Dear Members of the USF Community:
I hope the winter holidays provided you with a chance to spend time with family and friends, and time to celebrate and relax before the beginning of a new year and new semester.
Thank you for your patience as I have been talking in detail with faculty, staff, and university leadership in the wake of the Vote of No Confidence (VONC) in Provost Don Heller that the USF Faculty Association (USFFA) presented to me on Dec. 22, 2019.
I wanted to take this opportunity to provide you with an update.
In the past month, in addition to meetings with my cabinet and members of the USF Board of Trustees, I have learned a great deal from my one-on-one conversations with Provost Heller; Deans Baker, Camperi, Cannon, Freiwald, Koirala-Azad, and Interim Dean Moses; Professor Sonja Martin Poole and other USF faculty leaders; some of Provost Heller's other direct reports (Senior VP Shirley McGuire, VP Michael Beseda, VP Jeff Hamrick, VP Julie Orio, VP Mary Wardell); and many other members of the community. Last week, I met with the Leadership Team and with faculty and staff at the School of Law. I am in the process of scheduling similar group and one-on-one meetings in the coming weeks.
Through my conversations, it has become clear that the steps that I and university leaders had put in place following recommendations from the Magis Project and the Campus Climate findings did not do enough to repair trust with the administration and improve transparency in university decision-making. We have made some progress (notably by establishing the University Budget Advisory Council and processes for sharing information) that will be the basis for further improvement. Yet we must do much more — and do so quickly and thoughtfully. I take very seriously the voice of the faculty that was expressed through the VONC, and I am hopeful that, through this time of communal discernment, supported by our collective care for our university and its mission, as well as our students, we can work through the issues that were outlined in the VONC.
For now, here are some of the immediate steps I am taking:
- 360-Degree Review. I have begun the already-planned process of conducting a 360-degree review of Provost Heller. A 360 review is a commonly used performance evaluation tool to provide managers with feedback from groups with a variety of points of view (i.e., direct reports, peers, stakeholders, and others). The USFFA petition and vote was an important portrait of the views of the full-time faculty and librarians. This review will give the provost and me detailed information on issues related to communication and processes from a broad group of community members.
The USFFA supports this review and outreach to more university members, especially staff who have critical interactions with students beyond the classroom. The 360-degree review’s electronic survey will be shared with members of these groups early next week. The survey will take approximately three weeks, after which I will receive results to help inform our next steps. The instrument we will use for the review will be Envisia Learning, which the university has used for similar 360s, including my own and those of some deans and members of my cabinet.
- University Communications. I remain committed to good university-wide communications, including VP Forums, Town Halls, University Convocations, and other methods and platforms to share budget processes and other important information. For example, I look forward to sharing that information with you in February, as we begin communicating around the FY21 budget process.
- Administrative Structure Review. I am also considering some changes in the university administrative structure, including membership on our leadership teams and councils. This will take more time, as it involves conversations with many on campus, but I am committed to sharing these decisions with you as soon as possible. I have already received excellent suggestions regarding representation on councils and teams from many in the community.
- Mission Statement. As you may be aware, I have charged the University Council on Jesuit Mission with refreshing the language in our mission statement, which was last updated in 2001. A careful review of the language is needed to ensure that this guiding document is aligned with our environment and priorities in 2020 and beyond. Related to this, I am beginning a process to better document the university’s strategic priorities and initiatives. While we must be poised to take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to better support and serve our students and our financial position, we must be sure all members of the community have a common understanding of our vision and what is guiding our decisions. I look forward to your involvement in both of these important processes.
- Website Resource. I have established a website to collect all communication from my office along with resources regarding the VONC. You can view the President’s Communication webpage. Please check back for more information.
I will keep you informed of further developments and, as always, I welcome your feedback and recommendations. As I have heard repeatedly during my conversations these past weeks, our community is united in an unwavering commitment to supporting our students and to advancing our mission, vision, and values.
Thank you for all you do for USF.
Paul J. Fitzgerald, S.J.