Provost Reports on State of Mason Academics

Posted: April 12, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

Photo of Peter Stearns
Peter Stearns

In his second presentation on the state of Mason academics this academic year, Provost Peter Stearns discussed changes related to the reorganization of several major units, the budget and the impact the men’s basketball team’s success in the NCAA Tournament is likely to have on the university.

Stearns made his remarks at a meeting held Monday on the Fairfax Campus.

Regarding the reorganization of the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Computational Sciences into two new colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and the College of Science – Stearns reported that the process seems to be on track for the fall changeover, even with the unexpected change in the leadership of the College of Science.

One result of the reorganization is that two new undergraduate degrees will be housed in the College of Science, and another is forthcoming. This is a change from the School of Computational Sciences’ exclusive emphasis on graduate education.

The reorganization and name change of the College of Nursing and Health Science to the College of Health and Human Services is “largely internal but important for the college and the university,” Stearns said. It involves a new emphasis on public health, health management and rehabilitation.

As to the budget, which has not yet been finalized by the Virginia General Assembly, Stearns said an expected increase “could be $4 million or more” but “whatever we get, it will not be as good as the [previous Gov. Mark Warner’s] proposal,” at least for fiscal 2007. Stearns said an increase may be quickly absorbed. Already looking ahead to the 2008 budget, the university will be placing a high priority on increasing graduate funding and faculty salaries.

The success of the basketball team “did us much good and no harm,” Stearns said, but cautioned that studies have shown long-term results of such success are modest and often accrue mostly to the athletic program. “It’s likely we’ll see some improvement in the yield of students [the number of accepted students who actually enroll] in the range of a 3 to 5 percent bump.”

While applications to the university next year may also increase as a result of the nationwide media attention, Stearns pointed out that applications to Mason were already up 9 percent this year, and out of state applications were up 13 percent.

Stearns said experience has shown Mason may also find increased alumni and donor attention, and the university is working on translating the public relations attention it received during the NCAA Tournament into more attention to the non-athletic activities of the university.

“We don’t know yet if it is a transforming event in the life of the university,” Stearns concluded, but said “the only possible downside” would be a move toward changing the balance between athletics and academics.

In response to questions, the provost also said:

  • The university has conducted a second search for a dean for the Ras Al Khaimah campus in the United Arab Emirates, and those applications are now under review.

  • The recently accepted Library Task Force proposals, although worthy of consideration, need to be prioritized since it is unlikely funds will be available to implement all of the recommendations at once.
  • Faculty members who are interested in leveraging the publicity generated by basketball into a focus on academic areas and believe they have news of potential media interest should contact Christine LaPaille, vice president for University Relations.
  • The university does not have an absolutely fixed target for enrollment growth because growth is dependent upon factors such as state funding and out of state student interest, though current plans call for modest growth.
  • Plans for faculty housing have 100 units along Roberts Road in Fairfax being built by the fall of 2007. Although a construction firm has been identified, the Board of Visitors must approve the project before it moves forward.

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