In an era when higher education across the country is in a state that ranges from "worrisome to grim," the University of Utah is progressing in its mission of teaching, conducting research and providing public service, U. President Arthur K. Smith said Friday.
In his annual report to the faculty, Smith recited a discouraging national picture of dwindling government and private financial support for colleges and universities and an atmosphere of lessened credibility and soured attitudes.Despite challenges of its own, the U. "is doing well, partly as a result of the strength of the Utah economy in bucking the national recession, but mostly because of the inherent strength of the institution itself," said Smith, who has completed his first year at the U.'s helm.
Cannot do everything
Smith warned, however, that the university must be judicious in selecting activities over the next few years.
"We know we cannot do everything we might like to do, and those things we choose to do we must do extremely well," he advised.
The university is increasingly recognized for the strength of both undergraduate and research programs and has seen increased contributions from supporters, with donations at an all-time high of $33 million.
Better undergraduate program
Renewed emphasis on the undergraduate program over the past several years is bearing fruit, Smith said. "We are steadily and measurably improving the quality of the undergraduate experience at the University of Utah."
Improvements include upgrading of libraries, increases in staffing and budget allocations aimed at student services and reduction of bottlenecks in course scheduling. Complaints about telephone registration problems fell from 37,000 last year to 16,000 this year - still too many, the president said, but a significant improvement.
Tighter enrollment criteria have cut the U. freshman class by 7 percent, but enrollment pressures still are critical, Smith said. Access to higher education in Utah will remain a challenge. An estimated 4,000 new students will seek admittance each year for the next 10 years - enough to populate a university the size of Southern Utah University, he said. Maintaining quality will require planning and foresight.
"The enrollment problem in Utah is a massive one, and there simply is no easy solution to it," he told faculty members.
Income from research needed
While U. emphasis has been re-focused on undergraduate education, the university also "must plan carefully the direction it will take regarding research in the next 10 years," he said. Income from research bolsters the U. budget, which receives only about 20 percent of its finances from the state.
With the prognostications for state revenues over the foreseeable future looking grim, the university will rely heavily on outside money.
On other topics, Smith's comments included:
- Antitrust allegations. The U. is accumulating bills for legal assistance in an antitrust investigation at the rate of $250,000 per month. The allegations being investigated by the federal Department of Justice center on relationships among physicians in University Hospital, Primary Children's Medical Center and the U. medical school. Despite a $1 million contribution from the 1992 Legislature to cover legal costs, the U. had a $1.1 million balance, Smith said. Money from an endowment account is being used to pay lawyers and it must ultimately be repaid. Smith said his own "careful study" of the antitrust allegations shows no evidence of wrongdoing that could lead to criminal charges.
- Academic calendar. Smith urged the faculty to re-open a discussion of the potential for shifting to a semester system rather than quarters. The issue was last studied in 1986 with a suggestion it be reviewed in a few years. The change would give students longer exposure to fewer courses. The matter is clearly "an educational issue, not an administrative one," Smith told faculty members.
- Faculty salaries. Smith said the university will establish a $50,000 fund to enrich the salaries of outstanding teachers to help close the gap between research salaries and those of classroom standouts. The U. is coming closer to parity with the salaries of comparable institutions, he said, not because of significant increases here, but decreases at those institutions.
- Minority faculty recruitment. Minority representation on the faculty has risen from 5 percent to 6 percent, but more vigorous efforts are being made to further enhance the effort. University recruiters are going into secondary schools, to junior high schools even, to identify and woo potential college students.