Update No. 38 from President Dean

December 21, 2021

Dear Faculty and Staff—

Congratulations on making it to the end of the semester!  This is our third full semester in the COVID era, and I continue to be proud of how all of you have dealt with the challenges of the virus. Despite the very high rate of infection in New Hampshire, we have continued to operate safely on our campuses with extensive vaccination, testing and mask wearing.

Of course, we are monitoring the spread of the omicron variant, and making contingency plans for J-term—which is mostly online—and the spring semester. At this point we plan to do our usual arrival testing and continue the practices that have worked so well to date.  If we see data that indicate our plans need to change, we will let you know as soon as possible. For the spring semester, we will update you in early January about where things stand.

We have been continuing our efforts to improve business processes across campus. The senior leadership team has been meeting weekly to address the concerns that have been raised by faculty and staff. We have benefited from hundreds of detailed inputs from a variety of sources including meetings with individual faculty and staff, the faculty senate’s recent survey and recommendations, focus groups of faculty and staff working on current systems and, most recently, an expanded meeting of the President’s Leadership Council with nearly 100 faculty and staff sharing ideas.

Progress on the issues that have been raised has been steady and includes additional staff in support of research efforts, a new financial dashboard that is published monthly and streamlined processes for hiring. However, there is more to be done and we are committed to getting this right quickly. Several new actions are being initiated based on the recent feedback including a new call center help line, creation of an ombudsman-like service where anonymous concerns and questions can be fielded and introduction of faculty/staff teams and focus groups to test processes and recommend improvements (dozens of faculty and staff are already engaged in this effort with HR and procurement). This effort is critical to all our strategic priorities and your individual/unit success, not just building our financial strength. Through this process improvement effort, we must also improve academic and research excellence and student success and well-being.

I thought I would focus the rest of this update on sharing some good news about the university; we have a great deal to be proud of. 

Hundreds of people in our community received a COVID booster shot at our clinic two Sundays ago. UNH continues to make important contributions to public health in our communities, across New Hampshire and beyond. Our labs have run almost one million tests for the university system, 60 different K-12 schools and long-term care and correctional facilities. We are also doing sequencing to identify variants for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services.

Our alumni continue to be generous in giving to the university. Over 6,000 donors have supported UNH with charitable gifts and commitments this year, totaling $47 million to date, including $3 million for direct student support such as scholarships. Part of the $47 million includes a $25 million bequest from an anonymous alumni couple that will support presidential priorities when it is received by UNH a number of years from now, while $7.5 million has been committed by an anonymous donor in support of the future renovation of Huddleston Hall to house the Honors College.

As you know we aspire to be among the top 25 public universities on a set of important metrics. This year for the first time we are among the top 10 public universities on the U.S. News and World Report Best Value list. At a time when universities are under severe criticism for runaway costs of attendance, our combination of high-quality education and reasonable cost is something for all of us to be proud of.

Finally, our research community continues to do amazing work, and doubled the amount of awards this past year to $260M. I am also happy to report that we have just been redesignated an R1 research institution by the Carnegie Foundation. We remain committed to enhancing our scholarship, creative work and research consistent with this designation. 

I would like to end by wishing all of you happy holidays. I have often been reminded lately of how precious our small moments of peace and happiness are with those we love. I hope that you have many such moments over the holidays.

Warmest wishes,

James W. Dean Jr.

P.S. If you would like to know what books I have been reading recently, please click here.