Welcome Back - Fall 2021
Editor’s note: The following message was sent today via email from Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Kimberly Andrews Espy to all faculty:
This week as we begin fall classes, I applaud each of you for your flexibility, patience, and resilience in light of our ever-changing COVID-19 landscape. While it may not feel like a typical first week of classes, we have certainly learned over the last 16+ months that ‘typical’ is not so typical anymore. Still, it is a chance for a new start, and I am optimistic for the possibilities ahead.
Even as the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to affect our operations, including the modified start of the semester, we are always working to ensure a robust UTSA experience for all our students. This semester we welcome a large class of new, accomplished, first-year students who have chosen UTSA to pursue their aspirations. We greet all returning Roadrunners to campus, including welcoming our new faculty to our vibrant academic community. They join an esteemed cadre of faculty who play an integral role in benefitting our students through their accomplishments and innovations in teaching, research and community engagement.
We have much to celebrate, as we begin this new academic year:
- We have launched the Academic Success District, a collection of key physical spaces, resources, and programs that have been made highly visible and easily accessible for students. The Success District includes Advising, Student Success, First-Year and First-Gen programs, dynamic and tech-ready classroom spaces, mentoring programs, and more. These services assist a diverse group of students in various ways – from helping them begin their academic journey, to ensuring they’re successful as they near graduation. I invite you to come and see the renovated and relocated student success spaces during Roadrunner Days at the Academic Success District Open House on Tuesday, Aug. 31.
- You will notice as you return to teaching on campus, that 30 classroom upgrades have been completed with four distinct classroom personas to support flexible pedagogy for enhanced learning.
- A generous $40 million gift from Mackenzie Scott and Dan Jewett will support UTSA’s vision of becoming a model for student success, a great public research university, and an exemplar for strategic growth and innovative excellence. Stay tuned for more information this semester!
- Looking forward, we will continue our efforts as a part of the Equity Advocacy initiative we began last year. Despite the challenges with the pandemic, there is progress to recognize as we continue our forward momentum to create truly inclusive learning environments where our students and all members of the UTSA community can engage and thrive. This upcoming year, the Hispanic Thriving Institution Leadership Council will play an important role in charting the course for next steps.
- UTSA celebrated our graduating students with in-person Commencement ceremonies for the first time since 2019. Many of the 2020 and 2021 graduates enjoyed celebrity treatment in the fun, new tradition of Commencement Drive, a nostalgic parade around Main Campus. With the addition of this spring’s graduating class, the university’s alumni network will now be nearing 150,000 Roadrunners.
- Students received more than $11.7 million in relief funding in June as part of ongoing efforts to support students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which was established through the CARES Act. The fund provides emergency financial aid grants to students who have faced significant unexpected expenses and are experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic with assistance to cover the cost of tuition, food, housing, technology, health care, childcare and course-related expenses.
On the faculty front, just under 40 new full-time faculty joined our ranks. The new faculty bring their talent from a host of prestigious institutions from around the nation and world. Within this cohort, roughly four of five of the tenured and tenure-track faculty received their terminal degrees from Carnegie R1 research institutions and over half from AAU member institutions. Several incoming faculty were hired as a result of the programs that comprise Academic Affairs’ Strategic Faculty Hiringinitiatives. These programs support additional hiring of diverse full-time, tenured and tenure-track faculty who will advance inclusive excellence at UTSA through enhancing student success, research and academic distinction. Five faculty were hired as part of the Clustered and Connected Hiring Program (CCP), a joint effort between Academic Affairs and the Knowledge Enterprise designed to recruit and hire some of the best and brightest minds of diverse backgrounds and experiences in select fields to address some of today’s most significant challenges.
This summer, Academic Affairs offered a slate of new teaching enrichment opportunities through the division of Academic Innovation to support a culture of pedagogical innovation and digital transformation for student learning and success. Over 600 faculty and graduate assistants engaged in development programs offered by Academic Innovation in Summer 2021. In preparation for Fall 2021, 227 faculty participated in five cohorts of the Innovation Academy, 150 faculty participated in the Adobe Institute and 45 participants took part in the Blackboard Ally pilot program to improve digital learning accessibility. More sessions will be offered this fall for those of you who were unable to attend. As a reminder, one-time faculty instruction transition stipends are scheduled to be distributed in the October payroll.
Earlier this month, we announced plans to make a significant investment in our faculty and staff through a comprehensive strategic plan to increase compensation. Our successful efforts to increase enrollment, coupled with the overall positive outcomes of the recent 87th legislative session, offer UTSA a unique opportunity to make this investment in our most important university asset – our people. In total, UTSA will invest more than $14 million in additional compensation throughout fiscal year 2022 through merit increases, increased minimum pay rates and pay scales, and market retention adjustments to address compression.
As we continue to make our way through this pandemic, let me take this opportunity again to strongly urge all Roadrunners to get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public campus spaces to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.
While I am disappointed to postpone the Faculty Convocation, I do look forward to gathering soon, whether virtually or in-person, to mark the start another fruitful academic year at UTSA. Stay tuned for updates on the rescheduled convocation; full details will be forthcoming.
As always, I invite you to share your thoughts by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for everything you do for our students and best wishes for a great semester!