Syndicate at University Union, April 21, 2010
Ensuring UNT’s continued advancement to Tier One status and improving accessibility on campus were among the topics discussed at the second of two Really, let’s talk sessions for spring 2010. The session was held at The Syndicate at the University Union.
The first question came from a student who asked Interim President Phil Diebel what he intended to accomplish during his tenure.
The interim president said his main priority has been to ensure that UNT’s momentum continues. Interim President Diebel, who retired from UNT in 2007 as vice president for finance and business affairs after 26 years at the university, began serving as interim president March 1. His tenure ends when V. Lane Rawlins takes over May 14 to serve as president for the 2010-11 school year.
“One of my intentions when I came back to the university after being retired for two and a half years was to keep things going the way they have been going,” Interim President Diebel said.
He said finalizing the university budget for the next fiscal year has been a top priority.
The state issued a directive to universities and state agencies to prepare for a 5 percent reduction of state-appropriated revenue for this biennium, he told students.
“Dealing with a little less money in the budget is always a challenge,” he said.
But $1million more has been allocated for scholarships this year, he told students, because funding scholarships is also a university priority.
Strategic plan for research
The university submitted its new strategic plan for research to the state April 1, Interim President Diebel told students. The plan outlines how UNT will move closer to Tier One status during the next 10 years.
With a new state program in place that provides resources and support to emerging research universities (ERUs), UNT and Texas’ six other ERUs are stepping up efforts to move in to the top tier of research universities. Each university submitted a strategic plan for research to the state that lays out how it will advance and meet key benchmarks.
“I’ve never seen anything that we’ve produced that could have a more profound effect on this university in the years to come,” he said.
It’s a significant reallocation of the university’s existing resources and a commitment of new resources, he said.
But one student expressed concern that the presidential transition would slow down UNT’s progress to becoming a Tier One university or stop it altogether.
“I think the dye is cast. Our Tier One progress didn’t slow down,” Interim President Diebel said. “There has been no slacking off on the pace of moving forward.”
For instance, the plan now more fully addresses creating additional space for research and has identified funding sources to do so, which will help the university achieve Tier One status, he said. One possibility is to build a new research facility at Discovery Park.
Hiring more research-active faculty and encouraging existing faculty to do more research to increase the university’s funded research also are top priorities identified in the plan, he said.
The plan will be presented to the UNT System Board of Regents in May, he said.
“They know the importance of this and they are going to fully expect that Dr. Rawlins and his successor will do everything in their power to implement this plan and keep this institution moving forward,” he said.
A student in a wheelchair raised issues about inaccessible and dangerous curb ramps on campus. He said his tire was damaged when he tried to navigate a curb recently.
The student also said his friend, who is visually impaired, has had trouble navigating barriers erected for construction taking place on campus.
“It’s extremely important that you bring that to our attention,” Interim President Diebel said. “It is our concern to make this place as accessible as we possibly can.”
The university wants to react quickly to make improvements, he reiterated.
He encouraged the student and others to notify the Office of Disability Accommodation as a starting point when they encounter accessibility problems.
UNT’s next president will bring much-needed expertise, having led Washington State University, which is now considered a top research university, Interim President Diebel said.
“He has done the things that we want to do, particularly with regard to research,” he said. “I think he brings an awful lot to the table.”
But it’s unlikely that Rawlins will be part of the pool of candidates for UNT’s next president because he retired from WSU and has expressed interest only in serving for a year, Interim President Diebel said in response to a question.
Rawlins’ top priorities will likely be to focus on the university’s budget and to implement the university’s strategic plan for research, he said in outlining the challenges for the next president.
Rawlins, along with UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson, also will present the university’s needs and priorities in the upcoming legislative session, he said.
For instance, UNT has a severe space deficit of about 900,000 square feet, he said.
“Dr. Rawlins will be prepared to address those needs,” Interim President Diebel assured students.
Interim President Diebel also fielded questions about the planned UNT Dallas College of Law. He reminded students that the law school is part of the UNT System and will become a part of UNT Dallas, not UNT, the flagship campus. The law school is expected to enroll its first class in 2012.
The session ended with Interim President Diebel thanking the roughly 25 students who attended for coming to the question-and-answer forum.