Dean Weidemann’s update

GregWeidemannAs a college, we made significant progress during the fall semester. Of course, completion of the Young Building renovation is one clear indication of that progress.  Although we will continue to have to address items that were overlooked in the renovation for some time yet, we were very pleased with the outcome of this renovation. As I stated during the re-dedication, although I was thrilled to see this project completed, we have five more buildings in need of a similar renovation or replacement so there is much work yet to do.

Despite the promise of new funding from Next Generation CT, UConn is facing a significant budget shortfall for next year before financial pressures begin to ease.  Next year, UConn is facing a significant projected budget shortfall due to an unexpectedly large increase in the fringe benefit rate, reductions in our block grant and other factors. Although the administration is doing its best to find savings in the non-academic part of the budget, I would anticipate some impact on the College’s budget, and we are taking steps to free up some funds to address any potential reductions. Despite that caution, we are filling more than a dozen faculty positions for next fall.  Eight of those are new positions obtained through the Hiring Initiative or Eminent Scholars Program.

Our budget is doubly impacted due to the reduction in our federal funds due to sequestration. Fortunately, it appears that Congress has reached a compromise on the federal budget, which we anticipate will return some of the sequestered funds and prevent another round of budget cuts. We will not see all the funds restored but should see some relief.

The campus academic planning committee will be wrapping up its work soon as the various work groups complete their work on the nine identified themes. The College fared pretty well in that process, with both of our primary themes included as campus themes. The provost has made clear that Next Gen funds will flow predominately to those areas identified as priorities in the campus plan. As a college, it is imperative that we remain engaged in that process. Attention is now turning to completion of the college and school plans. Our College committee is working diligently to draft the remaining sections that will then be distributed to the departments for comment. I would like to recognize the hard work of that committee. The University has contracted with Academic Analytics to help provide benchmark data for comparison to peer and aspirant institutions as well as for in-house comparisons to help drive investments.

Our international collaborations in China appear to be flourishing. Six students from Renmin joined the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics as the first cohort of the joint MS program, with four more expected for spring. By next fall enrollment is expected near the 30-student maximum established for this program. Four students joined us from Sichuan University for the 3+2 program in three different departments. I recently signed a similar agreement with China Agricultural University in water resource management and we are continuing to explore opportunities with Nanjing University.

As some of you may know, Larry Silbart moved from the Department of Allied Health Sciences to the provost’s office as the new vice provost for strategic initiatives, with responsibility for oversight of the Next Gen initiative. While he is missed, we were fortunate that Nancy Bull has returned to the College and agreed to serve as the interim head of AHS while we conduct a national search. Dr. Bull recently agreed to serve as executive director for the Northeast Extension Directors on a part time basis and will split her time between both roles.

As you may have heard, the faculty of the Department of Kinesiology have voted to move from the Neag School of Education to our College. As dean, I have remained open to adding them into the College as long as it was done in a budget-neutral way. I have met with the faculty on two occasions to discuss the transition and have walked through their existing space.  Several of their faculty members are jointly appointed in AHS or the Department of Nutritional Sciences and I see that their addition will create synergy in the area of health and wellness. The provost has indicated that now that issues surrounding the health-related sciences have been addressed he will forward our request for a name change for the College through the appropriate channels.

Recently two of your colleagues were recognized during the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities. Jack Clausen received the USDA teaching award for the northeast region, and Cathy Love received the Pharos Award for her contributions to diversity, access and success. In addition, Mazhar Khan received the Friendship Award from the Chinese government for his work on bird flu, and Richard Anyah was awarded the Al Geib Professorship in Environmental Engineering Research and Education.

Although we will still have to address some fiscal challenges in the new year, I believe we are continuing to make forward progress as a college. When I arrived several years ago, I’m not sure I would see the Young Building renovation completed or anticipated the growth in our faculty that we have seen.