as it sets its own standards.

Each of these concerns merits greater discussion than there is space for here, and I hope that we can continue what I think is a useful dialogue during the next several months. As I mentioned at the outset, our challenges are real - but so is our extraordinary progress. I cannot imagine a better time to be at the University of Connecticut, and I look forward to building on our success throughout the 2000-01 academic year.