Chancellor, Presidents reflect on accomplishments and look ahead with positivity

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

To view the UNT World Town Hall, click here:

When the coronavirus first crept into our lives in early March, most thought a couple of months of inconvenience was in store. Nine months later and we seem to be in the worst of the pandemic. Universities and their students have been forced to adapt and persevere throughout an unprecedented year, and prepare for an uncertain future. During Tuesday's final UNT World Town Hall of 2020, UNT System Chancellor Lesa Roe and the Presidents of our three institutions reflected on the year that was, and presented rays of hope that all will emerge stronger than before.

University of North Texas President Neal Smatresk
In a year that saw record enrollment and graduations at the University of North Texas when many universities across the country sustained declines, President Neal Smatresk praised the student body for its adaptability and resilience despite so many facing unforeseen hardships such as housing and food insecurity. He lauded the spirit of the university's faculty and staff for its flexibility and the genuine care shown for UNT students. Fortunately, UNT's strategic and meticulous planning helped to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 more effectively than at many institutions in the state. Emerging from the many lessons that university leadership has taken from the coronavirus experience, Smatresk said the university is launching an Affordability Initiative that will seek ways to help students graduate faster and in a form that doesn't saddle them with burdensome, long-term debt.

Other highlights:

  • Because of a favorable construction market, UNT will continue with plans to build a Frisco campus, and is also adding a project to that budget -- a standalone multicultural student center on the UNT campus.
  • UNT is in the application process to be a registered site for COVID-19 vaccinations; it has set aside ultra-low freezers for storing the Pfizer vaccine. UNT is working with state legislators to make the case why students and higher education should be considered high priority for receiving the vaccine.
  • UNT leadership is evaluating the value proposition of college and envisioning the future of the on-campus experience.

University of North Texas at Dallas President Bob Mong
UNT Dallas has remained essentially in virtual learning environments since initially closing the campus in March. The university's student body predominantly comes from urban Dallas communities, communities that have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. Mong praised the perseverance of an ambitious student body. UNT Dallas managed to set enrollment records during the summer and fall semesters, while also increasing retention rates and continuing to graduate more students -- a 90% increase in graduates since 2015. The university entered collegiate athletics in the fall with the debut of its men's and women's basketball and cross country teams. Mong reported that UNT Dallas managed to end the year financially in the black, a rarity in this pandemic year among non-research universities. Mong praised the university's Faculty Senate, Staff Council, student government and a team of administrative assistants for creating clear and effective communication channels.

Other highlights:

  • UNT Dallas bolstered community partnerships, such as with the North Texas Food Bank, which has operated emergency relief, drive-through food banks every month during the pandemic.
  • Through a partnership with Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute and Caruth Police Institute, UNT Dallas will provide innovative police training to all Dallas Police Department officers; and is creating a statewide first-responder suicide network.
  • UNT Dallas is creating the Center for Economic Mobility Through Education.
  • UNT Dallas will seek funds to build a science building during the 87th Legislature in January.
  • UNT Dallas College of Law had its best bar passage rate in the school's history at 74%; now seeks permanent accreditation.

UNT Health Science Center President Michael Williams
It's been a remarkable year at HSC, two years rolled into one, President Williams said -- January and February, and then the rest of the year. HSC faculty, staff and students assumed strong leadership roles in the Tarrant County community by putting together the earliest COVID-19 testing sites in the county and working hand-in-hand with Tarrant County Public Health on contact tracing. Williams boasted about the bravery shown by HSC team members and students by stepping into the COVID-19 arena to assist in testing and caring for patients. Many became voices of expertise statewide and even nationally. At the same time, HSC research hit new records with $62 million in rewards, and is on the path to becoming a Best Place to Work through the Gallup Survey. HSC also started the DAYxDAY series, which has provided tips and advice for navigating the pandemic and other health issues.

Other highlights:

  • HSC created counseling and supportive services for students, and a comprehensive well-being program to build resiliency.
  • HSC will be a distribution site for the COVID-19 vaccine. More details will be coming soon.
  • Williams believes the pandemic has underscored how underfunded county health departments are and believes HSC will become a much stronger partner with Tarrant County Public Health, perhaps creating an academic arm at the agency.
  • Williams believes the HSC has an opportunity now to aggressively address health disparities and equities.