By Kaila Braley
Faculty and staff gathered to hear administrators speak about the university’s goals for the year at the fall semester’s All University Meeting last week.
FSU will be making a push to realign the student-to-faculty ratio over the next few years, according to administrators.
Interim President Robert Martin said FSU needs to “bring balance” to this ratio in order to help students succeed in their college careers and beyond.
“I want to acknowledge that we have not done a good job of late in matching student enrollment with our teaching resources,” he said, “particularly in regards to the number of tenure-track faculty.”
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said “an initial approach” was discussed for “trying to realign staffing and enrolling” at a Budget and Planning Committee meeting in July. They decided on a twofold approach – to reduce the growth of enrollment for the next two years, and to realign the number of tenure-track, full-time and temporary faculty.
Hamel and Vice President of Academic Affairs Linda Vaden-Goad have been working on a budget to increase the hiring capacity further over the next four years in order to “get us to where we need to be,” said Martin.
Vaden-Goad said she has been working with the university to increase the number of tenured and tenure-track professors from 160, where it is now, to 169 by next year. By the fall of 2018, Vaden-Goad said she expects 191 tenure-track faculty members.
“It’s the growth we need,” she said, adding that if FSU’s enrollment increases more than predicted, then the number of tenure-track professors will also increase.
Martin praised Vaden-Goad for her role in recruiting and hiring the new faculty, whom he said are of great “caliber” with exceptional backgrounds. He added that 33 percent of these new faculty members are from underrepresented groups, which is part of a major effort to increase diversity on campus.
“That’s an outcome that doesn’t happen by chance,” he said. “That reflects commitment and dedication.” He said the faculty involved in the hiring process embraced this change and added that they should all be proud of the outcome.
“Our university is built on the pillars of commonality and diversity,” he said.
By this, he means the “multiplicity of voices and thought” which “fit within a context of shared purposes and values.”
Faculty play a major part in the success of individual students, Martin said. “Institutional success may be built on programs, but I tell you individual successes are built on individual efforts.”
He explained that students who are involved take away the most from their college experience, and this engagement stems from faculty’s “targeted efforts.” This means the “impact of a single individual who sees a problem and reaches out to a single student.”
Martin said, “One of my goals for this year is to build engagement, ownership and responsibility.”
The level of faculty and student engagement is also important to the university, Martin said, because of certain events which will be coming up this year, such as the decennial NEASC Accreditation. The planning of the 175th anniversary of FSU will also “challenge our engagement,” he added.
Hamel spoke about three themes in the strategic plan for this year, which are expanding opportunities, developing community and promoting student success.
In accordance with the first theme, FSU didn’t raise tuition and fees this year.
The University of Massachusetts advocated for more money from the state, aiming for a 50/50 budget plan. This means half of the school’s budget would come from students and half from the state.
“We as a university … quickly hopped onto that plan,” Hamel said.
There were two budgets the Board of Trustees approved, but the plan they ultimately implemented gave FSU “sufficient funding” from the state, which is why tuition and fees were not raised.
While FSU doesn’t receive the same amount from the state as it does from student fees, Hamel said he expects to keep advocating for the 50/50 plan.
“Certainly, there is a lot of need to address the cost to students,” Hamel said. “It’s a big piece of expanding opportunity for students.”
Martin also focused on creating the right environment to help students succeed.
He spoke about how many academic programs don’t allow students to graduate on time, if started later than freshman year. He asked faculty to start asking questions about the structure and number of classes in these programs.
“Number of courses is not a proxy for quality,” he said.
Martin added that the semester time frame doesn’t work well for many students – some who can learn faster and some who need more time with the material.
Although he said this is regrettably unable to be changed, his “idea in raising these [issues] is to really spur conversations about ways in which the institution can be more flexible and more helpful to students in completing their degree programs.”
Martin said that multiplicity of voice is essential to running an institution, and added, “Your voices are important, and I’m going to do my best to hear them and listen genuinely to them.”
He made a point to thank FSU employees for the warm welcome he’s received in his new role. He said he knows the support was not given blindly and added, “I hope you will say the same things to me at the end of my term and for all the right reasons.”