North Central Self
Chapter 3: Criterion One
The institution has clear and publicly stated purposes consistent with its
mission and appropriate to an institution of higher education.
Institutional Commitment to Excellence in Teaching and Learning
UNK has been and remains strongly committed to excellence and to constant qualitative improvement, even in stressed fiscal circumstances. As indicated earlier, the strategic plan expressed a firm consensus to seek distinction in undergraduate, residential education, and also to develop focused excellence in the colleges. This presaged, and was reinforced by, the University of Nebraska's Strategic Framework Document, which expressed an aspiration for each campus to achieve top-30 rank among like institutions. The commitment has been sharpened by the University of Nebraska-wide academic prioritization process and by successive budget reduction rounds over the last several years that have concentrated attention on identifying and protecting core capabilities.
Guidance issued in our most difficult times illustrates the primacy we have given to academic excellence. For example, as Nebraska's fiscal crisis deepened in the Summer and Fall of 2001, and the University was required to identify immediate spending reductions, Chancellor Johnston issued planning instructions that declared we would preserve the quality of undergraduate, residential education, strengthen academic program priorities, and maintain our ability to recruit and retain excellent faculty and students. These principles were restated in the Spring of 2002, as a second round of reductions was mandated by further appropriations cuts.
The sustained, strategic commitment to quality has produced demonstrable results.
- UNK continues to recruit and retain exceptional faculty committed to teaching, to students, and to their own learning through active scholarship in their field.
- UNK also continues to attract some of the best and brightest students to campus. This can be documented by reference to consistent and strong ACT scores, by the increasing number and quality of Honors students, by increasing student retention rates and the subsequent number of graduates. In the case of the latter, while enrollment has dropped considerably since the mid-1990's, the number of students awarded degrees has increased slightly.
- Improvements in physical and information technology infrastructure have modernized teaching and learning in every academic building. In several facilities - notably the College of Education Building and the remodeled West Center -- these capabilities are truly cutting-edge.
Perhaps most importantly, UNK's commitment to excellence has been institutionalized since the last NCA Report in a variety of ways directly affecting teaching and learning.
These include the following:
- Pedagogical assistance is now available to faculty through the Center for Teaching Excellence.
- The faculty evaluation system now includes a procedure for systematic post-tenure review (a University of Nebraska-wide initiative).
- The faculty compensation system remains tied, as a matter of policy, to the mid-point of salaries paid by institutional peers, which continues to position UNK well in the national faculty recruitment market. In addition, the collective bargaining agreement (in Article VII and Appendix E of that document) now features a defined merit element enabling UNK to recognize exceptional performance in salary increases.
- Enhanced research assistance for faculty and students is available from the Office of Graduate Studies and Research and the Office of Sponsored Programs. Faculty who have productive research and scholarship programs are often able to obtain reduced teaching loads to facilitate that work.
- Outstanding faculty are recognized in both new and traditional campus and university awards.
- Major undergraduate curriculum innovations have introduced writing and cultural diversity segments to UNK general education, as well as a major pilot program deploying a first-year experience.
- Selected graduate programs have been added and/or strengthened in areas of noted strength and opportunity. Others have been consolidated or eliminated.
- The Undergraduate Research Council has been formed to provide support, encouragement and direction to this key component of a UNK undergraduate education.
Importantly, UNK has developed systematic procedures assessing teaching and learning (see previous discussion and chapter 5) - and also evaluating a variety of other operations and student services. Feedback from these mechanisms routinely influences personnel and program decisions.
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