Message from President Cook 9/7/22

Message from President Cook

September 7, 2022

Good afternoon,

I have a few topics to review today, as we get rolling into the semester. First, it’s been great to see so much activity on campus with the start of classes. Katie and I have appreciated going to as many activities as we can, and we have loved meeting with so many students. I want to express my appreciation to all the staff and faculty who have made the students feel welcome.   

I’ve also enjoyed my college visits and the comments and questions posed by faculty and staff members. Though some of our challenges are going to be difficult, I appreciate the sense of participation and passion I’m seeing for the work at NDSU. Much of the conversation in those meetings is around ongoing work in academic prioritization, which continues with deans and the provost. We are having important conversations about transforming NDSU to better serve the future of our students and our state.

Of course, I have continued to meet with student, staff and faculty governance as well, and as part of my continued listening outreach to campus, the first Leadership Assembly will be meeting Sept. 27. This will involve chairs and directors from across campus and will be an interactive opportunity to exchange ideas and information.  More information about this will be coming soon. 

I’ve also been having conversations about the five key focus areas that I outlined a few weeks ago which are aligned with our strategic plan:

  1. Enhancing Enrollment, Retention and Academic Success;
  2. Prioritizing our R-1 Carnegie Classification status;
  3. Investing in the well-being of the people across our NDSU community;
  4. Building a stronger culture of Diversity, Inclusion and Respect; and
  5. Embracing our critical role as a Land Grant University.

I am listening for ideas about how we can help NDSU improve on each of these areas, but I’ve also taken some initial steps on initiatives related to these focus areas that are time sensitive, particularly on matters of enrollment:

  1. Retention. Ensuring that students continue their education through graduation is important for both our students and for NDSU. Over the past few years, NDSU has had impressive improvements in its graduation rates, but further progress is possible.

However, unlike admission, retention does not have a single coordinating office. The burden of retention falls to many different groups, and unfortunately, the decentralized nature of retention can cause a lack of focus.  To help offset this problem, I have appointed University Registrar Phil Hunt to a half time position as Special Assistant to the President, and one of his initial focus areas will be to make an immediate impact by improving student retention.  He will also maintain his position as University Registrar, as the Office of Registration and Records has a critical role in retention.

In addition, I am adding a new council, the President’s Council on Retention. This is an outgrowth of the University Retention Committee, whose work under the leadership of Becky Bahe and Jeff Boyer has elevated the importance of coordinated advising practices and retention activities, and provided thoughtful definitions, goals and recommendations during the 2021-22 academic year. I urge everyone to help with these efforts because improving retention will continue to be a collective effort.    

  1. Enrollment Review. Earlier this summer, we also had a report from a Strategic Enrollment Management consultant who visited with a broad cross section of campus.  His review of our enrollment efforts was useful, and yielded five major actions we are already pursuing:
  1. Reduce/eliminate transfer barriers; better integrate transfer students;
  1. Expand and coordinate advising model; including services like every first-year student gets a success coach;
  1. Address opportunities to increase enrollment/retention of International Students and Graduate Students;
  1. Align academic programs with market demand and workforce needs – online, transfer, degree completion; and
  1. Increase access and support for traditionally underserved students.
  1. Incentivized Budget Model.  Earlier this summer, I initiated a process to redesign the budget model for NDSU.  Our current model needs to be modernized to provide greater incentives for colleges to recruit and retain more students.  In essence, this new budget model will transfer additional academic and college-level budget decisions to the deans while simultaneously providing them with enrollment incentives.  We will also be examining our business services to ensure that they are best aligned with the refreshed model.  The exact nature of the incentive model has not been created, but we have retained Huron Consulting to collaboratively assist NDSU with developing one that is custom-tailored to our needs.  To that end, a steering committee and two working groups have been established that will be working throughout the semester. 
  1. Prioritizing our R-1 Carnegie Classification status.  To elevate the importance of research at NDSU, I am moving the reporting line for the vice president for research directly to my office. It is important that we do everything we can to highlight and advance research at NDSU.

NDSU’s Carnegie R-1 Classification signifies that we are having tremendous success in terms of our very high research activity. It is critical that we maintain this status and incorporate it into our mission as a research university. As a second step towards this priority, I have allocated modest funding to support faculty scholarly endeavors for this fiscal year. The internal proposal process and allocation of the funding will be the charge of a new advisory council to the Office of Research and Creative Activity. The new Faculty Research Council will have representation from each of the colleges. VPR Fitzgerald will work with the Faculty Research Council to carry out this initiative. This funding is a start to providing much needed internal support for faculty and positioning research programs for strategic growth.

Maintaining our R-1 classification will require critical decisions to ensure we grow the dollars that we spend on STEM and non-STEM research, two key metrics determining Carnegie classifications for doctoral universities.

  1. Investing in the well-being of the people across our NDSU community.  Our employees work hard every day to serve the students and the state.  They deserve respect and recognition.  I am committed to working with the NDUS and our legislature to improve our salaries and benefits.  In addition, I want to bring additional awareness and energy to the President’s Council on Campus Wellbeing, which already has a broad mission to support students, staff and faculty. I’ve met with leadership from this council on two occasions and I’m impressed by the large-scale impact of their work. Their plans to develop an employee wellbeing work group will bring together existing efforts with University Police and Safety, Human Resources and other campus partners to further promote and support work/life satisfaction for employees. It is critical that NDSU address personal and family needs. My commitment to these efforts is deep and I look forward to working with the wellness council to this end.
  1. Building a stronger culture of Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect.  To further strengthen our efforts regarding diversity, inclusion and respect, Phil Hunt, in his role as Special Assistant to the President, will be focusing on this area in addition to his efforts on retention (mentioned above). To that end, Phil will be replacing Greg Lardy as Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Diversity, Inclusion and Respect.  I greatly appreciate his willingness to help in these important areas.  Canan Bilen-Green will remain as the other Co-Chair of the Council. 

I purposefully selected Phil Hunt for this role because I want it to dovetail with his retention efforts. I want to help ensure that NDSU is improving its efforts to both enroll and graduate underserved students.

As always, please use the Share Your Ideas link on my website- I’ve received great feedback on a variety of topics through this mechanism, and look forward to continuing to hear your ideas.


David Cook, President


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