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First spring 2024 Faculty Senate meeting

President Assanis previews measures and guidelines to balance and conserve University funds

Like many other higher education institutions nationwide, the University of Delaware is currently facing significant headwinds, President Dennis Assanis told the Faculty Senate at its Feb. 5 meeting. A video of that meeting, which includes Assanis’ presentation as well as a Q&A session with faculty attendees, can be accessed on UD Capture.

Higher costs on goods and services are putting pressure on the budgets of UD and other institutions, while students and their families need greater financial aid and academic support because of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Assanis said. While other institutions are experiencing decreased enrollment, UD is fortunate to continue to receive record numbers of applications from prospective students, he said. One of UD’s most significant financial challenges is the rapidly rising cost of employee and retiree health insurance, which the University gets through the state of Delaware.  

Assanis said he is optimistic that UD will be able to navigate this difficult landscape to continue growing and succeeding.

“I want us to use this time to think strategically about what we do as an institution, to sustain it for another 280 years,” Assanis said. “Not just protect it to survive, but to thrive, to position us for excellence.  We can turn this challenge into a unique opportunity to keep innovating, creating and thinking about how to educate our students even better than we do today.”

Providing competitive compensation and benefits to all employees and retirees remains one of the University’s top commitments, he said. UD’s cost for health insurance through the state plan increased by 10% in the current fiscal year and is projected to increase up to 27% in the next fiscal year. The University is expecting increases of about 7%-10% annually in the coming years. 

“The rates they charged us to cover our employees and retirees did not dramatically increase in previous years,” Assanis said. “We are starting to plan now for lots of uncertainty.”

Assanis shared that UD also remains committed to making a quality education financially accessible to students by offering scholarships and minimal tuition increases. 

“Since I've been serving our institution as president, we have increased our scholarship budget by 80% – from about $100 million a year to $180 million a year — which is still not enough and I don't see it changing anytime soon,” Assanis said. 

These financial challenges require the University to enact long-term measures and guidelines to balance and conserve University funds, as he explained in a message to all faculty and staff on Feb. 6.

“We are projecting — from initially operating with a balanced budget — we could close the year anywhere with a $20 million to $40 million deficit, unless we take some immediate measures,” Assanis said.

Assanis reassured the Faculty Senate that ongoing faculty searches will continue. Capital projects that are at least two-thirds complete will also continue, while new projects will be postponed.

Provost Laura Carlson gave an overview of the faculty hiring plan. “Last year we started doing an approval process for a three-year faculty hiring plan,” she said. “This spring, there will be conversations around what the hiring plan looks like for the next three years. We are starting from a slightly different point in the process this year – asking a different question: What can your budget afford?”

Carlson also spoke about three topics discussed during the Faculty Senate’s executive committee meeting: the academic calendar, academic program reviews (APR) and program educational goals. 

“There was a question last semester about the number of days we dedicate to Winter Session instruction days. If you look historically — since 1990 — about 60% of those Winter Sessions have had 24 instruction days. That's a good way to set the minimum,” Carlson said. 

Many departments — the Registrar’s Office, the academic calendar committee, the coordinating committee of the Senate, the University’s Secretary Office, Student Life, college assistant deans, chairs of departments who have lab courses — have been working to ensure these sessions have a sufficient number of instruction days. 

Carlson also discussed the topic of program educational goals and how APR’s can be used as an effective strategic tool for measuring a department’s successes and areas of growth. 

The Faculty Senate also considered — but ultimately rejected — a proposal by Professional and Continued Studies (UD PCS) to offer four cannabis-related certificates. Last year, Delaware became the 22nd state to decriminalize cannabis. Some Senators expressed their displeasure with what they considered a lack of rigor in the proposed course design, while others advocated for the courses and differentiated them from traditional coursework. In a 12-36 vote, the Faculty Senate did not adopt the proposal.

The Consent Agenda portion of the meeting included a single vote to approve 46 undergraduate proposals and 18 graduate proposals. 

On the Regular Agenda, there was a unanimous vote to approve the professional and continuing studies certificate in Business Fundamentals; permanently approve the MS in Clinical Exercise Physiology; provisionally approve the MS in Clinical Psychological Science for five years; approve a change in admission requirements for direct admission into the MS in Financial Services Analytics program; disestablish the BS in Quantitative Biology, Honors BS in Quantitative Biology, Quantitative Biology/Data Science 4-1; and approve the name change for Museum Studies Program to Museum Studies and Public Engagement, effective July 1. 

Greg Dobler, an associate professor in the Biden School, provided an interim report on the Interdisciplinary Studies Ad Hoc committee. 

“Our charge is to explore the feasibility and implementation measures for a new cross college and cross departmental interdisciplinary undergraduate degree program,” Dobler said.

Pascha Bueno-Hansen, an associate professor in Women and Gender Studies, provided an update on the American Indian and Indigenous Relations committee of the UD Anti-Racism Initiative.

“What we did as a committee over the last three years was consult, build relationships, and continue the process of coming to know the people who are original to these – what you would call Lenape and Nanticoke — homelands,” Bueno-Hansen said. “Along with UD graduate students, we developed a very brief synopsis of the UD land grant institution history and how that is related to indigenous land across this country. And we also created what we're calling Key Words for Building Relationships with Lenape and Nanticoke Homelands.”

Matthew Kinservik, vice provost for faculty affairs, provided an update on the working group for Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Teaching and Learning. Subgroups are focusing on integrating AI into instruction, developing opportunities for faculty to learn about AI for teaching and learning, and developing student-facing materials, especially those related to the ethical use of AI.

Faculty Senate President Jim Morrison reminded the Senate of the Feb. 16 deadline for submitting Curriculog proposals.

Further information about the Faculty Senate, including meeting minutes and agendas, can be found on its website.

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