Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dear Colleagues,

As the spring semester quickly comes to a close, I want to take this opportunity to share several important updates with you before we turn the page and transition into the summer.

Provost Search

Over the past two weeks, we have had four candidates on our campus interviewing for the position of Provost. Open forums and visits concluded at the end of last week, and the search committee reconvened to consider evaluations and input submitted as part of the process. The committee has provided me with a summary of their deliberations regarding the candidates’ strengths and limitations. Please watch for an announcement regarding this position in the near future.

Enhancing Recruitment and Student Success

I would like to thank everyone who attended the Brown Bag Lunch last week where we focused on our strategic enrollment plan: Enhancing Recruitment and Student Success. As we have conveyed throughout this academic year, we are working diligently to shape what Southeast will look like in both the near future and beyond. Our future as a high-quality, multicultural, innovative and flexible university requires that we graduate career-ready students with in-demand workplace skills.

Last fall, the University’s Executive Staff devoted its retreat to strategic enrollment planning and aligning it with the University’s strategic plan. Our enrollment planning processes will only be successful if we come together as a campus community to participate in setting goals and defining strategies to achieve those goals. So, I thank everyone who is contributing to enhancing recruitment and student success. 

It was clear from those who participated in last week’s Brown Bag Lunch, that we are developing a common knowledge across campus of our enrollment opportunities and challenges. Your engagement is very encouraging. As I have shared before, enhancing recruitment and student success is the responsibility of everyone on this campus, and we need every faculty and staff member, student, and stakeholder to participate. It was wonderful to hear so many suggestions for us to consider. 

As Dr. Debbie Below explained during the Brown Bag Lunch, several factors are contributing to higher education enrollment declines nationwide as well as at Southeast. Critical demographic shifts, including declining birth rates; fewer high school graduates forcing recruitment pressures west of the Mississippi River; a declining number of international students; and a leveling off in distance education enrollment are significant factors. In addition, a steady upward growth in enrollment in mega universities and a 24 percent decline in headcount over the last five years at the top feeder community colleges to Southeast have created significant student recruitment challenges for our university. 

We have identified four primary enrollment goal areas: strengthening our brand identity, diversity, career readiness, and student success. Southeast is well-positioned to help students achieve career success, and we need to continue to build partnerships with industry where real-world experiences are available. 

Establishing and reaching aspirational, yet realistic and achievable goals is vital. I am proud of the work our faculty and staff are doing to respond to a rapidly changing world. We are readying ourselves to meet the educational needs of students – at any age, in any place. I very much appreciated the dialogue on these topics during the Brown Bag Lunch and for everyone’s contributions. I look forward to continued Brown Bag Lunch conversations in the future. 

The higher education landscape and expectations of universities are rapidly evolving. Our sustainability depends on our ability to proactively adapt to today’s changing dynamics in the marketplace. This summer, the Executive Staff will work on identifying actions aimed at stabilizing enrollment at Southeast, and we look forward to sharing this information with the University community in fall 2019. 

Health Insurance

The University held two open forums last week to provide a general overview of what self-insurance for health benefits would mean for the University and its employees. Representatives of Sonus Benefits, a benefits consultant contracted by the University, were on hand to provide information and answer questions. I attended both of these sessions which provided good opportunities to learn more, hear your questions and receive feedback as we continue to explore strategies to control our long-term health insurance costs.

If you were unable to attend the forums or would like to review the presentations and Q&A again, we have made a variety of resources available to you on the portal under the Employee tab (University Updates: Self Insurance Information). These include a video recording of the presentation (requires logging into Office 365 with your SE Key and password), the PowerPoint presentation delivered during these sessions, a fully-insured and self-insured comparison, a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ), an Open Forum Health Insurance Input Form to submit questions, and contact information for the Benefits Review Subcommittee

Please know you may view the communication timeline as we continue to evaluate our options in the coming months. This week, the Benefits Review Subcommittee has met and is analyzing the feedback gathered at the open forums. Sonus Benefits and its data analytics team will work this summer to further analyze data and forecast claim expenses. In August, we expect Sonus Benefits to provide us an update on their data analytics review and information on renewal for both fully-insured and self-insured options.

I encourage you to continue to check the portal for updates to these informational items in the coming months.  

Faculty Workload 

As many of you know, this semester I visited all academic departments to engage them in a conversation about their concerns, needs and ideas, and to get input and feedback on any matter of interest. During these conversations, I listened and asked questions. Most times, I was joined by two members of the Executive Staff, the University Budget Director, and most often the Dean of the respective college. One of the issues that came up in nearly every meeting was workload. I am aware there are questions about perceived disparities in the newly designed workload system implemented this semester. I understand that there are adjustments that can and probably should be made to our current model to respond to the differences in the operation of academic departments. Interim Provost Tamela Randolph and Sue Wilde, Budget Office director, recently began meeting with department chairs and deans to gather their input. Flexibility in our workload model to respond to the academic needs while ensuring financial sustainability should drive our decisions. We will continue these conversations throughout the fall with other departments to better understand the strengths and shortcomings of the new workload model and make appropriate modifications.

In addition, I am aware that timing of approvals for part-time and overload teaching assignments as a result of the centralized workload system is concerning, and we are working to make adjustments. A new electronic workflow system has been implemented for fall 2019 courses to create efficiencies and expedite approvals. Additional training sessions on the new electronic system are scheduled for May 13-14, as has been communicated by email to all academic departments and colleges. Please contact the Budget Office at ext. 2457 if you would like to attend.

Higher Learning Commission

Next fall, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) will be conducting an on-site visit to our campus Sept. 23-25 as part of our HLC Comprehensive Quality Review. We hosted a team of HLC Reviewers in October for site visits at our Kennett Campus and Poplar Bluff Delivery Site at Three Rivers College, and in December we submitted our Institutional Systems Portfolio (also referred to as a self-study) to HLC. The initial feedback from HLC in response to the site visit and the Systems Portfolio has been positive.

Over the last week, I have become aware of several statements and inaccurate information circulating about our upcoming HLC visit. When I have had the opportunity to address these in small group conversations, I have done so. However, I am using this mechanism, as well, to share my thoughts with you on this. Our reaccreditation is not in danger because of staffing changes. There are many people at Southeast who have spent long hours preparing for our visit. We will continue to work hard to maximize the chances of having a successful visit. Please be mindful of the possible implications that propagating inaccurate information and/or rumors could have on the University as we move through this process. I ask for your assistance in support of the efforts to host a successful HLC visit.

In the coming days, please be advised that I plan to identify a new co-chair to replace Dr. Bethany Alden-Rivers to work with the other co-chair, Ms. Barbara Glackin, as our leadership team transitions into the fall. As you know, there are a significant number of individuals, both faculty and staff, who have been working for many months preparing the Systems Portfolio. Among these individuals are several who have significant experience as HLC reviewers. I am confident all these individuals will continue preparing for the visit of the review team in September. Thank you for your support and involvement in this important process.

Communication

Please be on the lookout next fall for an additional communication vehicle that I hope will enhance communication with the campus about the work of every division at Southeast. We are planning to implement a system to provide informational updates from every division that will be made available for faculty and staff twice a semester. This mechanism will be in addition to the standard ways in which we currently disseminate information.  I am hopeful this new communication vehicle will heighten awareness of the work being done in the various units and will help all of us better understand the efforts of our colleagues. Details are still being worked out, so stay tuned! 

In closing, I look forward to congratulating our more than 1,400 graduates this weekend as they cross the stage and begin the next chapter in their lives. We know each and every one of our graduates has the will to do and has what it takes to launch extraordinary careers. I wish them well, and I can’t wait to see what they do! 

I also would like to thank you for all you do for Southeast Missouri State University. Together, we can accomplish much. I wish each of you a fantastic and relaxing summer! I hope you take time to enjoy family and friends, and I look forward to working with all of you with renewed purpose in fall 2019! 

Sincerely,