April 4, 2018

Highlight of Accomplishments, Disappointments and Vision for the Future

[2018-APR-06]

When I arrived at Mason almost four years ago, I was thrilled by the opportunity to serve one of the most dynamic public universities in the nation. I was inspired by Mason’s Strategic Plan, which describes an innovative, diverse, entrepreneurial, and accessible institution of higher education that values collaboration, learning, and social engagement. Most of all, I was invigorated by the extraordinary opportunity awaiting Mason: the opportunity to embrace a holistic and high-impact approach toward learning, to take on socially relevant scholarly challenges, and to partner with Northern Virginia’s vibrant network of public and private sector organizations. I felt that Mason is offered a canvas of innovation at a scale and intensity that few institutions in the U.S. can rival.

As I prepare to renew my commitment as Provost and Executive Vice President, my enthusiasm for Mason has only grown. I am privileged to interact and engage with some of the most talented and dedicated educators, scholars and professionals I have ever encountered in my 32 years in academia. Despite the climate of challenging financial and resource constraints, the enthusiastic pursuit of becoming the best university for the world did not abate; it only grew stronger.

Under President Cabrera’s leadership, Mason continues to be one of the most innovative and inclusive public research universities in the nation. For each of the past four years, Mason welcomed a larger, more diverse and academically stronger undergraduate class. Reversing a five-year decline, we have seen robust graduate enrollment growth over the past two years as well. At the same time, Mason joined the most distinguished group of tier-one research universities in the U.S., and we are experiencing significant growth in multidisciplinary research and extramural research support. I am excited about our ambitious vision of providing high-quality education for all while creating world-class research to fuel innovation and social change.

HIGHLIGHT OF ACHIEVEMENTS 2014-18

 I started my first year as Provost getting acquainted with the Mason community, hosting over 50 faculty/staff town hall meetings and campus events with alumni, students, and university supporters, while making over 50 personal visits with community groups and business leaders. These engagements grounded me in understanding the challenges and aspirations of our community as well as the expectations from our stakeholders. During this time, the university was facing severe, consecutive year, budget cuts from the Commonwealth; I started a major administrative initiative to consolidate the Office of the Provost into four functional teams with a streamlined organization. The two-year reorganization set the foundation for a budget reduction that resulted in over $9 million savings annually, shielding academic units from more severe budget reductions while generating the resources needed for major reforms. These included revamping the enrollment management processes, restructuring research administration, creating incentive-based academic budget systems, investing in academic core/faculty support resources, launching multidisciplinary research and curricular initiatives, and rebuilding an energetic and collaborative senior leadership team.

Working in concert with the president, we set annual goals aligning with the Strategic Plan to position Mason’s future as a comprehensive research university with a commitment to educational innovation and access. My senior team and I collaborated with faculty leadership, academic deans, and the Board of Visitors to achieve these goals. Over the past few years, I have focused my efforts on four main areas: (1) fostering academic excellence and student success, (2) elevating multidisciplinary research and scholarship, (3) championing faculty success and professional development, and (4) strengthening academic resources and administration. A highlight of our accomplishments in these areas is summarized as follows.

Foster Academic Excellence and Student Success

The Provost’s role, first and foremost, is to promote and elevate quality academic programs. Mason’s push to expand access and increase academic excellence makes us unique among our peers. Mason faculty have created an incredibly rich repertoire of innovative learning programs, from undergraduate research to myriad forms of civic engagement. Over the past few years, my colleagues and I have focused on developing a robust framework for curricular innovation while making its outcome easily accessible. Ongoing initiatives like Mason Impact and Student Experience Redesign focus on creating purposeful learning experiences while aligning support services to afford all students the opportunity to enrich their education. Our goal is to ensure, in the process of Mason’s remarkable growth, we continue to deliver the highest quality academic programs and experiences for our students.

In the rapidly changing world of higher education, Mason is both responding to workforce demands and shaping educational innovation for the future. To this end, my senior team and I have been active in formulating educational alliances for community college guided pathways, online graduate programs, and state-wide network for adult degree completion.

We were able to make significant progress in the following areas:

Promoting Curricular Innovation

  • Charged a university-wide faculty committee to design the conceptual and functional frameworks that stimulate and reward multidisciplinary, experiential and integrative learning in all programs through research, field work, internships and service learning. This work laid the curricula foundation for the Mason Impact
  • Developed Mason Impact initiative focusing on high-impact learning experiences, based on Mason’s rich collection of innovative learning platforms: Research and Discovery, Global Education, Entrepreneurship and Civic Engagement. A common thread across the four themes reflects Mason’s collective commitment: to make real impact for the world.
  • Commenced the Curriculum Impact Workshop and funded 16 multidisciplinary faculty teams with the first Curriculum Impact Grants. The annual faculty-organized workshop and seed grant program will continue to support curricular and co-curricular innovation.

Launching Student Experience Redesign

  • Launched university-wide initiative to re-envision support and services for Mason’s diverse student population. The initiative has sparked broad conversations across the university about what the ideal Mason student experience should include. Surveys, interviews, and data analysis helped shape the initial dialogue, which evolved into collaborative action plans.
  • Formulated six task forces: 24/7 Student Access, Culture of Service, Data-Driven Relationship Management, First-Year Student Care Network, Student Voice and Student Initiation Experience. The teams have been working to build goals and form action plans. Each progressive year will include analysis, evaluation, and adjustment according to feedback from students about the quality of their experience.
  • Success will be defined as generating a long-lasting sense of belonging and pride among our students as well as improving core enrollment metrics, such as retention and graduation rates.

Building Educational Alliances

  • Initiated multifaceted partnership with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) constituting comprehensive collaborations. This led to the ADVANCE initiative, an innovative new transfer model that provides streamlined pathways to programs and degrees, specifically designed to eliminate curricular and administrative obstacles between the institutions.
  • Developed and implemented a comprehensive plan for online graduate programs. After significant engagement via my senior team, deans and faculty representatives, a third-party partner, Wiley Education Services, was selected. The partnership keeps Mason focused on its education mission while partnering with Wiley on nonacademic support services. Under the agreement, Mason provides the programs, courses, faculty and academic support. Wiley supports these programs, courses and faculty through marketing research and materials, student recruitment and technological support.

Strengthening Student Enrollment and Retention Outcomes

  • Reengineered the enrollment management, admissions and financial aid processes. Since the Fall of 2014, the university has grown by 7.4%, from 33,791 to 36,297 (+2,506.)  There have been large gains in the number of undergraduate students driving this growth, a 13.3% increase (2,984).
  • Started to grow graduate enrollment over the past two years, after five consecutive years of decline. However, the number of graduate students is still3% below the 2014 level.  In Spring 2018, Mason launched its first cohort of online (Wiley) graduate programs, which are expected to further reverse this trend.  Enrollment goals were exceeded for these new programs in their first semester and a new slate of graduate programs are already lined up for future terms.  Mason occupies a stronger position in the marketplace now than it did three years ago, and the number of new students (undergraduate and graduate) that Mason welcomes each year has grown to 10,543, an increase of 8%.
  • The number of non-resident students pursuing their education at Mason has grown by 15.7% since 2014, growing from 6,234 to 7,213 (+979). Included in those numbers are large gains in the number of international students, growing from 2,357 in Fall 2014 to 3,525 in Fall 2017 (+49.6%).  New partnerships, technology and tuition strategies have been implemented to drive non-resident enrollment in the coming years.
  • Persistence and graduation rates continue to improve over this same period as well.  Freshmen to Sophomore retention has improved from 87.2% in 2014 to 87.8% in the Fall of 2017.  The six-year graduation rate improved from 67.2% for the class entering in 2008 to 70.8% for the class entering in 2011.  Importantly, there continues to be little or no disparity between Pell recipients, African- and Hispanic-American students, and Mason’s majority students within these metrics.

Elevate Multidisciplinary Research and Scholarship

Mason’s mission goes far beyond the dissemination of knowledge to the creation and appropriation of new knowledge. While academic traditions have taken a path of growing specialization and fragmentation, multidisciplinary collaboration is more likely to produce research that fuels innovation and social change.  Through collaboration, faculty teams are compelled to integrate their perspectives, concepts and methods to advance fundamental understanding and to solve complex, multi-faceted problems. As Provost, my senior team and I have been working to strengthen and enrich Mason’s culture for scholarly collaboration; we realigned and restructured research organization, built/enhanced vital research infrastructure and facilities, and enhanced research and learning experiences for a diverse, growing and high-quality graduate student community. In addition, we expanded research support at individual, team and center-scale levels, while building critical alliances and partnerships with external organizations to take Mason’s research impact to a new level.

In 2016, Mason achieved the highest Carnegie research classification; this highlights the importance of building both internal and external alliances that leverage the university’s diverse research expertise while taking its research productivity to a new level. We were able to make significant progress in the following areas: 

Restructuring Leadership and Organization

  • Recruited Vice President for Research; worked with faculty committee and academic leadership to renew Mason’s research vision, realigned the organizational and functional support structure for long-term growth in research
  • Launched the Provost’s Multidisciplinary Research Initiative: hosted annual research symposia on topics of multidisciplinary interest (e.g., health, security, data analytics, opioid epidemic), implemented multidisciplinary seed grants along with an open peer-review process. The program is already bearing fruit: early successes include a 10-year Center of Excellence grant from the Department of Homeland Security, for which faculty from six academic areas collaborate on thwarting transnational crime.
  • Worked with a faculty-led team to develop the concept and structure for the Institute for Biohealth Innovation (IBI). The multidisciplinary institute has since received continuing Commonwealth appropriation, provided a service and facility umbrella for several research centers, and served as a conduit for research/clinical partnership with the Inova and UVA Health Systems.

Strengthening Community/Research Alliances

  • Supported research and innovation programs across the university that make direct impact on our community. For instance, the Mason Community Arts Academy brought university-quality arts instruction to the community through innovative classes in music, theater, visual art, dance and creative technology, as well as special events and programs for teacher education and enrichment. In 2017, Mason faculty created a new Mason and Partners (MAP) inter-professional clinic serving the uninsured, immigrant, and refugee communities in Prince William and Fairfax Counties. Staffed by students from various disciplines, the new clinic joins other MAP clinics to provide free health care, school physicals, screenings and mental health services for vulnerable populations in low income and medically underserved areas.
  • Strengthened partnerships with IT and cybersecurity industries in Washington, such as Northrop Grumman, MITRE, BAE Systems, etc. to support cybersecurity education and research programs. Mason received major state funding to establish a veterans’ pathway program in cybersecurity.
  • Facilitated a comprehensive partnership with Inova Health System and the University of Virginia to jointly create the Global Genomics and Bioinformatics Research Institute (GGBRI). Supported by the commonwealth, the mission of the Institute focused on: (1) research generating fundamental knowledge and integrating disciplines such as genomics, functional biology, bioengineering, bioinformatics and clinician scientists; (2) dissemination of discoveries for the public benefit; and (3) enabling scientific collaborations that have potential for commercialization and/or licensing.

Creating Innovation/Entrepreneurship Platforms

  • Engaged regional partners in entrepreneurship and economic development in Arlington, Prince William, and Fairfax Counties.
  • Recruited Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; created Entrepreneurship@Mason, a university-wide platform including physical space, leadership, and programs. Consolidated and restructured key campus functions in technology transfer, Mason Enterprise Center and entrepreneurship education/research.
  • Launched Mason Innovation Exchange (MIX), a collaborative space for students to experiment with creativity, learning and entrepreneurial skill development. Completed planning and implementation for a large-scale 20,000 sq. ft. MIX space in 2017 to support cross-disciplinary entrepreneurial activity for students, faculty and alumni.

Champion Faculty Success and Professional Development

Faculty are at the intellectual core of the university; dramatic changes in how we disseminate and create new knowledge challenge us to reimagine ways faculty may enhance student learning while advancing research and service missions of the university. As Provost, my commitment has been to nourish and strengthen Mason’s faculty core, dedicating effort toward providing an inclusive campus climate for tenure-track/tenured, term and adjunct faculty, recognizing faculty excellence, enhancing professional development opportunities, improving academic and research productivity, cultivating academic leadership, and implementing policies and practices that support faculty growth. At the same time, we designed and implemented a new financial framework to help academic units to fortify their intellectual and academic core.

Creating Institutional Focus on Faculty Success

  • Created the Office of Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Development to support faculty across all career stages and types of appointment: tenure-track/tenured, term, adjunct; drive consistency and transparency in renewal, tenure, and promotion processes; clarify faculty roles and incentives through college/school faculty workload guidelines; identify dedicated resources supporting teaching and learning as well as faculty research; strengthen faculty support and retention, particularly for faculty of underrepresented minority; and, celebrate and recognize noteworthy academic achievements.

 Charging the Adjunct Faculty Task Force

  • Engaged the adjunct faculty community to identify faculty needs and make recommendations for improving critically important areas supporting adjunct faculty success, and deliver comprehensive annual report on progress towards stated goals;
  • Task force conducted extensive survey in 2015-16, analyzed the results and recommended key actions to the provost. Subsequently, the Office of the Provost implemented a series of policies in support of the recommendations and formed a standing Adjunct Faculty Committee to address ongoing issues. The standing committee is co-chaired by an academic dean and an elected adjunct faculty member, who provide reports and recommendations to the provost.

Charging the Term Faculty Task Force

  • Appointed, in collaboration with the Faculty Senate, a Term Faculty Task Force to examine issues affecting term faculty at Mason. The task force was charged to identify challenges and advancement opportunities for term faculty, as well as generate recommendations to address those challenges and opportunities.
  • Task force interviewed department heads within local academic units and researched promising practices from other institutions nationally to inform their recommendations.
  • In 2018, task force invited term faculty to complete a survey to inform further recommendations. Response data has been analyzed and will be shared at a town hall for feedback. 

Enhancing Faculty Engagement and Shared Governance

  • Initiated a formalized process for direct faculty and department chair engagement: established a Chairs Executive Committee and restructured regular meetings with all chairs to focus on dialogues and idea exchange; created several new forms of engagement with the faculty, including 40+ faculty breakfasts with the provost, attended college/school faculty meetings, and spoke regularly at student events and programs. In 2018, started the process of visiting 65+ academic departments and divisions.
  • Developed and implemented a 360 Deans and Senior Staff Reappointment Evaluation Process to reinforce the culture of collaboration and accountability. The process provides transparency and guidelines for the annual review and reappointment, while offering faculty and staff a robust channel to provide feedback and critical evaluation.
  • Developed college/school performance metrics in synchronization with Strategic Plan The metrics, focusing on academic performance and quality, are incorporated into dean’s annual and reappointment review processes.
  • Hosted retreats for the development of College/School Faculty Workload Guidelines in collaboration with all academic Deans, which provide consistency and transparency for faculty workload and professional development.
  • Hosted open town halls, faculty/chairs/deans councils, and one-on-one meetings to engage and address questions/concerns of the faculty, the department chairs, and the deans regarding the new budget model implementation process (some in collaboration with SVP).

Strengthen Academic Resources and Administration

The pace and scale of Mason’s growth can seem overwhelming at times as it puts greater demands on our faculty, staff, and infrastructure. But as we grow in size, it is important that

we are also rising to the challenge of meeting those demands by aligning our resources and administration with our strategic goals: to transform and innovate through teaching and learning, and to leverage our advances in research, discovery, and creative activities. As Provost, my priorities have been to introduce an incentive budget system, to build a committed academic leadership team, and to promote a collaborative institutional structure and culture. The incentive budget system moves central resources closer to local academic units, fortifying their intellectual and academic core. The leadership team cultivates the environment that promotes teaching and scholarship excellence, and a collaborative culture helps diverse members of our community thrive. 

Developing and Implementing an Incentive Budget System

  • Formulated the conceptual framework, in partnership with the SVP in Finance and Administration, for an incentive-aligned financial model. The model rewards academic innovation; resources are managed closer to local academic units so that they are poised to respond to student demands, while creating flexibility in faculty roles and rewards to support strategic plan initiatives.
  • Completed stage-one implementation of the incentive budget model. Worked closely with academic deans to communicate and gain buy-in for the model; hosted multiple retreats and town hall meetings to address issues and answer questions. Stage two implementation will include a multidisciplinary program model and a research indirect (F&A) return model.

Building Collaborative Senior Leadership: Mason’s future success relies on the ability of its academic leadership to foster collaboration and to align with institutional strategy and priorities. Over a two-year period, I embarked on a process of organizational consolidation and streamlining, then rebuilt a senior leadership team through internal, national and international searches. Almost all senior leadership positions were filled through restructuring or replacement.

  • Vice President for Research
  • Vice President for Enrollment Management
  • Vice President for Academic Innovation and New Ventures
  • Associate Vice President for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
  • Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Development
  • Associate Provost for Finance and Administration
  • Associate Provost for Institutional Research & Assessment
  • Dean, Antonin Scalia Law School (School named in 2016)
  • Dean, Schar School of Policy and Government (School named in 2016)
  • Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts
  • Dean, School of Business
  • Dean, College of Health and Human Services
  • Dean, College of Humanities and Social Sciences (ongoing)
  • Executive Director for Mason Learning Solutions
  • Executive Director for Academic Innovation
  • Director for Global Education Office
  • Director for International Enrollment Partnerships
  • Director for Office of Digital Learning
  • George Mason University Korea
    • President
    • Dean of Academic Affairs
    • Dean of Administration
    • Executive Director for Admissions & Enrollment
    • Chief Financial Officer and Controller

Promoting a Collaborative Culture: The main focus has been to streamline the Provost’s operations to eliminate redundancy and organizational silos to create mission-focused cross-functional teams that are effective, synergistic, and collaborative. Establishing a new cultural norm required constant and active team engagement with several hundred staff members, as well as active communication with faculty, department chairs and deans. For example, I restructured the Global Strategy Office by eliminating the VP position while integrating its key functions into existing operational units: Global Education Office (GEO), International Enrollment, and International Programs and Services. 

DISAPPOINTMENTS

Transitions in a large number of senior leadership positions coupled with consecutive years of budget cuts, stagnant compensation, with simultaneous growth in institutional scope and scale, created stress and pressure across our campus communities. I have received extensive feedback stressing the need to address faculty morale and increase transparency in decision making. Although I recognized and devoted serious attention to faculty and staff communication and engagement, I have yet to overcome the communications challenges inherent to an institution of our size and complexity. This is an area to which I am committing significant effort and attention. I have a few initial ideas in mind, and I am open to suggestions from the Mason community:

  • I believe interactions and exchanges in a small group settings is the most effective. I have started the process of visiting faculty in all academic departments and divisions, and I will continue these engagements for the foreseeable future. These visits provide opportunities for open and direct dialogue.
  • Ideas can be sharpened and improved when clearly expressed and debated. I intend to initiate multiple forums of direct communication with the campus community focusing on specific topics of interest. These may take the form of a monthly blog followed by solicited comments and feedbacks, a provost-facilitated panel discussion with faculty holding different perspectives on an issue, or hosting other similar forms of communications and dialogues.
  • Critical institutional decisions require greater faculty participation. I intend to formulate additional advisory councils with strong faculty representation. Similar to what we have formulated in the adjunct and term faculty task forces, and the recently formed Advisory Council for Academic Innovation and New Ventures, these advisory councils draw on perspectives from faculty, staff and senior administrators to inform better decision making and shared governance.

VISION FOR THE FUTURE

This is an extraordinary time at Mason as we emerge to be a comprehensive research university engaging in the challenges and opportunities facing our nation and our world. Together, our faculty, staff and students are creating a unique institutional culture that is innovative, diverse, entrepreneurial and accessible.

I view my role as Provost to be primarily that of an educator. My passion is to nurture students into multi-dimensional thinkers and leaders with keen judgment, humility and a confidence to think outside of the box. I believe in shaping and creating an educational community with those constructs that allow young adults to grow into innovators and inspiring leaders with the ability to make a meaningful contribution to the organizations and systems that impact our lives. To cultivate true innovators and inspiring leaders, I believe we must enrich our students with multiple paradigms of thinking from diverse fields of study, building upon deep-rooted disciplinary competencies while providing them with the necessary educational community to support and enrich their endeavors.

Moving forward, I am committed to cultivating a diverse, stimulating and intellectually collaborative environment for students, faculty and staff. It is this stimulating environment and the aura of creativity that attracts the most talented people to work and to flourish. It is the creative and energized people that garner support from the alumni, friends and society at large, ultimately advancing the mission of the institution.

Over the past few years, Mason’s growth has put great demands on our faculty, staff, and infrastructure. Working closely with senior academic leaders, the SVP and the finance, administration and facilities team, we are putting together a Smart Growth plan, rising to the challenge of meeting future demands by growing our capacity and aligning our resources and administration with our strategic goals. We are at an early stage of this endeavor and it started with a campus-wide engagement process. The town hall meetings in the fall and early spring yielded significant feedback and suggestions from the faculty and staff, and the process of engagement will expand to include advisory councils and other forums.

With Mason’s significant enrollment growth and expanding diversity, our students are challenging us more than ever to create an accessible, innovative and inclusive learning environment where all members of the university community are welcomed, valued and supported. With that in mind, our priority is to reinforce Mason’s academic core to create enriching and transformative learning experiences for our students, and cultivate vibrant new environments for higher learning by leveraging our capacity as a Carnegie tier-one research university and aligning our intellectual core for high-impact research and scholarship.

Building and Expanding the Academic Core

We must continue to strengthen our academic core as Mason continues to grow. The university now serves 36,000 students, and over the next few years we are likely to grow even larger, more diverse and academically stronger. Our incentive budget model and the Smart Growth plan will create a resource and financial framework that fortifies our intellectual and academic core. Along with the growth in enrollment, we are expected to add 500 or more new full-time faculty members whose areas of expertise will complement and build on the remarkable talents in our faculty core. As we grow in size, we must also rise to the challenge of meeting those demands by differentiating our educational experience, strengthening our research and innovation enterprise, and continuing to cultivate a diverse and inclusive learning environment.

Differentiate and Improve Educational Experience

Our fundamental goal is to provide students a transformative educational experience that helps them make a real impact in the world. Mason Impact will shape our students’ development as engaged citizens and well-rounded scholars who are prepared to act through innovations in global education, civic engagement, research and entrepreneurship.  Integrated with Student Experience Redesign, we are scaling our systems and infrastructure to provide students better and more personalized guidance to curricular and co-curricular opportunities. We will reaffirm our commitment to supporting faculty excellence in teaching and educational innovation by providing integrated and state-of-the-art instructional design as well as facilitating active collaboration across disciplinary boundaries.

Strengthen Research and Scholarly Inquiry

Beyond knowledge dissemination, a critical element of our mission is knowledge creation. We will continue to invest in initiatives that enhance Mason’s research presence in national and global contexts.  We are committed to sustaining our growth as a research-intensive institution, examining the mechanisms we use to recruit, retain and recognize world-class faculty as well as to enhance the research and learning experiences we provide to a graduate student community that continues to grow in size, quality, and diversity. Building upon investments made and lessons learned from years past, we will continue to work on the development of multidisciplinary projects that engage the expertise of faculty and colleagues in all of our academic disciplines. The 2018 launch of our multidisciplinary effort to combat the opioid epidemic serves as an example; the effort will involve disciplines as diverse as public health, data analytics, psychology, sociology, education, workforce development, public policy, criminal justice, trafficking, law enforcement and regional collaboration.

A Diverse and Inclusive Learning Environment
With Mason’s mission as our guide – an inclusive community committed to creating a more just, free and prosperous world – it is critical we remain a model of civil and informed discourse, a space where people of all backgrounds, perspectives and convictions can thrive and be free to express themselves without fear. By supporting faculty and professional staff in facilitating difficult dialogues and discussions, we are ensuring our increasingly diverse student body has the support to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

I am deeply honored to serve the Mason community, share in your successes, and celebrate your dedication to cultivating and creating the best university for the world.

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