December 20, 2018
Dear Campus Colleagues:
As we prepare to disperse from campus for the winter break, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work this semester in your roles as teachers, mentors, researchers and dedicated staff. It has been another busy semester, and I hope you have found it to be productive and rewarding.
Much of our work this fall has continued to focus on progress toward implementing key goals and priorities of the University’s Academic Strategic Plan. We have made strides in a number of areas, many of them cutting across one or more of the plan’s six overarching themes. In particular during these last several months, we have worked to strategically enhance and enrich the student experience, grow our ranks of outstanding faculty, and expand research activity and opportunities among scholars from undergraduates to doctoral candidates.
I’d like to offer some highlights of our progress in priority areas:
As you know, this fall we took initial steps toward establishing a common shared first-year experience for all new students. One of the centerpieces of this fall’s effort was the shared reading of “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s memoir, “Born a Crime,” and engaging students in dialogue around the themes he raises that may resonate with their own unique experiences. This was a collaborative effort that brought together faculty, staff and students as facilitators for these conversations. I am grateful to all who took part, whether in the planning process or as dialogue leaders. Student feedback has been primarily positive, and we will take what we have learned from this initial effort to inform our work toward formalizing a consistent, comprehensive and compelling first-year experience course.
We also have worked hard this fall, and will continue to do so into the future, to further enhance efforts to foster a more respectful, inclusive and diverse campus community. Early this fall, more than 300 faculty participated in three-hour workshops titled “Inclusive Teaching in the Classroom and Beyond” to enhance self-awareness, detect unconscious bias and promote practical strategies that can be applied in the classroom. The workshops were well received, and while they were initially planned for those teaching anchor courses for first-year students, they also engaged faculty from several of the schools and colleges.
The University also has made some key appointments to amplify resources and support for sustaining an inclusive and diverse campus environment. Keith Alford was named interim chief diversity officer, and I appointed Jeff Mangram as provost faculty fellow to further advance strategies, such as the aforementioned workshops, to enhance inclusive teaching skills.
These and other efforts speak to our long-standing commitment and firm belief that diversity and inclusion are essential to our capacity to deliver an outstanding academic experience and prepare our graduates to thrive in the workplace and the world.
Of course, faculty are critical to achieving our academic goals, and strategically strengthening their ranks continues to be a priority. Most recently, we have worked to do so via cluster hires. This is a critical component of the strategic plan that will strengthen our position as an R1 research university, help us attract talented and diverse faculty interested in working across disciplines, and generate innovative multidisciplinary research opportunities for students.
After six months of collaborative work by hundreds of faculty, administrators and staff, we have concluded the first round in the cluster hire process, identifying seven clusters where new faculty hires will help us expand key areas of excellence. We approved funding for a total of 53 new positions—supplemental to our traditional department hiring—for those clusters.
I am excited about the opportunities these new hires will generate in terms of collaborative scholarship and student research activity, and their potential to further raise our academic profile in distinctive areas of strength.
Along those same lines, this fall we also launched our first-ever Center for Undergraduate Research. This center quadruples central University support for research and creative work by undergraduates—opportunities that will help us recruit and retain outstanding student scholars and prepare them for post-graduate success.
We also have worked to expand funding support for doctoral students via the newly created Research Excellence Graduate Funding program. This program, with support from Invest Syracuse, will provide $750,000 annually to help fund approximately 30 additional doctoral students each year. It will expand access to doctoral education at Syracuse; help advance high-impact research opportunities; and support the University’s goal of increasing doctoral degree conferrals within high-performing programs.
These are just some of the key areas where we have marked progress toward achieving our strategic goals this semester. There is much more to do, and I look forward to continuing our work together through next spring and beyond.
In the meantime, thank you for all you have done to help move these and other key initiatives forward and for all you do to advance academic excellence here at Syracuse. I wish you and your families a joyous holiday season and a restful and restorative winter break.
Michele G. Wheatly
Vice Chancellor and Provost
Office of Academic Affairs