University of New Hampshire President James W. Dean, Jr., outlined his vision and initiatives for the “Future of UNH” to hundreds of students, staff and community members at noon on Thursday, Jan. 24 in the Memorial Union Building Granite State Room.
In his first address to the Durham campus since his installation remarks at his Oct. 12, 2018 inauguration ceremony, Dean detailed four core “strategic priorities” entitled “Enhance Student Success and Wellbeing,” “Expand Academic Excellence,” “Embrace New Hampshire” and “Build Financial Strength.” UNH hopes to undertake these four priorities in the coming years, with an ultimate goal of becoming one of America’s top 25 public universities, measured by what Dean called “important measures of academic performance.”
Dean said UNH is still determining how academic performance would be measured, with factors ranging from graduation rates and student participation in “high-impact learning experiences” to faculty member funding and student post-graduation success based on family income.
The president’s first priority – “Enhance Student Success and Wellbeing” – centered on ensuring “timely graduation for all of our students” and making them “engaged and ethical global citizens.” Initiatives to achieve this goal included university-wide retention efforts, revisions of its core curriculum with input from the Faculty Senate and improving current facilities to support state-of-the-art “evidence-based” teaching and learning, which could utilize more modern techniques such as online learning and flipped classrooms. Graduation rates, alumni surveys and evidence from the upcoming Campus Climate Survey were noted as potential metrics for measuring success in this area.
In priority two – “Expand Academic Excellence” – Dean emphasized UNH’s commitment to strengthening and diversifying its student body and faculty, as well as emphasizing its “high-caliber academic programs,” including the fields of research, scholarships and doctoral education. A reworking of Durham’s honors program to create a new honors college led the president’s second set of initiatives, with the new college potentially capable of offering increased flexibility for choosing courses, more opportunities for learning and career success, increased faculty mentoring and specialized housing for enticed students.
Other initiatives part of “Expanding Academic Excellence” included creating and expanding more scholarship programs to incentivize more student enrollment – Dean said that more details on the scholarships would be announced in the near future – as well as investing in more research and graduate programs and expanding graduate education opportunities at the Ph.D. and Master’s levels. Metrics in this priority consisted of the percentage of the top 25 percent of enrolled students in a class, the percentage of underrepresented faculty and students, graduate program rankings and UNH’s efforts to maintain its new Carnegie R1 research classification, which it earned earlier this month.
Dean’s third priority – “Embrace New Hampshire” – focused on his aspirations to sustain UNH’s reputation as a “trusted and valuable partner in advancing New Hampshire’s quality of life and in supporting our economy.”
“We will be known as the July of our rugged, beautiful Granite State,” he told attendees. “Many, many students in New Hampshire will grow up wanting to come to UNH… No matter where we travel in this state, we want people to be proud to call UNH their flagship university.”
The establishment of a new business advisory council, where UNH would work with local business leaders and owners across the state to promote economic development, led the initiatives in this category; others encompassed expanding leadership and student visits to Concord, aided by improved relations between UNH and the New Hampshire Senate, House and Governor’s Office, and improving perceptions of UNH and college through visits to local high schools by UNH students, alumni and staff.
Dean listed the Granite State Poll, UNH’s state funding, partnerships with various state organizations, and the applications and share of top-quartile New Hampshire college-bound students among total New Hampshire college applicants as metrics to measure success in the third priority.
The fourth and final priority – “Building Financial Strength” – saw the president describe UNH’s future efforts to become a “national leader in aligning budget and resources with strategic priorities” by “diversifying revenue sources and effectively managing expenses.”
The establishment of a new, single, standalone finance department led by a single Chief Financial Officer marked Dean’s biggest initiative of the fourth priority, with the president saying that the two current “distinct organizational areas” would be merged into one entity; current employees of the offices of the Provost and Vice President for Finance and Administration would be moved into the new organization. Dean stressed that the move would not increase the number of senior administrators overseeing UNH’s finances or administrative costs.
Other initiatives in “Building Financial Strength” included the creation of a “strategic funding pool” dedicated to executing the president’s initiatives and the initiation of a new funding campaign akin to “Celebrate 150,” which rose $308 million when it ended in Nov. 2018. Metrics to measure success encompassed the percentage of revenue from sources other than traditional undergraduate tuition and fees, UNH’s national rank of in-state student expenses, and its degree of deferred maintenance on buildings and grounds for all campuses.
In his closing, Dean told the crowd that fulfilling all four priorities is possible but requires “concentrated effort” from the “entire university community.”
“We are competing with universities that are larger, better-known and better-funded. We have a lot of ground to make up on them to be able to achieve this aspiration,” the president said. “But if I have learned one thing in my short time here, it is that our university – New Hampshire’s university – is unmatched in the commitment, enthusiasm, loyalty and down-right grit of its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. We can reach these aspirations only because we know that we can count on this special community to work together to build an even better UNH.
“I have tremendous faith in you,” he added. “And I am so incredibly grateful and excited for the success that we will achieve together.”
After his speech, Dean opened the floor to questions from attendees, including junior environmental conservation and sustainability and outdoor education dual major Meghan Bailey, who asked the president how UNH would expand upon its 2017 STARS Platinum sustainability rating, the highest rating a university can receive every three years. Dean responded that UNH would continue its current efforts to promote sustainability, curb food waste and conserve energy, but added that he would be open to new ideas and initiatives as well.
Students and community members alike gave Dean’s speech a positive reception overall, including Student Senate Speaker Nicholas LaCourse.
“I definitely like how President Dean’s strategic priorities seemed to take into account what Student Senate and other students have brought forward to the administration as where we see the direction of the university [and] we we’d like to go with it,” LaCourse, a junior political science and economics dual major, told The New Hampshire.
Bailey described after the speech that Dean’s response to her question on sustainability as “neutral” and noted that the president did not “seem to have any further plans for the future” concerning sustainability, leading Bailey to stress the importance of expanding UNH’s progress thus far.
“I thought he was very optimistic about our future and about our future for the new generation of students coming in,” Bailey said. “…I would like to see some concrete plans, like on how he tangibly plans to achieve that.”