What a year this has been! As I reflect with the spring semester now behind us, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude for the tremendous efforts our students, faculty, and staff put forward to make it through a full academic year during a pandemic. Navigating the effects of COVID-19 presented a variety of challenges for the university and members of our community, but I am thankful for everyone who made it possible for us to continue to deliver on our mission.
If you needed any evidence of the impact of your efforts, the celebratory environment of Commencement where we collectively recognized the accomplishments of 4,536 graduates in the Class of 2021 and Class of 2020 provided it through the cheers of loved ones, the pomp of academic ceremony and tradition, and the triumphant feeling as each graduate crossed the stage as their name was called. Participating in the ceremonies in the presence of graduates and loved ones was a reminder that this is a place where our students come to pursue their dreams—and that the work we all did to keep moving toward those dreams through a challenging year has been worth it. To our graduates, I offer another congratulations. I commend you for being persistent with your studies when it would have been understandable to want to step away. You kept at it and achieved your goal of graduating with a college degree. We cannot wait to see what is next for you as you continue your education and begin new careers and adventures as UNC alumni.
While COVID-19 and its impacts are not entirely in our rear view yet, there is much to look forward to at UNC in the coming months. This fall we will welcome students back to campus, returning to a full on-campus experience. We are very excited about restoring the activities, events, and opportunities that allow our students to enjoy experiential learning, campus life, and community engagement – all hallmarks of a UNC education. By requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for our students, faculty, and staff with reasonable allowances for exemptions, where needed, we are confident UNC will be a safe environment this fall.
It might be easy to forget everything else that happened outside of COVID-19 in this most unusual year, but this was still a momentous time for UNC on a variety of fronts.
In February, the Board of Trustees endorsed Phase 1 of our Rowing, Not Drifting 2030 strategic plan. The plan was developed through several months of engagement throughout the visioning and planning processes—with a brief delay in this work at the onset of the pandemic. The first phase importantly outlines 10 key actions that guide our work through June 2022 and set the foundation for continuing efforts to realize the vision and outcomes we developed together in successive years and phases. Among these key actions are commitments to:
- Develop and implement a plan to ensure UNC is a student-ready university at all academic levels.
- Complete the discovery phase of the Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) 2025 plan.
- Establish an infrastructure and set a foundation for a supportive culture of career-long professional development for staff and faculty.
This work is well underway and we look forward to sharing updates as we begin the next academic year in the fall.
We also worked tirelessly this year to be a more welcoming and inclusive environment where all our students, faculty, and staff can learn, live, work, and grow. Beyond the commitments to improving diversity, equity, and inclusion at UNC that are reflected in our strategic plan, we launched a variety of new DEI professional development opportunities including trainings and workshops for the President’s Leadership Council and Cabinet, sought to improve practices for the recruitment and hiring of faculty and staff of color and other underrepresented identities which are being piloted in UNC’s search for a new Chief of Police, and consistently communicated about DEI priorities with our community. As I recently announced, UNC Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tobias Guzmán’s role is being elevated and he will soon be our first Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This change will allow Tobias to focus on this important work full time as he shapes the university’s strategy, processes, and infrastructure to build a campus culture that inspires, respects, and creates systemic, positive change.
Despite the pandemic, we continued to make progress to build a more sustainable financial future for UNC this past year. Thanks to the efforts of the Financial Task Force last summer and with help from federal stimulus funding, this was the third consecutive year when we did not spend more money than we brought in—in fact we were ultimately able to continue to build our reserves. Ending years of deficit spending has been an important part of our planning to invest in the future of UNC, our students, and employees. Building our revenue base to continue to support these investments is another. Through ongoing work with the executives of the state’s other public higher education institutions, we have been able to secure additional state funding to support the important work we do in educating Coloradans. In town hall forums and the Board of Trustees’ Finance & Audit Committee meeting on Friday, May 7, we also advanced a proposal for tuition and fee increases and enhanced financial aid that will make it possible for us to do more to support our students as they progress toward degree completion. We expect the Board of Trustees to put this proposal to a vote at its meeting on Friday, June 11.
To a significant extent, investing in UNC means supporting our people and we have made good progress on this front in recent months. Among the efforts we have been working toward, we are planning for a three percent compensation pool to provide raises to faculty and staff in the coming fiscal year. I want to thank my colleagues on the Faculty Senate Salary Equity Committee and Human Resources for informing how the pools will be leveraged fairly. We have also been working to address equal pay issues to address equity concerns amongst our employees. The Faculty Senate has worked with the administration to identify a peer comparison group that will be used to continue to improve faculty compensation as we develop a long-term compensation identity plan. Human Resources has started delivering ‘Build a Bear Up’ bears to employees with messages of appreciation and thanks from the colleagues who nominated them. We have also shortened the work week throughout the summer. Staff will be able to close offices at 1:00 p.m. on Fridays through July 30. This is a modest way to show our appreciation for your hard work this past year, but I hope you will make good use of the time to enjoy the company of family and friends, get outdoors, or engage in other activities that you enjoy. I also hope you will all take advantage of the two days of paid leave we now allow for volunteerism in the community.
This summer, there is a great deal of work ahead as we finalize the incoming freshman class and prepare for a return to normal operations. I look forward to welcoming more staff back to campus this summer, with Phase 2 of our return to work plan beginning in June. I recognize coming back to work in person will take some time to get reacclimated to and may come with mixed emotions after the year we have been through. I am appreciative of everyone’s understanding for why this is important. As a residential university campus, it’s critical to have the support and resources available to our students in person. After a period getting readjusted to working on campus again, it is my hope that everyone will be reenergized, comfortable, and ready to go in August when the fall semester begins.
Rowing, Not Drifting,