How far we’ve come, and some big things ahead
Dear Faculty and Staff colleagues,
With the spring semester well underway, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on last year—to share my perspective and gratitude—and look at the exciting things on UTSA’s horizon.
As we all know, 2021 had a mix of highs and lows. It was our second year navigating a difficult pandemic, but also a year of achieving big milestones and celebrating university-wide accomplishments. I’m deeply grateful for your dedication, resilience and commitment to student success despite the challenges. Like many, I very much hope we find a return to normalcy in 2022 as our community continues to recover from the pandemic and recalibrate.
As we look ahead, we have a chance to reflect on the progress we’ve made toward our three strategic destinations. This is an opportune time to catch our breath and reaffirm our mission, values and strategy as we prepare for the future.
Looking Back on 2021
To commemorate last year—a bold year—University Marketing prepared a wonderful Year in Review video to capture the excitement of what we all worked so hard to achieve. I’d like to highlight several key achievements to recognize the effort each entailed. While the specific contributions of lead areas are mentioned below, all of you uniquely contributed to these successful outcomes.
Pandemic Response: The COVID-19 pandemic was, and continues to be, deeply impactful to our community. Flexibility and innovation were key in delivering academic programs and remote campus operations during surges, and I’m thankful for the work of our Public Health Task Force, our leadership team, Recovery Operations and each of you that allowed us to successfully open last spring and again this last fall. I am especially appreciative of the many collaborative consultations with our University Leadership Council, Faculty Senate, Staff Senate, Department Chairs’ Council and Student Government Association as we developed our pandemic response plans. I am also grateful to the individuals who remained on campus throughout our pandemic response to provide essential services and support our university community.
Campus Climate Survey: In 2020, Inclusive Excellence, working closely with Business Affairs and Academic Affairs released a Faculty and Staff Campus Climate Survey. The survey, which was conducted by ModernThink, assessed perspectives regarding our workplace environment. Last fall, we shared the survey results noting we have room to improve on issues related to staffing, compensation and communication. Since then, we’ve conducted more than 30 town halls to learn more about those issues. As we move forward to address these concerns, your voices will continue to be central in creating change.
Compensation Strategy: Last August, Business Affairs, working closely with Academic Affairs, announced plans to address compensation for faculty and staff. We provided meaningful salary increases to as many employees as possible in an effort to recognize your hard work and the value you bring to our university. This initiative was intentionally designed to address compensation concerns raised in the campus climate survey. In December, we shared the significant progress made—such as instituting faculty pay scales that accompany new fixed term faculty promotions/titles and raising the minimum wage across campus—and will continue to support future increases whenever we can appropriately do so.
Student Success: As the first of our three strategic destinations, we’ve made significant strides in becoming a model for student success as illustrated in our Student Success Trajectory Models. Academic Affairs worked together closely with leadership from across divisions, colleges and departments to make continuous progress in retaining and graduating more students with substantial reductions in time to degree and entry into the workforce.
Reaffirmation of Accreditation: Last year, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) granted UTSA a reaffirmation of accreditation through 2030, which was a culmination of the Racing to Reaccreditation initiative led by the Continuous Improvement and Accreditation team within Academic Affairs. As part of the university’s accreditation process, UTSA’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) was launched to enhance student learning. This includes initiatives like Classroom to Career, which develops and promotes experiential learning opportunities for students, both inside and outside the classroom.
Enrollment Growth: Under the leadership of the division of Strategic Enrollment in Academic Affairs, work across the university resulted in incredible progress in achieving our growth goals. Despite the pandemic, we began our 2021-22 academic year with a record number of incoming freshmen and growth in doctoral students. Coupled with the enrollment growth we saw the previous academic year—among the top in the state—these successes are a direct result of our intentions to educate more students and advance equity on our road to becoming a model for student success. Our exciting university marketing and branding effort led by University Relations played an important role in communicating UTSA’s value to prospective students.
Bold Promise Program: Last year, we expanded our Bold Promise program, providing tuition and fee-free higher education to even more Texas students by increasing the family income threshold to $70,000. Spearheaded by Business Affairs and the division of Strategic Enrollment, the program furthers our commitment to close gaps in higher education in our city and state.
Advancing Student Health and Wellbeing: In close partnership with UT Health San Antonio and the divisions of Student Affairs and Business Affairs, we integrated and expanded clinical services for student health, counseling and mental health needs to promote the wellness of our Roadrunners.
Transformational Gift: UTSA realized an unrestricted $40 million gift from philanthropists MacKenzie Scott and Dan Jewett, allowing us to allocate the funds in ways that will most benefit our students. UTSA was one of seven four-year, doctoral-granting institutions to receive a gift of this amount based, at least in part, on our demonstrated commitment and record of advancing the success of historically underrepresented students. More details about the use of these funds will be shared soon.
Realigned College Structure and College Namings: In 2021, UT System approved the creation of the College of Engineering and Integrated Design. This restructuring, which followed recommendations from UTSA’s Integrated Design Initiative Task Force and extensive consultations with stakeholders, will better prepare our students for the collaborative, professional environment in today’s Architecture, Engineering and Construction workforce. This realignment follows the establishment of the College for Health, Community and Policy in 2020. We also witnessed the naming of two colleges—the first and second in UTSA history—the Carlos Alvarez College of Business and the Margie and Bill Klesse College of Engineering and Integrated Design. These new names recognize transformational gifts to the colleges as part of our Be Bold capital campaign.
Modern Learning Environments and Innovative Pedagogy: Academic Affairs, Business Affairs and University Technology Solutions made key investments in technology and classroom upgrades to transform student learning with an outlook on how higher education is evolving. Classroom upgrades are currently ongoing in Phase 2 of the project. Coupled with the professional expertise brought together in the division of Academic Innovation, and working hand-in-hand with faculty experts in all the colleges, engaging student learning experiences are now the norm. This cross-divisional initiative demonstrates our commitment to reinventing and reinvigorating our campus’ physical spaces while incorporating innovative technology.
Guadalupe Hall: In August 2021, we opened the university’s newest residence hall devoted entirely to freshmen who want to live on the Main Campus. To promote student success and connect new students to the campus community, Guadalupe Hall offers residents a unique mix of learning and social programs under one roof. The residence hall is conveniently located near the academic core of campus and features on-site dining and several living-learning communities, such as the Honors Residential College.
Incentivized Resource Management (IRM): Our first full year of our IRM budget model was a success. As a highly customizable model, IRM allows us to increase transparency about budget decisions that support our institutional goals. This past year, we increased our collaboration with college and unit leadership, and allocated resources in support of key campus initiatives through the Strategic Investment Fund.
Southwest School of Art (SSA): A new partnership with SSA was initially announced in August 2021, the results of a joint effort between Business Affairs, Academic Affairs and Development and Alumni Relations. In November, the SSA Board of Trustees and the University of Texas System Board of Regents approved a definitive agreement to proceed with fully integrating SSA into a new UTSA school. The agreement was executed in December and reflects significant efforts by many areas of the university. Since then, shared governance planning within the College of Liberal and Fine Arts has solidified a path forward for the new school, while teams within Business Affairs are dedicated to preparing facilities and welcoming employees. We are currently working to integrate SSA’s students, faculty, staff, programs and facilities in preparation for enrollment beginning this fall.
Downtown Campus Expansion: We marked the groundbreaking and beam signing of the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center, the first new building in our planned expansion of UTSA’s downtown footprint. With the receipt of funds from the Texas Legislature last fall, we initiated preliminary plans for our next project downtown, an adjacent building dedicated to Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers.
Carnegie R1 Designation: In December, UTSA officially achieved an R1 Classification from the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. On February 1, this designation was affirmed, serving as a critical waypoint toward our strategic destination to become one of our nation’s great public research universities. While Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise led the planning and Academic Affairs worked with faculty development, the hard work of our faculty, staff and graduate students was critical to achieving this significant milestone.
Alliance for Hispanic Serving Research Universities: The Carnegie R1 designation created a unique opportunity for UTSA to join the Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of Latino students in academia and collaborating around large federal funding opportunities, particularly in STEM. This membership, paired with our Seal of Excelenciacertification, allows us to develop a diverse doctoral pipeline across the Alliance and address societal grand challenges through strategic research partnerships, particularly with the federal government.
Athletics: Our Intercollegiate Athletics programs, staff and student-athletes gave us much to be proud of last year. Accomplishments included celebrating the grand opening of our state-of-the-art Roadrunner Athletics Center of Excellence, confirming our conference move to the American Athletic Conference, and bringing home the Conference USA football championship. The San Antonio community embraced UTSA with incredible enthusiasm and cheered alongside us as we garnered national attention for our athletics program. Building on this momentum, we announced the launch of the public phase of Bold Champions, the athletics component of the university’s capital campaign.
Looking Ahead to 2022 and Beyond
This year, like each year, presents new challenges and opportunities for our community. We’ve made much progress towards the goals and key performance indicators outlined in our strategic plan and now we have a moment to pause, reflect and affirm. Although the challenges of the pandemic remain with us, we’ve learned some new, creative ways to approach teaching, learning and working that will serve us well as we look ahead. Last year’s hard work resulted in much success for our university, and together we created momentum that I hope to build upon in 2022 and for years to come.
New Normal: At the national level, there has been much discussion regarding how higher education will respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic. We are in a position to build upon the adoption of flexible learning approaches, the creation of outdoor learning environments, new pedagogies, hybrid work modalities and reimagined space use.
Simultaneously, demographic trends over the next decade forecast challenges in regards to the number of high school students choosing to pursue higher education. In 2020, Provost Espy established eight tactical teams to get ahead of these challenges, and alongside our strategic planning efforts, we will continue to create opportunities to discuss, develop and navigate the new normal ahead.
Strategic Plan Refresh: We will conduct a refresh of our strategic plan this year, examine our mission and core values, and revise our peer institutional models of excellence to reflect our R1 status. Our plan—in place since 2018—has served us well, but now is the time to conduct a thoughtful refresh to affirm its utility and modify as needed. The UT System encourages these periodic refreshes, and ours will begin in late spring and continue into early fall. The refresh will invite participation across the institution and throughout our colleges, and more details will be shared with you in early May. Simultaneously, we will be developing a five-year proforma that examines the university’s budget to ensure it aligns with how our strategic initiatives are being supported. As required, our strategic plan refresh and five-year proforma will be presented to the UT System and the Board of Regents this fall.
Campus Climate Follow Up: After releasing results from our survey last October, we promised continued dialogue to explore the findings and future opportunities. As a result of more than 30 town halls conducted last fall, a strategy is currently being implemented to address identified issues, both institution-wide and division-specific. Institution-wide focus groups will be established to help develop actionable ideas, and divisional conversations will also begin. More information regarding these approaches will be shared over the next month. Collectively, these actions will give us a tremendous opportunity to address concerns and establish a new baseline as we continue to assess change over time.
Next Legislative Session: The next legislative session is quickly approaching, and our government relations team in University Relations is working closely with the San Antonio delegation and our sister institutions within the UT System (especially UT Health San Antonio) to plan for our respective and collective goals. Our upcoming priorities include, but are not limited to, an increase in formula funding of enrollment growth, an increase in National Research University Fund payouts, advocacy for the Texas Research Incentive Program, advocacy for the Core Research Support Fund, expansion of Texas Grants, continued support for special items, and continuation of the Foster Care Pilot Program.
Be Bold Capital Campaign Launch: Announced on UTSA’s 50th Anniversary and led by Development and Alumni Relations, our $500 million Be Bold Capital Campaign will enter its public phase in October. Today, we are already over halfway to our goal, a year and a half ahead of schedule. More so, the three largest non-estate gifts in the university’s history have all happened during this campaign. Be Bold is helping us build the university-wide infrastructure and resources needed to achieve our three strategic destinations.
Continued Downtown Focus: The continued expansion of our downtown educational and research facilities is a core component of our strategic plan and three strategic destinations. This year, a number of downtown initiatives led by Business Affairs and Academic Affairs will move forward to grow our downtown core. These initiatives include community-wide efforts to plan for the future of the Institute of Texan Cultures; welcome Southwest School of Art students and colleagues this fall, and celebrate the opening of the School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center building. Additionally, initial planning for our next building dedicated to Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Careers will continue over the course of this year and will involve broad input.
National Research University Fund (NRUF): As a critical waypoint on our journey to becoming a great public research university, we are finalizing efforts to meet the last criterion for NRUF eligibility. This milestone will further solidify UTSA’s position as a university capable of tackling society’s grandest challenges at local, state and national scales. Through the collective efforts of Academic Affairs, Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise, and our faculty, program reviews have been completed for selected doctoral programs across the university. Much work has gone into the reviews and I am grateful to the departments and faculty involved. We expect to know more about the outcome of the review by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in March.
Excelencia in Education (EIE): As we position UTSA to be a university of the future in the city of the future, our collaboration with EIE will continue to be a critical partnership. This partnership, alongside our Hispanic Serving Institution identity and the work of our Hispanic Thriving University Council, allows us to increase Latino student success in higher education by providing the highest quality education to advance social mobility and economic opportunity.
The last year was memorable for many reasons, and it is my hope we can carry our positivity and upward trajectory into 2022. We have accomplished so much together, and I am grateful to the entire community—our students and all of you—for your dedication to UTSA. I am especially appreciative of our senior leadership team and shared governance partners working through the University Leadership Council for their incredibly hard work and spirit of collaboration. I look forward to pursuing our goals together on our path ahead.
With deep appreciation to you all,