North Central Self Study
Chapter 1: UNK and the University of Nebraska:
The First Years
Achieving Academic Distinction
Commitment to core educational principles began with the faculty and with support for scholarly teaching. UNK sought to recruit high-quality faculty and to maintain faculty numbers consistent with a commitment to small classes taught by full-time teacher-scholars. Key measures of that priority and progress over the last decade:
- In 1991, 84% of UNK's classes were taught by full-time faculty members; by 2002, that number had risen slightly to 86%.
- Similarly, the student/faculty ratio improved from 22/1 in 1990-91 to 17/1 in 2002-2003. That is a result of deliberate choices to keep faculty numbers constant even while enrollment declined.
- Indeed, the number of full-time faculty at UNK actually increased from 296 in 1991 to 321 in 1999. For Fall 2003, the number of full-time faculty is back down to 296. Only one college (the College of Education) currently has fewer full-time faculty than in 1991. Part-time faculty numbers have decreased dramatically, from 113 in 1991 to 86 in 2003.
- In 1991, 66.2% of the entire faculty (including instructors and lecturers) had terminal degrees in their fields. In 2002 that number was 72%.
Other important initiatives also provided faculty much better wherewithal to do their primary work with students.
- Academic facilities underwent (and are still undergoing) a remarkable transformation. Two colleges acquired either new or completely renovated buildings equipped with cutting-edge instructional technologies: the West Center, housing UNK's business programs, was completely renovated between 1999 and 2001, in an $8.6 million project; and a new $9.5 million facility for the College of Education was opened in 2002.
- A $4.5 million project expanded and renovated Copeland Hall, serving several departments in the College of Natural and Social Sciences.
- A $6.5 million project, initiated in 1999 and scheduled for completion in 2003, is renovating classrooms, offices, laboratories, and building mechanical equipment in Bruner Hall of Science.
- Another $1.6 million project in the Otto Olsen Building will reconfigure the facility to improve classroom and office space utilization.
- Since1999 the Center for Teaching Excellence, established to encourage and assist faculty in their teaching, has provided workshops and symposia, confidential consultations for individual faculty, and other assistance designed to enhance classroom teaching.
- Investment in an Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP) allowed UNK to expand its ability to help faculty apply for and win external funding for research. As a result, awards received by UNK faculty quintupled between FY93 and FY03 ($525,350 to $ 2,654,021).
- Annual grant proposals to the University of Nebraska Foundation were focused on support for equipment-intensive disciplines and those heavily reliant on information technology. These grants have recently tripled or quadrupled the $54,000 received in 1992, when UNK first was eligible to receive them.
- Foundation acquisitions have included instruments for instruction and research in biology and chemistry, a multimedia production laboratory, and a CASE/UNIX laboratory for computer science (1995); new faculty computers and a modernized language laboratory (1996); a mobile environmental sciences laboratory for biology and special equipment for a speech and hearing science laboratory (1997); a new engineering graphics laboratory, and additional equipment for the speech and hearing science lab (1998); instruments for laser spectroscopy and a gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer (1999); nuclear magnetic resonance instrumentation for chemistry, and the Library Instruction/Information Technology Services (LIITS) Center in the Ryan Library (2000); advanced microscopy equipment for biology instruction and information technology for student teachers (2001); IP network for distance education (2002); and a First Year Experience Pilot Program (2003).
- There has been concerted effort to infuse information technology throughout the curriculum. "Blackboard" capabilities enable faculty to deliver web-based courses or add a web component to a course, and almost 60 "smart" classrooms are available on campus. (A smart classroom has a permanently mounted projector and normally contains a computer, and often a digital presenter or Elmo, and a VCR.).
- All faculty members have a networked office computer.
- Furthermore, whereas in 1991 there were nine small computer laboratories serving colleges or academic departments, today there are 29 college or departmental labs (totaling 625 machines, or one per ten enrolled students), many outfitted according to special disciplinary needs.
- Similarly, in 1991 there were no university computers available to students in the residence halls. Today, each residence hall has a computer lab, and Ludden Hall has three. There is also a 24-7 laboratory in the Nebraskan Student Union.
- Since all students have campus e-mail accounts, the Calvin T. Ryan Library is able to provide multiple databases, full-text articles, and documents to all registered students, regardless of their location.
- The current General Studies program, approved in 1992, now includes writing-intensive (12 hours) and cultural diversity (6 hours) requirements. These were fully implemented in Fall, 1995.
- The Honors Program, which was established in the early 1980's, grew impressively in the 1990's with substantial new scholarship investments and the designation of Stout Hall and then part of Randall Hall as the on-campus residence for these high-achieving students. Honors students can now be found in each of the four academic colleges and in nearly every major. More than 30 Honors courses are offered across the curriculum.
- UNK has become a national leader in undergraduate research. Among notable accomplishments are the receipt of the prestigious NCUR/Lancy grant in 2002, the initiation in 1996-97 of the UNK Undergraduate Research Journal, and an annual Student Research Day involving approximately 250 students from academic programs across all four undergraduate colleges. To direct and further expand on these initiatives, an Undergraduate Research Council was created in 2001.
- UNK also set aside special funds to support student presentations at the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research and other venues. In 2003, 66 UNK students presented their research at the NCUR conference in Salt Lake City, representing the largest visiting student group from any institution in the country. Literally hundreds of other students participate in regional and national conferences, supported by SET (Student Event Ticket) Fees, the Undergraduate Research Council, Research Services Council, the Office of Graduate Studies and Research, and various academic departments.
- The First Year Program, developed from a faculty initiative, has been in place for two years and is still in its developmental stage. During this time, first-year courses have been designed across all campus colleges to introduce students to the intellectual requirements and opportunities of university life. These efforts reflect a continuing UNK objective--to prepare its students to succeed in their academic programs and progress toward graduation. To prepare a foundation for clear thinking and expression, this program encourages its students to become responsible individuals who combine career competency with cultural awareness and intellectual curiosity. Overall, the First Year courses foster in the student a commitment and responsibility to the UNK community, an energetic, thoughtful approach to the challenges of contemporary life, and an awareness of their place in the global society. In the second year the program doubled its offerings from seven to fourteen sections, including courses in Economics, Education, English, Healthful Living, Speech, Communications, History, Sociology, Psychology, Chemistry, and Physical Education.
- As part of a University of Nebraska-wide initiative commencing in 1999, UNK designated 14 academic programs as campus-wide priorities. Each of these programs was distinguished by demonstrated student demand, outstanding achievements by students and faculty, and direct relationships to the needs of our students, community, and state. These programs have received targeted investments of campus-based and university-wide funds. This investment relates directly to an overarching objective in UNK's strategic plan: to achieve focused excellence in academic programs.