Dean’s update

Dean Gregory J. Weidemann
Dean Gregory J. Weidemann

As a college, we continue to grow and evolve. We are now the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, and we have added the Department of Kinesiology to our  family. This past year we have had a record number of grant submissions with a number of new awards announced in the past few days. Undergraduate enrollment remained steady and increased slightly overall again this past fall. Student applications for next fall are up appreciably in many of our programs. Both metrics are important to UConn and we as a college are doing our fair share.

We are having a good year fundraising including a recent gift of 150K from an anonymous donor for scholarship support.

This is the centennial year for Cooperative Extension. In September we took the opportunity to celebrate the centennial with our faculty, staff, volunteers and friends. We have used that landmark event to raise awareness of the contributions of Cooperative Extension throughout the past 100 years and our contributions to Connecticut today. We have also used this as an opportunity to raise additional funds to support extension programming.

This fall, a new draft Master Plan for the campus was unveiled that is expected to create a framework for campus development over the next 20 years. While the plan did not address many of the needs of our College, it did give us the opportunity to further engage the Master Planning Committee in discussion regarding those needs. Some changes have been made in the plan based on that feedback. A second, more focused, study will begin soon and is expected to last for the next year. The campus has contracted with a consulting firm to provide an assessment of all STEM space on campus. This will involve a room-by- room analysis of all STEM research and teaching space on campus with a determination of the use and quality of that space. Based on that analysis, space will be identified for renovation or replacement and will help determine space needs in the two proposed science buildings identified in the Master Plan. Both Associate Dean Faustman and I will serve on the two planning committees.

We continue to benefit from a number of small projects as the campus continues to address a long list of deferred maintenance needs. While we would all like to see these maintenance needs addressed sooner rather than later, we continue to chip away at a number of these issues.

As I communicated in spring, the University continues to deal with a projected structural deficit for FY 15, 16 and 17. Much of this is attributed to reductions in our block grant over the past few years, increased costs and changes in fringe benefits over which we have little control. The College was asked to reduce its budget by 1.5 percent for this year and to develop a plan for a 3 percent rescission next year. After the election, Governor Malloy announced additional reductions in state budgets for higher education to reduce a projected deficit in the current budget year. These cuts will be absorbed centrally. Much larger state deficits are projected for FY 16 and 17. While the campus leadership will make the case that past reductions have contributed to our current deficit and that further cuts will increase that deficit, it is likely that we will see further reductions in the next biennium. How this might impact funding through the block grant or new funds from NextGen is anyone’s guess.

Darshana Sonpal, our new budget director, is working closely with me to come up with the plan for the 3 percent rescission, which is slightly more than one million dollars. While we will try to mitigate the impact on College units, we must defer some promised hires of faculty and staff and likely will be unable to refill vacancies created by retirements as they occur. Fortunately, Congress has passed a budget bill with no reductions to our federal funds.

Many of our faculty participated in the development of academic plan pre-proposals that were submitted last month. More than 140 proposals were submitted University-wide for consideration, with our College well represented. Several committees have been formed to review the proposals and make recommendations for development into full proposals. Once all evaluations are complete, all reviewers will meet with the campus leadership on January 5 to determine which proposals will advance to the full proposal stage. We have not yet received any information about the format for full proposals or timeline for submission.

We continue to make progress. It is never as fast as I would like to see but I do feel that we are continuing to move forward. I hope you all have a safe and restful holiday season and return renewed and refreshed in January.