Provost Reports on State of Mason Academics

Posted: November 3, 2009 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: November 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm

By Robin Herron

At the final fall forum on the state of Mason academics, Provost Peter Stearns began and ended his report with comments on the university’s “very tight budget situation.”

The provost summarized the budget cuts from the state to date and noted that academic units most recently experienced cuts averaging 1.5 percent. However, he predicted a more stable model for the coming year, provided there are no further cuts from the state and tuition is increased. In response to a question about the tuition increase, the Provost said he did not yet know what the amount would be. However, he said that the university administration is “worrying about it more,” along with the need to keep pace with financial aid.

On the positive side, the provost noted that Mason was one of only five universities nationwide to experience an increase in philanthropy during the past fiscal year, and University Development expects giving to be even higher this year.

The provost said that research at Mason is “very robust” and passed the $100 million mark in expenditures this past year. He added that Vice President for Research and Economic Development Roger Stough expects a 40 to 50 percent increase this year.

The university continues to look for sources of income and will focus some attention on continuing education and certificate programs, as well as programs for high school-age students in the areas of journalism and sustainability. The provost said that good ideas for other money-raising programs are welcome.

As far as enrollment growth, the provost said he had been asked why Mason doesn’t put the brakes on growth completely, especially after this fall’s unexpected enrollment surge. He said the university will try to stick to a “slow growth” policy, but that the university doesn’t want growth to stop completely, particularly for programs in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the College of Health and Human Services. In addition, the provost said he expects “new pressure to take more qualified transfer students” since the community college system is experiencing growth.

The provost also touched on Mason’s new facilities, as well as those coming on line in the next year. He said the university is steadily moving toward a goal of housing up to 7,000 students on campus, with 5,400 students now housed on the Fairfax Campus, and another 400 beds to open next fall. He noted that the university needs two more academic buildings, one at Fairfax for the College of Health and Human Services, and one at Prince William to handle expanded science and medical education programs. However, he pointed out, “there’s no money” for the buildings.

Mason has doubled its distance education offerings in the past year and plans to do more, although the university experiences no cost savings from these programs, the provost noted. In fact, an audience member commented, distance education is “not cheap” and requires financial support. The provost said that a tuition surcharge for distance courses is being considered.

Finally, in response to a question about teaching excellence as a basis for faculty promotion, the provost replied that there has been no change in the policy stated in the Faculty Handbook about teaching excellence. He admitted that some areas of the university tend to stress research excellence for promotion, but that about 15 to 20 percent of tenure cases focus on teaching excellence rather than research excellence.

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