Updates on Our Progress: Transforming Academic Excellence

Last Thursday, I was pleased to engage in a thoughtful discussion with individuals in the areas that report to the Office of the Provost.  It was the first in a series of monthly meetings with the areas that directly support students and academic excellence at UK. I appreciated the willingness of nearly 300 people—to take the time out of already busy schedules to discuss our important work and how we can do even better for our students.

This series of meetings is just one component of our commitment to remain open and transparent throughout this realignment process. It also illustrates the way we must continue to view our work—as a team, united across the various units with a shared goal. Student success.

The work occurring in the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching, Enrollment Management, the International Center, and the newly formed unit, Student and Academic Life, is part of a realignment that must be understood as an integration of efforts rather than units that operate apart from, or independent from, one another. Moving forward, we must work collectively and even more collaboratively to determine how we can best serve our students and foster an environment of academic excellence.

On May 26, we announced publically our plans to realign parts of our campus to make greater progress on the goals outlined in the Strategic Plan. Our realignment – as part of the budget the Board will consider later this month – is designed to generate nearly $6 million in savings in the coming year.

As part of this process, work is currently underway to complete a review of positions across several departments, which are projected to include reductions in force of up to 75 positions. As I shared on Thursday, it is important to note that this is an estimate, based on several factors, and represents positions from across multiple units, not just Academic Excellence units. In addition, the estimate includes a number of positions that are already vacant.

I also presented a revised timeline for the work we will accomplish together. We will begin advertising the position for an Associate Provost for Student and Academic Life in July, while renewing Victor Hazard’s role as interim until the conclusion of our national search. Phil Kraemer will remain as the liaison for all issues that need a faculty leadership and guidance.

I’ve also asked Kim Anderson, associate dean in the College of Engineering, to serve as a liaison with the associate deans across campus throughout this process. Their input and expertise will be vital as we continue to develop our plans to enhance student success.

We hope to unveil our new organizational structure for the newly merged unit, Student and Academic Life, in early July. At this point, we will post, shift and eliminate positions in line with the new structure.

We have also initiated a deep examination of our Enrollment Management unit to determine how we can better support and organize these crucial efforts on behalf of our university.

EM’s role is critical to the financial health, mission and vision of the institution; as with all areas, we want to maximize its strengths while looking for opportunities to improve.

Finally, we will continue discussions about the Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching as well as the UK International Center over the next 6-8 weeks as part of our analysis of the entire student and faculty support structure with the Provost’s Office.

I’m very pleased with the work we have achieved so far. Over the past month, we have developed plans to align current resources with the four pillars of student success—the reasons for which research suggests students struggle. Those are academic success; financial stability; engagement and belonging; and wellness. We’ve worked to link current distribution of resources with those goals.

We’ve also discussed at length topics surrounding business continuity. I’m thankful to Jennifer Edwards and her team, as they have met with a number of groups and unit leaders to determine how to continue delivering the highest level of support to both students and the larger UK community throughout this transition. They will continue to meet with various units over the coming weeks.

In addition, the various unit leads along with Dr.  Anderson and others have affirmed various proposed initiatives—under the four student success pillars—to be our main focus for the next 12-18 months:

Financial stability: We’ve seen success with the Provost Persistence Grant program—grants given to students with financial holds due to small sums of money. Having analyzed the data from past efforts with this program, we want to continue and expand it. 

Wellness: We’re significantly expanding the capacity of the Counseling Center to serve our students. We have already begun hiring several new counselors and plan to continue expanding those efforts in the future. 

We are also gathering a team to determine how we can better support and integrate our student alert systems. These alerts allow us to better identify students who may be struggling for various reasons, enhancing our ability to intervene.

Belonging and Engagement: We have had several conversations with leaders across campus to discuss how we can better support first-year and summer transition programs.

Academic success: We are working to determine the best approach to advising for the University of Kentucky. We aim to add additional resources and support to this critical component of student success. We have already begun to work with the advising leadership team and the associate deans, utilizing their experience and expertise.

We also aim to expand our on-campus tutoring services.

As you can see, we’ve accomplished a great deal thus far, though we still have much to accomplish together. I’m deeply grateful for efforts across these units to serve our students.

As we talk a great deal about becoming more student-centric, I want to emphasize that I don’t mean we are not already. Each of the individuals working in these areas cares deeply about students; they strive to help them in myriad ways and put them first in everything they do. 

What I mean is that, as an overall organization, we must be as student-centric as possible – structurally, organizationally and operationally.  We must have an organization that supports the work we do and a culture that fosters the collaboration needed to help every student thrive.

We aim to build an organizational structure and culture that reflects the student-centric work we do every day.

That’s what makes us the University for Kentucky. Thank you for your role in that promise.

Stay up to date on our progress here.