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Path to preeminence prompts office integration


The offices of Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies, and Enrollment Planning and Management will become one unit as of July 1 as part of USF’s push to gain pre-eminent status from the state.

Operating under Vice Provost for Student Success Paul Dosal, the re-organization will attempt to make the three offices stronger by uniting them as one larger unit. Dosal’s new role makes him Vice President for Student Affairs and Student Success, a title that takes effect July 1.

The idea to institutionalize efforts for student success came from the results of the evaluation by the Student Success Task Force’s, a committee of 100 people established in 2009 to evaluate and make goals for the university, released in 2010. 

The report released by the task force suggested an office with responsibility and authority to carry out initiatives for student success, something Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Miller felt the re-organization will capture by combining the entities on campus that deal with what the university refers to as student success initiatives.

“It’s something we’ve been looking at for a while,” Dosal said.

In conversations with Provost Ralph Wilcox over the past few months concerning pre-eminence, Dosal crafted the idea for the integration. And for at least two months, Dosal, Dean of Undergraduate Studies Bob Sullins and Miller have been working on the details of that idea.

“It (has) been very, very much a participatory process,” Miller said.

The offices have collaborated with each other often over the past few years, between Dosal, Sullins and Miller. The idea is to lay down the groundwork for this collaboration to outlast those currently involved in it.

“We know we’re not going to be around forever and so we wanted to make sure that this lasts, and I think we’ve set up a structure that is going to do just that for the institution,” Dosal said.

Pre-eminence, as defined by the Board of Governors (BOG), requires that a university meet 11 out of 12 standards in academics and research. These standards work similarly to the metrics by which universities are measured in order to receive Performance Based Funding from the state.

The standards include requirements associated with the GPA and SAT scores of incoming freshman, numbers of doctoral degrees awarded, amount of money spent on research, freshman retention rates of 90 percent or higher, and a six year graduation rate of 70 percent or higher for full time, First Time In College students.

The legislation to establish this distinction emerged from the BOG in 2013. At the time, the only two universities that met the requirements were UF and FSU, both of which BOG spokesperson Brittany Davis felt are working to improve their rankings in U.S. News and World Report.

In 2016, the BOG introduced the emerging pre-eminent status for Florida universities that met six of the 12 standards, in what Davis called an effort to elevate universities in the state. 

According to USF’s 2016 Work Plan, the university currently meets nine of the 12 standards and plans to meet 11 of the 12 by 2018.

“The benchmarks are designed to strengthen the universities’ core missions to educate students and prepare them for jobs after they graduate as well as accelerating research and innovation,” Davis said in an email.

The incentive comes in the form of increased distinction and funding. Universities designated as pre-eminent receive $20 million from the state in 2016, according to Davis. 

Emerging preeminent universities receive $10 million from the state in 2016, and it is this designation that USF expects to receive from the state at the next BOG meeting.

“Pre-eminence, or certainly as an interim measure, emerging preeminence, I think is a clear acknowledgement of the path that (USF) has been on now for a good 10 to 15 years … toward becoming an elite public research university in the United States and increasingly on the global stage as well,” Wilcox said.

Continuing past the emerging pre-eminence designation, Wilcox felt assured USF will strive for pre-eminence and membership in the AAU, pursuing even more opportunities for funding and increased stature.

The re-organization of Student Affairs, Undergraduate Studies, and Enrollment Planning and Management into one office is a part of USF’s push towards a pre-eminent status. Wilcox ensures that nothing will be lost in the consolidation process.

“The re-organization isn’t about cutting resources,” Wilcox said. “It’s about maximizing performance in student access and success given the resources we have in place. So, there’s no particular notion here of eliminating operations but rather ensuring that they’re aligned with one another … to advance our strategic priorities.”

The new unit is focused on helping USF meet pre-eminence standards. Miller pointed out the stature associated with a pre-eminence designation, which he thinks will make USF a first choice for students, faculty and staff. 

As far as an improvement in efficiency, Dosal pointed to the example of raising retention rates. Currently, USF has an 88 percent freshman retention rate, as reported in the 2016 USF System Work Plan. However, to reach preeminent status, the university must reach 90 percent. 

Dosal praised the university’s progress so far, but feels the current collaboration moves slowly, as those within the offices have to report to three different units. He said he felt the incorporation into one unit will lead the university to meeting requirements for preeminence with greater efficiency. 

“But I see the value of this in that I’ll have Dean Sullins and Dr. Miller with me helping to determine what’s best for the university to hit these targets and then we decide as a group to implement them, I think we’re (going to) be much more effective.”

Miller emphasized that while the organization is important, it’s the quality of the people in charge that will make a difference.

The success of the new unit Dosal felt will depend on the strength of its leaders, which will not see any real changes.

“We have great confidence in our leadership, so while on paper it’s a big unit, I think we have good leaders in place who can get the job done,” Dosal said.

Sullins, who has worked in education for over 50 years, has seen many re-organizations and maintained that those that success is a result of the work of those in charge. Different pieces of each unit involved in this change have melded with the others before in a number of reconfigurations. 

Due to the re-organization, Dosal, Sullins and Miller’s roles are set to change. Sullins will remain Dean of Undergraduate Studies. He will now report to Dosal instead of Wilcox and will see the addition of new units in Undergraduate Studies.

Miller will have a dual role. He will support the transition, helping to make the process a smooth one for those employed and providing advice for Dosal during the process. 

He will also return to the College of Education as faculty, teaching part-time and remaining involved in student success initiatives across campus.

Dosal, as Miller put it, will take on duties that will most likely triple his responsibilities, as he will lead the new unit. 

“I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” Dosal said. “It’s a great opportunity and an honor.”

For those who would otherwise have left USF or are not succeeding academically, the effects of this will be more apparent than they would to students on track to graduate, as the integration works on ways to work with those students and keep them at USF.

In the short term, Sullins said he doesn’t think there will be a big difference, although the quality of service is something he hoped students feel has improved. It’s about reaching the standards of the metrics and achieving preeminence, which will in turn make the student experience a better one, Sullins said.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this is a successful re-organization,” Sullins said. “… It’s the only right thing to do.”