North Central Self Study
Chapter 7: Criterion 5
The Institution demonstrates integrity in its practices and relationships.
Since joining the University of Nebraska System, UNK, forced to review its fundamental values as an educational system, has established new commitments and expectations. This chapter reviews (1) the ways in which the University of Nebraska at Kearney has articulated its fundamental values, commitments, and expectations, (2) the processes it has developed to ensure that its actions and those of its employees align with those standards, and (3) major indicators that UNK has remained firmly committed to declared principles. The discussion demonstrates that institutional norms have indeed shaped plans, programs, and operations. It also reveals that UNK endeavors continuously to deliver to all constituencies what its mission statement and core values promise.
Essential Norms: Institutional Values and Commitments
The Fundamentals: Mission and Plan
UNK's core values, stated most broadly, appear in the institution's mission statement and strategic plan. These have been reviewed in detail elsewhere in this self-study, but the following summary will outline the promise UNK has extended systematically to all students, employees, and citizens of Nebraska.
Prominently publicized to all constituencies in the catalogue, in the strategic plan, and on the website, UNK's mission statement declares its core institutional values, which include:
- a commitment to be Nebraska's premier institution for undergraduate education, emphasizing excellence in teaching, scholarship, and service;
- a learning environment grounded in principles of academic freedom and responsibility;
- opportunities to learn by associating with others in a diverse community and a residential context.
UNK's strategic plan further identifies the programmatic and operational characteristics the institution will seek to preserve, in light of that mission. Prominent among these are:
- a faculty dedicated to students' success as individual learners
- a strong general studies curriculum
- centers of excellence in the colleges
- a diverse faculty and student body
- broad student developmental opportunities outside the classroom
In addition, the plan emphasizes a key leadership and planning responsibility:
Faculty, staff, and administrators of the University of Nebraska at Kearney are dedicated to uphold the trust Nebraskans have placed in this public institution: to use the state's resources wisely in achieving educational, research, and service objectives. They therefore design and manage the University's programs in accordance with high standards of fiscal responsibility, academic excellence, and public accountability.
The policies and programs deployed to achieve UNK's mission and execute the strategic plan are described and widely publicized. They appear in the following:
- The undergraduate and graduate catalogs,
- The UNK website,
- Marketing and student recruitment materials,
- A variety of media published for internal and external audiences
Through participatory governance procedures, described elsewhere in this study, UNK develops and evaluates programs to ensure their continued alignment with core norms. The Board of Regents in open, public meetings reviews and adjusts the core university and campus policies, especially those affecting university constituents.
Particulars: Expectations and Guiding Principles
As just indicated, in defining essential values and characteristics of the institution, UNK's mission statement and strategic plan establish core imperatives for UNK leaders, faculty, and staff. Within the framework of public commitments, these documents outline more specific commitments in prominent University wide and campus based policies. These imperatives have importantly shaped the ways in which UNK is organized and operates.
Governance. The Bylaws and Policies of the Board of Regents assign formal leadership responsibilities and authority within the University of Nebraska and at UNK. At the campus level, the governance system, so established, identifies institutional decision-making and functional focal points. In addition, it also prescribes consultative dynamics; that is, processes by which affected constituencies may meaningfully participate in governance. Important features of collaborative decision-making include provisions for college, faculty, and student self-government. With respect to faculty, moreover, the UNKEA contract specifies important consultation requirements on matters subject to collective bargaining. As previous chapters have outlined, decision-making practice at UNK is regularly and systematically collaborative and participatory. This has been so even when the situation is pressure-packed, as in budget reduction processes over the last several years.
Principles of Academic Community. University of Nebraska Regental policy declares and dedicates the University to core principles of academic responsibility and freedom. Principles of academic responsibility regulate the conduct of all members of the UNK community, who are enjoined:
- to respect the dignity and rights of other individuals and of the academic community
- to teach and evaluate students without regard to considerations of age, sex, race, national origin and by encouraging free inquiry and expression
- to present courses as they are described to students and approved for the curriculum, and to inform students in each class of the requirements, standards, objectives, and evaluation procedures
- to examine ways to improve course content and pedagogy
- to meet published class and advising schedules
- to participate in student advising and public service
- to create and protect a climate of intellectual honesty
Principles of academic freedom commit the university to the search for truth and to the dynamics of free intellectual inquiry and discussion essential to that pursuit. Classroom teachers are entitled to freedom in discussing their subjects. Teachers and researchers may conduct their studies and publish the results, limited only by the precepts of scholarship and faithful performance of academic obligations. (See UNK Faculty Handbook: Expectations for teaching)
Standards of Conduct. For UNK employees, the principles of academic responsibility surveyed above compose a general code of conduct. In addition, these standards have been elaborated in the Rules and Procedures of the Professional Conduct Committee: an entity established by the Bylaws of the Board of Regents and administered by the UNK Faculty Senate. The Committee has jurisdiction to hear matters involving the conduct of all professional staff. These standards appear both in the UNK faculty handbook and on the UNK website. In addition, the University of Nebraska employee manual identifies standards regarding job performance and other policies governing specific areas, including sexual harassment and drug/alcohol use.
For students, as for employees, the principles of academic responsibility form the core of a broad code of conduct. Students are responsible to create and support an educational environment and to respect the dignity and rights of others. (University of Nebraska Board of Regents Policy 5.0) In addition, the UNK Student Code of Conduct (as revised and approved by the Board of Regents in June, 2003), provides detailed conduct rules and regulations applicable to all students. Further regulations, designed to maintain a healthy and orderly community life on campus, govern student conduct in the residence halls. Student conduct regulations are collected and published in the Student Handbook.
Standards regarded as key to ensuring a premier learning environment and workplace include:
- Commitment to equal opportunity and nondiscrimination in recruitment, selection, employment, transfer, promotion, demotion, training, and pay of employees. The injunction that merit will be the criterion by which qualifications for appointment, retention, or promotion are judged accompanies this regulation. (BL 3.0, U of N employment policies and practices manual, and B & F Policies and procedures Manual 188.8.131.52 )
- Specific rules regarding alcohol and illicit drugs. (U of N employee manual and Drug Free Workplace policies at the Human Resources website.)
- Prohibition of sexual harassment in the workplace (or elsewhere if the conduct affects the workplace). (University of Nebraska employment manual and policies collected at the AA/EEO website.)
- Explicit conflict of interest rules are designed to ensure that university personnel perform their functions without influence by considerations of personal interest. (Bylaws Section 3.8 and 1.10.1; RP 1.1.2.)
- Related rules also ensure that links with industry, government agencies, and other entities and individuals outside the university are structured and operated with safeguards against the use of public funds for private gain, conflicts of interest or commitment, and interference with university duties. ( RP 3.2.8. RP 184.108.40.206.)
In addition, as a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, UNK operates its intercollegiate athletics program under principles, rules, and regulations promulgated by that organization. That regulatory framework guides the activities of administrators, coaches, and student athletes. The NCAA Division II philosophy, in particular, highlights:
- the academic development of students
- strong institutional control of athletics programs
- integration of the athletics experience into the total educational mission
These principles are ratified as well in the constitution of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, of which UNK has been a member since July 1, 1996.
Standards of Job Performance. UNK's mission, fundamental commitments, and essential norms have been expressed in a variety of policies that shape both management approaches and operational conduct.
- The primacy of good teaching is codified in the criteria for faculty tenure and promotion. Under these criteria, performance in teaching is paramount, and all faculty seeking promotion or tenure must provide evidence of good teaching. The range of such indicators, defined broadly, includes the full spectrum of faculty interaction with students and efforts to improve pedagogy.
- Similarly, scholarship is defined broadly to include all conventional categories of research and creative activity. Promotion and tenure standards note clearly that scholarship is inherent in teaching and is expected of all faculty. These standards further note that the special kind of scholarship that advances knowledge through refereed publications may be an expectation of faculty in particular assignments. Apart from such cases, the expectation is that faculty will be able to demonstrate scholarship that advances teaching and service. This aligns with the institution's role and mission
- Procedures for annual faculty evaluations, which require that every course be evaluated every semester, assures student input into the quality of teaching.
- UNK has established formal mechanisms to encourage and regulate research in principled fashion. The Research Services Council administers a variety of programs to support faculty and student research. The Office of Sponsored Programs manages a continuing program of assistance for faculty seeking external support for research. The Institutional Review Board, a campus-wide entity, oversees investigations involving human subjects. Moreover, the UNK Graduate Council developed a Policy Statement on Integrity in Faculty/Student Authorship and Research. The Statement not only incorporates disciplinary standards where they exist, but also declares generally-applicable principles concerning ethical conduct in research, writing and artistic endeavors.
- Merit pay and practice reflect UNK's commitment to a culture of workplace excellence. For faculty these are described in the UNKEA contract and associated guidelines that outline criteria for awards recognizing exceptional performance. For staff the practice is codified in guidance for annual staff salary increases and the underlying personnel evaluation system.
- "At will" employment principles and general job performance standards are outlined in the University of Nebraska Employee Policy Manual. These describe an employment relationship based on mutual respect and consent, in which employees are responsible for meeting reasonable standards of performance and conduct at work, and supervisors are responsible for providing leadership that makes such performance and conduct possible.
Business/Financial Management and Contractual Oversight. As a state institution, the University of Nebraska at Kearney is subject to the rules and regulations established for all state agencies regarding business affairs and financial management. Board of Regents Bylaws and policies also provide specific standards regarding these activities. UNK's Division of Business and Finance has published a policies and procedures manual (on file in the Resource Room) that highlights the campus's commitment to financial responsibility and public accountability. It includes:
- a code of ethics for purchasing
- a commitment to generally accepted accounting procedures for financial transactions
- a guide to employees, designed to ensure regularized compliance with applicable law, regulations, and policies
The Vice Chancellor for Business and Finance, as the institution's chief business officer, is the principal staff officer responsible for day-to-day monitoring of UNK's fiscal integrity.
In addition, in 2003 the Board of Regents formed an audit committee, specifically charged to apply in the university setting lessons recently learned in the corporate sector concerning financial reporting, internal controls, and accountability. While the strategic agenda of this committee has not taken detailed shape, it is expected to develop new practices that support external auditors and require comprehensive internal assessment of factors affecting the institution's fiscal stability.
The University Board of Regents Bylaws and Policies govern UNK's contractual relations and campus procedures contained in the Business and Finance Policy manual. These specify authority and responsibility with respect to advertising of contracting opportunities and negotiation, approval, and execution of contracts. (Regental Policy 6.3.) In general, the system assigns control of these arrangements to campus business officers, acting through subordinate purchasing officers and in coordination with the Vice President for Finance in Varner Hall. University of Nebraska Executive Memoranda, issued by the University President, provide additional guidance on such matters as levels of approval authority and equal opportunity in procurement and contracts. UNK's Vice Chancellor for Business & Finance has promulgated implementing guidance in that Division's policies and procedures manual.
Relationships with other Institutions. Within the University of Nebraska, relationships with other campuses are structured by policies, rules, and procedures established by the Board of Regents and administered by the President through the University Vice Presidents. These relationships are founded on the One University precept: each campus, having a differentiated mission, combines and collaborates with the others to serve the state efficiently. Intra-University policies elaborating this system are published in Regents Bylaws and Policies. Working links that make these principles operational include inter-campus contacts among chief academic officers, chief business officers, and chief student affairs officers. Such contacts are also common among administrative professionals; for instance, information technology, admissions, and student records/registration officers often confer. In addition, UNK frequently participates in collaborative academic programs with other state universities and colleges.
Within the Nebraska higher education community, the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education has developed a broad framework of expectations and responsibility based on sector and institutional missions. In its open and regular meetings the Commission evaluates programs and program proposals according to an institution's mission.
As with any university, UNK must necessarily maintain relationships with several educational entities. Each of these is structured and codified as in the following:
- Articulation agreements with community colleges facilitate the transferability of students' work to UNK. The Registrar organizes and controls this process.
- The UNK Admissions Office also has established productive working relationships with community colleges, including a program of admitting, advising, and enrolling transfer students during special on-site visits at their locations.
- The Office of Admissions also maintains contacts - and an annual visitation program -- with high schools throughout Nebraska and in neighboring states.
- The College of Education also works systematically with high schools in placing student teachers and in consulting on a variety of issues.
- As indicated above, the NCAA and the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference govern intercollegiate athletic activity. In these organizations, and according to regularized procedures, UNK has been active with other member institutions in a variety of governance roles. Both organizations have explicit policy frameworks that regulate conduct and highlight unifying principles. Chief among the guiding principles is the proposition that the welfare and academic progress of students comes before all other considerations.
- Various academic programs maintain productive evaluation contacts with accreditation agencies.
- Certain academic programs also maintain formalized connections with partners that provide important curriculum support, especially for disciplines requiring practical or "apprenticeship" experience. For example, our radiologic technology program has links with health care providers that enable students to acquire hands-on practical experience as part of their professional preparation.
- The University of Nebraska Foundation coordinates all fundraising within the University of Nebraska. Campuses coordinate programs and relationships with donors, through the Foundation. The Foundation has a satellite office in Kearney, led by a Foundation Vice President who works closely with all campus units. The Foundation manages all donated funds in accordance with generally accepted standards and procedures.
- Although each college has developed communication and support networks with their graduates, the Alumni Office manages alumni connections for UNK.
- Interactions with state agencies (e.g., the Unicameral) are often managed by or through Varner Hall, but UNK also maintains productive working contacts with a number of those offices. In addition, campus officials are involved with a variety of local government and civic leadership agencies on a continuing basis. Current links include membership on the Kearney City Council, the Kearney Planning Commission, the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and the Buffalo County Economic Development Council, the Kearney Board of Education, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Board, and others.
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