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Provost updates PSS on winter session and more

By DAVID J. HILL

Published February 27, 2015

In just its second year, UB’s winter session is proving to be quite a success story. Provost Charles Zukoski gave a report on UBThisWinter and a variety of other happenings during Thursday’s Professional Staff Senate meeting.

Winter session ran from Jan. 5-23, with 1,533 students taking approximately 5,000 credit hours. That’s up 200 students and 1,500 credit hours from last year, according to Zukoski, who added that more than 160 students studied abroad.

“Fascinatingly, 71 percent of the winter credit hours were online,” he noted, adding that the Department of Physics accounted for a sizable chunk of credit hours taken. “We get a lot of enrollment from students who are not enrolled here at UB. They come from across the state and are able to take our physics classes online during the winter session.”

Other highlights of the provost’s report included updates on:

  • General Education: The university is proceeding with a new general education program to be implemented in fall 2016. “This is a substantial change for this campus,” Zukoski said. “A third of all undergraduate credit hours are general education requirements and this is a profound change from the way we have taught general education in the past.”

Sean Sullivan, vice provost for academic planning, budget and evaluation, and Andrew Stott, dean of undergraduate education, are visiting with decanal units to talk about how those units are thinking about delivering the courses for the program, the provost added. “It’s a very exciting program and it’s moving forward. The argument that was made and that was accepted was that we do believe deeply in the concept of a liberal education as a core of the degrees UB offers. And we believe sufficiently that it will change the way we do business, that what we teach and how we teach it will change as a result of this program. It will lead to distinction and students will want to come and experience that core education we’re going to be providing.”

  • Heart of the Campus: Progress on this initiative can be seen on the third floor of the Silverman Library in Capen Hall. “The entire third floor of the Capen library has been emptied and this summer there will be a great deal of activity there as it is revamped in order to create space for students to have study carrels and group study areas,” Zukoski said. Plans also call for converting space on the ground floor to serve as a “one-stop shop” area for student services. Heart of the Campus is being broken up into various chunks as funding becomes available.
  • START-UP NY: This is Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s program to encourage businesses to start or expand their operations by partnering with SUNY institutions in exchange for 10 years of paying zero taxes. “We have embraced it remarkably,” the provost said. “This has proved to be a great attraction for businesses. We now have 34 companies that will be partnering with us.” The five-year forecast for capital investment in those companies totals approximately $32 million. In addition, the companies are projecting 1,400 new jobs for Buffalo, “which is a great win for us all,” Zukoski said.

“It’s very exciting. We’re trying to make sure that we create a pipeline for our students to get internships with those companies, so it’s a great partnership,” added Arlene Kaukus, director of career services and the Professional Staff Senate’s representative on the UB START-UP NY Selection Committee.

  • Budget: “We are in good shape … but we’re feeling the stress produced by this dramatic change in the capital funding that the state has imposed on us and there now is getting to be some substantial edginess on what will happen for the rational tuition program,” Zukoski said.
  • Communities of Excellence: These are vibrant, intellectual and interdisciplinary programs designed to help set UB apart. RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) serves as the prototype for Communities of Excellence. One-hundred white papers were submitted last year; that group was pared down to 17 in October, from which seven were selected for final review, the provost said. The winner(s) will be announced in late March.

After his presentation, Zukoski fielded questions from the audience. One PSS member asked about UB’s position on online courses.

“When we were going through Realizing UB 2020, one of the questions put on the table was do we want to begin to play in the area of Massive Open Online Courses and begin to think about becoming an online university? Our decision was that we wanted to remain primarily a residential, classical university,” Zukoski said. He noted, however, that UB does offer several complete degrees online.

Another PSS member asked about the use of adjuncts and nontenure-track faculty in the new general education curriculum. “That was a big topic of conversation. What’s interesting about gen ed is that it doesn’t require any new credit hours,” the provost said, adding that he asked the General Education Steering Committee to strongly consider reducing the reliance on adjuncts.

The university is instead looking to “clinical” faculty. “These would be full-time, long-term members of the university who are carrying substantially larger teaching loads than the research faculty would and aren’t tenure-track in that way and wouldn’t be because they aren’t doing the scholarship that’s required for tenure. The hope is to reduce reliance on short-term adjuncts.”