State of the College 2013

Delivered by Interim Dean John Ferré on August 30, 2013

The State of the College of Arts and Sciences

August 30, 2013

John P. Ferré, Interim Dean
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Louisville

View as PDF: State of College 2013 PDF

Good afternoon and welcome to the 2013-2014 academic year.

A&S By-Laws require the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to inaugurate each new academic year with an overview of the “State of the College” at a meeting of the A&S Faculty Assembly.  This year I will adopt the format that the University used last year in connection with its 21st Century University Initiative.  As part of this initiative, we considered our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.  Applying this “SWOT” template to the state of the College highlights not only the challenges, but also the resourcefulness that we will need to realize our potential as a 21st century College of Arts and Sciences.

I’ll begin with our strengths.

The university-wide SWOT analysis identified the same primary strength that A&S has always understood. Our greatest strength is our people:  the faculty, who devote their professional lives to teaching, research, and service; the staff, who serve the programmatic needs of the faculty and students; and our students, who apply what they learn in ways that both benefit the wider community and showcase the College.

Let me take a moment to recognize some of the departures, arrivals, and promotions that have recently occurred among our faculty.

Six A&S faculty members retired at the end of last year.  We commend the following professors for their distinguished academic careers:

  • Terry Edwards, Justice Administration
  • Edward Essock, Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Dennis Hall, English
  • James Tompkins, Theatre Arts
  • Osborne Wiggins, Philosophy
  • Charles Willard, Communication

We wish them well.  Having served the College for so many years, they will be missed.

We also mourn the loss of Blaine Hudson – Dean, professor, activist, wise counsel, and friend.  In the last year the College was able to honor his leadership by establishing three programs that he supported: an MFA in Studio Art, an undergraduate certificate in Peace, Justice & Conflict Transformation, and a graduate certificate in Diversity Literacy.  And Saturday Academy – the community-based program Blaine founded that focuses on African world history and culture – has moved to Blaine’s home department, Pan-African Studies.  These programs comprise just a small part of Blaine’s legacy.

Our community of scholars is being enriched by the arrival of 25 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members:

  • Deborah Yoder-Himes, Biology
  • Lluis Baixauli-Olmos, Classical and Modern Languages
  • Dave Coyne, Classical and Modern Languages
  • William Sanders, Communication
  • Brenda Brueggemann, English
  • Sarah Wald, English
  • Kyoungmee Byun, Fine Arts
  • Andrea Gaughan, Geography and Geosciences
  • Tyler Fleming, History
  • Lara Kelland, History
  • Andrew Cooper, Humanities
  • Maryam Moazzen, Humanities
  • Shelley Salamensky, Humanities
  • Theresa Hayden, Justice Administration
  • Arnab Ganguly, Mathematics
  • W. Carson Byrd, Pan-African Studies
  • Shirletta Kinchen, Pan-African Studies
  • Michael McCormack, Pan-African Studies
  • Lauren Freeman, Philosophy
  • Jian Du-Caines, Physics and Astronomy
  • Serban Smadici, Physics and Astronomy
  • David Buckley, Political Science
  • Laura Moyer, Political Science
  • Timothy Weaver, Political Science
  • Deborah Warnock, Sociology

We welcome these new colleagues to the College.

Nineteen colleagues were awarded tenure, a milestone that marks masterful teaching, research, and service:

  • Viviana Andreescu, Justice Administration
  • Jennie Burnet, Anthropology
  • Cara Cashon, Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Changbing Hu, Mathematics
  • Susan Jarosi, Fine Arts
  • Jongwoo Kim, Fine Arts
  • Daniel Krebs, History
  • Delin Lai, Fine Arts
  • James Lauroesch, Physics and Astronomy
  • Jiaxu Li, Mathematics
  • Keith Lyle, Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Patrick Pranke, Humanities
  • Patrick Shafto, Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Steve Sohn, Communication
  • Kaila Story, Women's and Gender Studies
  • David Wildstrom, Mathematics
  • Micah Worley, Biology
  • Ming Yu, Physics and Astronomy
  • Charlie Zhang, Geography and Geosciences

Congratulations to all of you. Having celebrated your achievement, you are now ready to begin the next stage of your professional journeys.

Seven Associate Professors were promoted to full Professor in recognition of their distinguished records and their stature in their respective disciplines:

  • Dawn Heinecken, Women's and Gender Studies
  • George Higgins, Justice Administration
  • Avery Kolers, Philosophy
  • Cynthia Negrey, Sociology
  • John Pani, Psychological and Brain Sciences
  • Mark Priest, Fine Arts
  • Glynis Ridley, English

Congratulations to each of you. You have joined the intellectual elders of the College.  We are inspired by your good example.

A&S is home to nearly 30 academic departments and programs—each headed by a Chair or a Director. These leadership roles are demanding and essential.  This year, Ricky Jones has returned to chairing the Department of Pan-African Studies, replacing Theresa Rajack-Talley; Glynis Ridley has become Chair of the Department of English, replacing Susan Griffin; and Nate Surrey has joined our Department of Military Science as Chair, replacing Mike Quitania.  We commend their willingness to serve the College, and thank the former Chairs for their years of service.

College staff members continue to provide important service that receives recognition.  Last year, two A&S staff members received the University’s Outstanding Performance Awards.  Leisa Hillman, Program Coordinator Senior for the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, won the award for her positive, service-oriented attitude and exceptional work ethic.  Another university-wide Outstanding Performance Award went to Robert Forbes for developing and promoting the Center for Geographic Information Sciences as a departmental, regional, and statewide resource.  To name just one more deserving staff member:  Katie Adamchik won the UofL Provost’s Award for Exemplary Advising and then went on to win the 2013 Outstanding Advising Award from the National Academic Advising Association.

A&S is the heart of the University -- the foundation that supports most academic programs at the University of Louisville, the unit with the broadest and most complex mission, and the University’s largest and most diverse academic unit.  Our enrollment remains strong.  Graduate enrollment may have dipped from this time last fall, but undergraduate enrollment has risen slightly. The year’s overall enrollment of 9,249 is ahead of last year’s by a nose – or, more precisely, 11 noses.

Unlike that of the other colleges and schools, our role extends far beyond our own students. Because we offer nearly all general education courses, A&S serves the University’s entire undergraduate population. The most accurate measure of our centrality is enrollment in A&S courses—which translates into credit hour production. Using this measure, we generate more credit hours than ALL other academic units combined – 54 % of all University credit hours. And, of course, because students must pay tuition for these courses, credit hour production translates directly into tuition revenue.  Thus, in the breadth and magnitude of our responsibility for educating students, we lead the University—by far.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention that 40 of the 51 Fulbright scholars from UofL in the last five years have come from the College of Arts and Sciences.  Indeed, most of the best graduates from UofL come from A&S.

If the only feature of the College that counted was our population of faculty, staff, and students, then the SWOT analysis could stop right there with strength upon strength.  However, the College is a large organization with multiple dimensions, not all of them strong.  Indeed, there are three primary weaknesses in the College, all traceable to under-resourcing: an inadequate budget, overreliance on contingent faculty, and a mediocre six-year graduation rate.

 The College’s operating budget of nearly $74 million is 1.2% less than last year’s operating budget.  Complicating this financial picture is our steady rise in distance education income.  Last year’s College distance education revenue reached a record $5.98 million, and last year’s unspent carryover funds rose to a record $5.41 million, most of which is in department accounts.   These figures are discomforting.  First, the decline in our operating budget means that the College has less money for programmatic priorities.  Second, the funds from distance education can be used only for one-time expenditures, not for salaries of tenure-track professors.  Third, the fact that more and more money is carried forward from one year to the next hasn’t gone unnoticed at the level of central administration.  Departments are reluctant to contribute their funds to college-wide priorities, and central administration sees little reason to provide additional funds to a College that has more than $5 million that it chooses not to spend.  For the moment, the College is in financial doldrums, and we ourselves are partly to blame.

A second weakness of the College is its overreliance on contingent faculty. Last year, tenured and tenure-track faculty taught just 43% of student credit hours in the College.  The remaining 57% of student credit hours in the College were taught by graduate teaching assistants, term faculty, and part-time lecturers.  That means that if we asked to see the semester’s schedule of a representative student, we would see a list of five classes – two taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty, and three taught by contingent faculty.  We must acknowledge that some of the best instruction in the College is done by GTAs, term faculty, and PTLs, but we hire so many contingent faculty not necessarily because of the quality of their instruction, but because of our limited budget.  As a result, too many courses at this Research I university are taught by instructors who cannot be expected to be engaged in research and who haven’t the means of guiding students in research experiences.

SOC 13 grad ratesOur underfunding and understaffing have combined in ways that impede our mission of retaining and graduating undergraduate students.  Today the University’s six-year graduation rate is 52%, 12 percentage points lower than the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education’s mandate that we target a 64% graduation rate by the year 2020.  Achieving a six-year graduation rate of 64% would demonstrate that we are serving our student population effectively and it would raise the University’s reputation and national stature.  Our present rate means that after six years, half of our students simply choose to leave.  We have to figure out how to make the student experience that we offer so compelling that more and more students will do whatever they can to stay through graduation.

Let’s shift our attention now to our most pressing threat.  The weaknesses of the College are being compounded by the University’s Voluntary Separation Initiative Program. In order to produce more funds for central administration, the University provided incentives for staff and faculty to vacate their positions.  Staff members were offered six months’ pay; faculty members were offered one year’s pay.  Twenty-eight professors and 15 staff members from the College accepted the buyout. The University will replace up to three out of four staff positions and maybe all of the faculty positions – maybe fewer, maybe more, depending upon whether the positions advance the University’s plans to become a University of the 21st Century.  The Provost says that she wants to use the funds to enhance the College of Arts and Sciences – if, that is, the College shows concrete plans of 21st century innovation in research, teaching, and community engagement.  Of course, resources could just as easily flow to innovative programs in engineering, public health, education, medicine, and business.  To ensure that the College receives vital resources, we will need to show how our programs meet student demand and interest, advance emerging areas of excellence at UofL, address social needs, and provide opportunities for investment.

The VSIP’s threat to the College is real.  Our support staff will become leaner and our discretionary funding within the College for staff and faculty will shrink.  Tenure-track replacements for vacant faculty lines have become uncertain, and needed increases in the number of tenure-track and tenured faculty are even more uncertain.  The threat of the VSIP will be realized if we insist on maintaining the status quo.  Unless the College revitalizes its research, teaching, and service – unless the College rearticulates its core mission for those it serves – the College will diminish.

Fortunately, the story need not end here.  The College is resourceful and university leadership has expressed the desire to support forward-thinking plans of the College.  What we need most is the will to become a model 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences.  Our will is our greatest opportunity.

A model 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences will be the center of the University’s student experience.  It will have several characteristics:

  • It will provide a foundational general education curriculum that captivates undergraduates.  Recognizing its importance to the lives of citizens who will graduate from UofL, tenured and tenure-track faculty will both design and deliver this series of courses.
  • The 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences will make a persuasive case both for why students should attend a Research I university and why they should graduate with a degree in the arts and sciences.
  • In the 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences, faculty research should be well-resourced, and research should involve and inspire both graduate and undergraduate students.
  • Every single degree program should include a community engagement requirement that asks students to apply what they have been taught in their disciplines to local problems.  This requirement should be more than an internship designed to add sparkle to our students’ résumés.  The College, after all, is not an employment agency.  Instead, our degree programs should provide students with discipline-based citizenship experiences that will not only make students more attractive to prospective employers but will, more importantly, make real contributions to community needs.

The programs of the 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences will be steeped in basic and applied research, intellectually exciting for first-year students as well as postdocs, and socially engaged.  For these reasons, the 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences will offer educational programs and experiences that make students want to stay to complete their degrees.

These are preliminary thoughts about what a 21st Century College of Arts and Sciences might look like.  Articulating the vision and finding ways to get there will be up to all of us.  It will require covenants with colleagues and community groups.  It will require faculty working with their colleagues in their home departments and in college-wide settings to transform these commitments into actual programs that address enduring questions and current need.  We must work together to attract and marshal the material and intellectual resources we need to become the College we can be.

As I said in last year’s State of the College address, working together, we can find innovative solutions to the College’s immediate and long-term problems.  Rethinking the incarnation of arts and sciences in the 21st century is the order of the day.  It should certainly be on our minds as we consider our teaching, our research, and our service to the community in which we live.

So, this is the state of the College of Arts and Sciences as we begin the 2013-2014 academic year. All of you have contributed to our accomplishments, and all of you will be instrumental to our future successes.

Before I finish my remarks, I want to mention that, as most of you are aware, the Provost has charged a committee led by Ron Fell, Chair of the Biology Department, and Beth Boehm, Dean of the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies, to search for a permanent Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  The committee is working with a search firm to identify the attributes desired in the next Dean.  I hope that you will make time in your schedule to meet with the consultant from the search firm who will come to campus in three weeks to listen to your impressions about the present status of the College, the characteristics the next Dean should possess, and goals the next Dean should help the College achieve within three to five years.

Let me conclude today by expressing my appreciation for the support you have given to me in my role as Interim Dean.  I look forward to working together in what will be an exciting and challenging time for the College.  Working with you is an honor.

Please join us for a reception in the Hite Art Galleries in Schneider Hall. Thank you and good afternoon.