A wide range of faculty questions and student concerns were addressed at the Provost’s Forum Wednesday afternoon.
The provost and vice president for academic affairs William A. Covino, Ph.D. spoke to over 100 people in attendance. The forum began with Covino providing informational updates and answering questions submitted in advance. The meeting, which stretched for one and a half hours, ended with an open forum for questions from faculty and students.
Covino offered brief details about a student success task force currently working on an initial plan to launch a series of activities that will encourage students to attend and be successful in their courses. He stressed the importance of a system-wide effort for improving graduation rates and student success.
“I will tell you that my overarching priority is student success. This is the mantra that you’re going to hear from me over and over and over again,” Covino said. “I think that our longer-term strategic plan and academic plan needs to reference student success at every turn. And that’s where our focus needs to continue to be.”
In terms of faculty hires, Covino said that Fresno State is only doing five or six faculty searches this year, down drastically from past years. The provost introduced the concept of cohort hiring, explaining that the university might advertise for positions that not only meet the core needs of a department, but also share a common interest to work with colleagues in other departments on educational or research projects. Three faculty members asked for clarification about this process and expressed apprehension about the idea.
Covino responded by identifying the advantages of cohort hiring, stating that it would help the diversity mission of the university and attract faculty to California State University, Fresno.
Political science lecturer Michael Becker said the lack of funding contradicts the premise that teaching and research are the main purpose of the university when faculty cannot even attend conferences in their field.
Becker asked Covino if he would support a policy that would rescind administrative travel to provide money for faculty travel. Covino explained that tenure faculty travel is supported, although not to the degree that he would like.
“I’d add that administrative travel is engaged in for the good of the institution and we are as sensitive as anyone is to budget restraints,” Covino said.
Covino informed the audience that the Blackboard upgrade scheduled for January was postponed until June. He also announced that additional fixes to the e-mail and calendar system, Zimbra, would be performed over the winter break, hoping to have it run faster by the start of the spring semester.
After the meeting, Covino told The Collegian that the mood on Wednesday was very different compared to a similar forum held in October.
“It had a different atmosphere today I think, justifiably, because conditions have worsened and the threat of further fee increases is troubling for all of us,” he said. “So I think there was a good deal more concern expressed about that today.”
Although the information from Covino was mainly directed at faculty, a handful of students came prepared with questions of their own.
Student’s questions ranged from the success of the No Child Left Behind policy to requesting an explanation of how Fresno State student fees are dispersed. One student asked Covino if he would personally engage in civil disobedience to protect the students’ right to an education.
Covino declined to engage in what he referred to as confrontational questioning, but assured the students that he is working hard to support and enhance academic success on campus.
“I’m glad to see [the students] here,” Covino said afterward. “I would hope that they would be less interested in ‘gotcha’ kind of questions than they would be in well-intentioned questions in which we could have a mature dialogue.”