Since taking over as interim president in January, Dr. Greg Postel has been candid about all of the challenges UofL has to overcome, including an NCAA scandal, accreditation issues and, especially, a $48 million budget crisis. On Tuesday morning at a forum open to the UofL community, Postel asked employees to “start switching gears.”
“The vast majority of time we’ve spent since January has been in the diligent resolution of past issues, and these are real problems to tackle. But they’re not our future. What I want to do is shift the emphasis away from the problems of the past and look at what we can become,” Postel said to a full crowd in Strickler Hall’s Middleton Theater.
It was a rallying cry of sorts for the president, who solicited everyone’s help to keep the campus dialogue open, to submit ideas on how best to move forward, and to stay engaged with the university.
Postel used the recent transition of UofL Hospital’s management from KentuckyOne Health to University Medical Center as an example of what can happen when everyone gets involved and works together.
“It was run as a corporate entity, more of a top down structure. People were demoralized and many left. There was a feeling that things weren’t going to get better,” Postel said. “But we work for a university, where thought leaders come together and become part of the solution. When we started the steps to bring the hospital back to UMC, hundreds of faculty and staff became engaged. It was palpable and July 1 (the transition) was like a pep rally. There is enthusiasm there now that we are in control and we are going to do it right.
“We need an analogy like that on the Belknap Campus.”
2020 Plan and 21st Century Initiative: Where we are, where we’re going
Postel used UofL’s 2020 Plan (put into place in 2008) and 21st Century Initiative (meant to “reinforce” the 2020 Plan with a more granular approach and put into place in 2012) as the focal point of his presentation, noting what we’ve accomplished, what we’ve missed and what opportunities remain. He also shared some of his preliminary ideas meant to facilitate better, shared dialogue on how to improve on each of the five pillars from the 2020 Plan.
“The pillars very clearly represent what’s important to the university. Here we have two points in time where a huge shared governance process took place at the university. There are so many things within (the pillars) that can be empowering to us if we choose to engage,” Postel said.
- Educational Excellence
UofL has improved its student-to-teacher ratio, has better integrated critical thinking, has increased PhD production and has “dramatically improved” the student experience with library renovations, the upcoming SAC renovations, more and better campus housing and LLCs, and the construction of the Belknap Academic Building.
UofL has to work on a static number of undergraduate programs, enrollment growth and, especially, graduation rates.
Some of Postel’s ideas to be better in this area include expanding the student body, cultivating creative thinking to improve graduation rates, discussing whether or not we need to start a Phi Beta Kappa chapter on campus, and redesigning the distance education program.
“If the faculty and staff desire, these are things that can be transformative,” he said.
- Research, Scholarship and Creative Activity
Postel said research tripled in the decade after the Bucks for Brains program was launched, but since then, about 2007, growth has been more modest and goals have been missed. Clinical trials have also grown, but modestly.
Postel said more thought needs to go into the trajectory of research on this campus.
“We’ve never built a scalable infrastructure here for research. There is no valid business plan for supporting research. Research requires subsidy and not a lot of thought has been given to that in the past,” he said.
- Diversity, Opportunity and Social Justice
UofL’s study body is more diverse than it was when the 2020 Plan was put into place. However, Postel questions whether our underrepresented student numbers have increased enough. Additionally, though more of our students are studying abroad, we’re not getting enough international students to study here.
Some of his initial ideas to move forward on this pillar include conducting and publishing a comprehensive campus climate survey, renewing our scholarship creation, enhancing pipeline programs and revisiting our recruitment policies.
- Community Engagement
This pillar has been “tremendously successful,” according to Postel, for example yielding more than 21,000 instances of student engagement. UofL is one of 360 universities in the U.S. with a Carnegie Foundation designation, which it has received twice.
Postel hopes to use our community engagement efforts to continue being an engine for economic development, interdisciplinary research, advocacy in healthcare and more.
- Creative and Responsible Stewardship of Resources
Postel touted UofL’s successful $1 billion campaign and the university’s active and modernized Alumni Association. However, he noted that our endowment fell well short of its $3 billion goal; we lack a sustainable model for advancement, our culture of philanthropy is inconsistent; and our donor stewardship is also inconsistent.
Postel suggests prioritizing a new donor campaign and a new approach to stewardship.
“We need to have a collective effort to renew the faith of our donor community,” he said.
Budget and beyond
Postel also quickly touched upon the budget, noting that we have a balanced budget in place with conservative assumptions, and we are reporting on the budget monthly. He also said the suggested 6-percent procurement tax has been suspended and other models are being looked at after negative feedback was received.
“We are listening and this 6-percent tax is an example of that,” he said.
Postel took a series of questions regarding communication hurdles, long distance learning, how to enable voices from the bottom up and create better structures, and what the timeframe is to “move forward.”
More forums will be scheduled in the fall semester. Postel said those will be the next step in understanding what kind of mechanisms we can put into place to maintain positive momentum.
“The bulk of my presentation today is to test campus receptivity to shifting our focus to the future. We can’t wallow in self-pity or we won’t get past this junction,” Postel said. “This is our university, if we don’t fix it, nobody will. But it’s going to take all faculty and staff to fix it. Engagement is essential.”
Dr. Postel also recently sat down with Mark Hebert, UofL’s director of programming and production, to discuss some issues in more detail. That video is available below: