From the Provost: Welcome to a New Academic Year

August 26, 2020

Dear Southern Colleagues,

Welcome back.  I hope, despite the many challenges recent months have brought, you found some time to rest, enjoy and re-energize. And that even in the face of ongoing trials, you are ready to fully reconnect with Southern and our students as a most unusual Fall 2020 semester unfolds. 

With our nation still immersed in a global pandemic, with fiscal challenges in higher education as never before, and with the long-present but now broadly exposed underbelly of inequity and injustice opening divisive debates nationwide, we, as academicians, are on the front lines to confront each issue through education and discovery.

Southern faces the COVID-19 challenge seriously and has worked hard to create a Fall semester with a mix of pedagogical approaches to support our students.  Our summer preparatory work, in large sense, reflects the values that we espouse - values of equity and inclusion and values that reflect the true meaning of keeping students first. 

Our collective aspirations remain intact, keeping us on our common path to enhance learning, teaching, scholarship and service.  Our aspirations are designed to grow our support of local, state, and national communities as well as grow our global partnerships and collaborations.  For all of this, Southern can be proud.

This academic year will be different and the same.  Many of our larger celebratory and recognition events and programs will be virtual or delayed.   On the other hand, we again welcome 30 new faculty colleagues who represent the culminations of rigorous searches, including 9 faculty members who were hired as part of our three cluster hires:

    • Climate Change, Resilience and the Blue Economy
    • Equity, Social Mobility and Access and
    • Healthcare Informatics

We also look to continue our exciting partnerships, with a special focus on our relationships with the Connecticut State Community College institutions.  Add to the mix important new programs and curricula and a growing continuing education base, and our university remains on the move and preparing for the future.

While it still seems a long way off, Southern is up for reaccreditation from NECHE with a site visit in Fall 2021.  Preparation for this is being led by the excellent work of Trudy Milburn and Tess Marchant-Shapiro.  Because of the many, many individuals and teams involved in preparing our NECHE report and preparing for the site visit, we are well poised for successful reaccreditation.  While this is still in the works, let me again thank everyone contributing to this critical effort. 

I also want to take this opportunity to invite you to join our ongoing Visiting Scholars Program to offer K12 schools interactive presentations - now virtually: You can join almost 50 of our colleagues who have made themselves available for these programs, which include such intriguing topics as:

  • Why Groups Fight Wars (Kevin Buterbaugh)
  • Recreation as Medicine (MaryJo Archambaul)
  • Particle Physics – What is the Universe Really Made of (Evan Finch)
  • Animal Friends and Enemies (Kelly Stiver)
  • From Gregorian Chant to Lady GaGa (Walter Stutzman)

This year, for the third year, we will again be offering a small number of internal grants through the competitive Proposal Incentive Program (PIP).  PIP offers financial encouragement for development of larger grant proposals that support our graduate students. Keep your eyes open for this RFP from our Sponsored Programs office.

Looking back at last year, each Southern School and College had important accomplishments.  These, among many, many others, include:

  • The Graduate School reconfigured financial aid packages, making it possible to support an additional 26 graduate students.
  • Project Blue@SCSU focused on innovation for the Blue Economy in Long Island Sound with a commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.  Students in the program on the Blue Economy took home several awards at the 23rd Connecticut Business Conference and Competition administered by the Entrepreneurship Foundation.
  • The School of Business moved into the candidacy stage with AACSB for initial accreditation, while in parallel they completed the design phase of their new building, a facility that will be the state’s first “net zero” construction.
  • Excellence within the College of Arts & Sciences was recognized by the 2019-2020 recipients of the campus awards for the CSCU Board of Regents Faculty Award for Teaching, to Tom Radice of the History Department, and for Research, Steve Brady of the Biology Department. The system-wide CSCU Board of Regents Award for Adjunct Faculty went to Michelle Stoer-McCarthy of the English Department.
  • The Barack H. Obama Magnet University School opened on Southern’s campus with the school benefitting both students, teachers and our wider community. An over-arching goal of the initiative is to serve as a national model, highlighting best practices and promoting educational innovation.  The new elementary school is a collaboration between Southern, the New Haven Board of Education, and the city of New Haven.
  • BOR approval was granted for 28 curricular changes: including 1 Grad certificate, 14 new concentrations, 3 minors, 5 new programs, 1 new offsite location, 1 addition of an online modality and 3 program revisions.
  • Last year’s external grant/award funding showed a 46% success rate with awards amounting to over $5M.

We are doing so much that is right.  But, as our world of higher education continues to change, as resources grow tighter, student recruitment pools shrink, and competition grows, it is essential that we retain and grow our Southern edge.

Conforming or following is not on our agenda - we instead aspire to lead.  Our reputation stands on our approaches to education and our focus on the future of our students.  We continue to create new knowledge, new programs, new directions.  And  to stand out, we need to continue to rock the boat.  We cannot wait for things to return to “the way they were.”

A full return to historic “normalcy” is unlikely.  We instead need to move ahead and lead changes in our disciplines, changes that reflect our changing world.  Our curriculum must ensure currency to ensure student success.  Our scholarship must stay fluid, coincident with global conditions and dictated by student needs.  I am confident we can do this, and I know that our collective ideas and actions will continue to keep Southern strong. 

I wish you the very best for the Fall 2020 semester.  Remember, my door (wooden or virtual) is always open.  And, as always, stay well.

Robert S. Prezant, Ph.D.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs