Campus News

New provost briefs UB Council

By LAUREN NEWKIRK MAYNARD

Published June 19, 2014

The latest enrollment numbers and a report on issues surrounding the UB Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) were among the topics presented to the UB Council on Monday by Charles F. Zukoski, the university’s new provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

Zukoski, who began his tenure in July, read a detailed background report on the SRSI. His statement was intended, he said, to “clarify facts and correct misunderstandings regarding the institute” following public attention from the media, faculty and, most recently, the SUNY Board of Trustees.

After giving an overview of UB’s research practices, Zukoski defined the concept of academic freedom and “conflict-of-interest issues as they relate to major public research universities” like UB.

Zukoski paid specific attention to the contested funding sources and operational practices of the institute, noting that in order to conduct research of interest and importance to its faculty and to the greater global community, universities like UB receive external funding from three sources: state and federal grants, philanthropic sources and corporate industry support.

Such support “is common and an essential source of university funding,” Zukoski continued, citing federal grants from such agencies as the National Science Foundation and corporate funding of several UB centers and institutes. “The support of university research by the private sector is a very important funding stream that enables our nation to develop and sustain its technology base…it enables education, ensures that research is at the cutting edge and it focuses attention on timely issues.”

He went on to say that “regardless of the source of funding, it is not the role of the university, nor the funding source, to dictate the conclusions drawn by faculty investigators.”

UB is dedicated to honoring research contracts, which dictate that researchers will “report and publish the facts as we find them,” and are a core principle of academic freedom, Zukoski stressed. He added that UB’s policies follow national best practices and require the reporting of all funding sources for sponsored research.

Those practices and policies are upheld at the SRSI and at UB’s 150 other institutes and research centers, Zukoski said.

“It is important for me to note, although the shale institute has not received any industry funding to date, they are expected to, and it is desirable for them to generate support for their research and scholarship through competitive grants, philanthropy and from the private sector,” he said.

Zukoski then addressed several contentious issues relating to industry’s role in the institute, including its founding, funding and appointment of its directors. Criticism, he said, stemmed from the release in May of the institute’s first report on the impacts of environmental policy violations regarding hydraulic fracturing of natural gas.

Errors in the report were immediately corrected, Zukoski said, and no concerns about the science in the report “have been raised by the relevant scientific community.” A thorough review of the report by the university, he continued, found that no sponsored funding was received for director John Martin’s work on the report.

President Satish K. Tripathi added that UB on Sept. 27 provided SUNY trustees with details they had requested on the SRSI. According to Tripathi, the report will be released to the public once trustees review the materials.

On another topic, Zukoski said he would be working with Tripathi on determining how to invest in faculty hires, and announced that more than 40 percent of eligible freshmen have signed up for the new “Finish in Four” graduation program.

“We think this is pretty remarkable as the kick-off program this year,” he said, adding that to support the program, UB is providing 10,000 new credit hours and more than 3,400 seats in “high-demand classes” for students, mostly in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Finish in Four pledges to provide entering UB freshmen with the academic resources they need to graduate in four years. Students who fulfill all obligations of the Finish in 4 plan but are unable to graduate within four years will be given the opportunity to complete the UB courses required for their degree free of any tuition and comprehensive fee charges.

To further assist students on their path to graduation, Zukoski said, UB is launching new adviser-tracking software that will allow student records to be made available to all advisers across campus, hopefully easing students’ transfer to new majors or departments.

Zukoski also reported that total enrollment at UB is up over last fall, and that the freshman class has increased by more than 400 students. SAT/ACT scores are on par with last year, he said, although UB fell below the goals set by SUNY. He added that tighter controls on enrollment are being implemented to help bolster numbers.

Following a national trend, Zukoski continued, graduate enrollment is “slightly down” in the schools of law and education, and UB will be watching carefully the impact of this decline. Various council members asked Zukoski how UB could maintain quality law applicants. He replied that UB would be looking at models to keep those numbers constant, saying “We want to attract and educate and provide the best lawyers.”

The provost also mentioned the success of the Undergraduate Academies, UB’s living and learning communities. The newest academy on entrepreneurship enrolled 40 students this fall. According to Zukoski, retention rates for academy participants are 10 percentage points higher than for nonparticipants.

The search for the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences also is progressing, Zukoski said, with the four finalists visiting campus this week. Decanal searches for UB Pharmacy and for the Graduate School of Education also will begin this fall. Having overseen the opening of John and Editha Kapoor Hall, Wayne K. Anderson, dean of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, announced he will step down to return to the faculty after 18 years leading the school.

Tripathi’s back-to-school report to the council noted the recent opening of several buildings and institutes across UB’s three campuses as further indication of a growing “climate of excellence” at the university, including the new Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics, which, he says, will be beneficial to the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. He also mentioned the progress UB is making on moving the medical school downtown.

Tripathi noted that tomorrow he and Zukoski would lead senior leadership on a one-day retreat to consider how to continue implementing UB 2020, including new hires and making other key investments for students and faculty.