University of Northern Colorado President Andrew Feinstein concluded his State of the University address on Aug. 18 with a bit of wisdom passed down from the school’s history. The 1910 class of the Greeley Normal School, UNC’s former name, gifted the university the Horace Mann Gate on 10th Avenue near 18th Street, which is inscribed with the class motto, “rowing, not drifting.” This is the phrase Feinstein wants UNC to uphold in his coming years in office, by seizing opportunities together with skill and preparation in “anticipating rapids.”
UNC students, staff, faculty and alumni all attended the university address. Some notable public figures also attended, including former UNC presidents Kay Norton and Dick Bond, Aims Community College President Leah Bornstein, Greeley-Evans School District 6 Superintendent Deirdre Pilch, UC Health Greeley President Marilyn Schock, as well as Greeley’s mayor, city manager and chamber of commerce president.
Stan Luger, the chair of UNC’s Faculty Senate, introduced Feinstein.
“Typically, this kind of introduction would review key aspects of our new president’s career or the type of person he is, as few on campus would know much about him or would have had a chance to meet him,” Luger said. “But my bet is that President Feinstein has already met just about every one of you. With seemingly boundless energy, he already reached out to the campus community by attending scores of events and attending countless meetings with every possible group on and off campus.”
Feinstein said at the beginning of his speech that people would want to “hear [his] vision for the future of the university.” But after only 79 days on the job at the time, he was still focused on learning more about UNC and its needs.
Feinstein filled his address with not only his love for history, but also his love for Greeley. He shared how he had UNC’s fourth president’s desk refurbished for his use, and how he’d learned that his family was already connected with UNC, as his wife Kerry’s maternal great-grandmother attended the Greeley Normal School in 1911. Feinstein said he and family “were meant to be here.”
The president went on to recognize his predecessor, Kay Norton, for her lengthy term and the accomplishments she earned during that time. He also focused his words on getting UNC back to its roots and recognizing how its history has shaped how it is today.
“For us to realize our potential, I need—we all need—to understand UNC’s legacy as Colorado’s Normal School and as a respected national leader in educational innovation,” Feinstein said.
He said this legacy reaches all of UNC’s degree programs and is a “distinction we should own.” In fact, according to Feinstein, UNC is in one of the fastest-growing counties in America.
“Our students are the faces of Weld County and Colorado,” he said. “They reflect the rich diversity of our region and the state.”
As far as the makeup of the university, Feinstein pointed out how UNC is getting closer to being a Hispanic-serving institution and how it will be intentional in serving this growing population. He also noted that more than one-third of UNC’s incoming students are the first in their families to go to college, dubbing them “today’s pioneers.”
Luger mentioned in his introduction the issues Feinstein would have to face during his presidency.
“President Feinstein comes to UNC at a pivotal moment in our history,” Luger said. “As we all know, state funding is no longer a large factor in our budget. Although we remain a state-regulated institution, we are more and more like a private institution, reliant upon tuition for our operations.”
The university currently has a $10 million budget deficit. This, among other issues, were addressed by the president.
“We will fix it—but it will require tough choices,” Feinstein said. “It isn’t someone else’s problem. It is our problem, and we will address it together.”
Feinstein referred to the need for better retention rates and a four-year or less graduation rate, as well as the campus’ need for further transparency in its decision-making and the ability to provide input from diverse sources. This includes narrowing achievement gaps for underrepresented groups on campus, specifically by supporting them and welcoming them on campus.
According to Feinstein, there is also a need for creating a balance for civil discourse and protecting free speech, which has already been a focus of his. In fact, students questioned him about how he would have handled the 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally that was held on campus. Feinstein also cited the concerns by community leaders and alumni alike who call for further meaningful engagement with Greeley, neighboring cities like Denver, and the state of Colorado.
“Market research tells us that UNC is seen as the proverbial middle child in Colorado higher education,” Feinstein said. “We are a little too quiet, a bit too polite and far too often ignored. This has to change.”
Feinstein answered questions from audience members in a Q&A session immediately after the address, covering various issues and topics:
Q: How will you protect the best qualities of academic tradition, while procuring the future of academic innovation?
AF: “I think the tradition that we talk about here is the foundation of the normal school and the emphasis that we place on education and learning, and that transcends [not] just the college of education, but everything that we do here. Providing opportunities for us to be more effective in the classroom, to learn and be flexible are ways we can both embrace the tradition of this university and also the future of educational innovation on this campus.”
Q: What have you seen work in your transition from a provost to this position that can benefit our university?
AF: “I think that every university has different challenges in addressing student success and retention rates, but some of the work that we are doing right now with Stephanie and student success programs… some opportunities may be looking at ways in which we can work more effectively with our community college and our K-12 partners about college readiness. It can be about addressing models here for advising and ensuring our students have proper-enough advising throughout the first year. It could be identifying the classes they are taking, making sure they have enough classes and that they are taking a full load. It could also be ensuring that they have a sense of place on campus. So much of learning takes place outside of the classroom. Students that feel engaged and a part of the university are most often more likely to stay.”
Q: What have you seen work? Do you have any plans for how to help make that happen and help us do what we love to do?
AF: “We have been talking a lot about that over the last couple of months here. Part of it is understanding faculty workload and whether or not they have time and opportunities to pursue research scholarship and creative works. Part of it is are we investing resources. . .so that faculty can get started, as a new faculty member but also as a continuing faculty member, to do research? It’s about creating a culture of research. We generate about $5 million dollars of sponsored research activity here, and for a campus of our size and the length of time we’ve been pursuing research, we should be producing ten-fold that.”
Q: How do you see collaboration in working with a variety of experiences, whether it be students, faculty, staff or administration, to build UNC’s identity?
AF: “Listening and learning to the campus community, understanding students and their interests and concerns, and determining what their challenges are, I think is important. Part of it is just building a culture of communication and transparency through my actions, and the actions of my cabinet, and the actions of our administrative team. That’s step one. Then, throughout the year, we will be having some focus groups…I’ll be meeting with every department, faculty members throughout the year, listening to them and getting a sense of what they need to be more successful and what their challenges are. But it is about developing a collaborative environment where we communicate, where we understand each other and work together on developing plans, really isolate what makes this place special moving forward.”
Q: What are some of your ideas on how we are going to engage students –from a hospitality angle–not only at the campus level but also local state and national levels? How are we going to welcome some of those people as well as make sure the rest of campus remains vibrant?
AF: “We decided that, in the best interest of Campus Commons, to involve the bursar’s office team, the registrar’s office team and others to actually talk about what should be in there and how they work more effectively together. So part of that process is really including the staff and students in the discussion in what actually is most important to be in Campus Commons, talking to students and getting a sense of ways in which our university could be more connected to the community. Certainly, that is one of the gateways of this campus is Campus Commons. Listening to John and Roy, the mayor and the city manager, understand ways in which we can actually make sure we are opening our gates widely and providing opportunities for people in the community to engage with the university. We will be moving forward with those ideas this fall.”
Q: How will you help expand these organizations to benefit students in the community?
AF: “I can talk a lot about the cultural centers, I think I’ve been to all their events over the past couple of weeks, except for the veteran center, which is still on my list. First, its about spending time with these centers, understanding what their needs are. I will tell you, in my experiences over the last couple of months—in particular the last couple of weeks—our cultural centers really are a distinctive part of this university. They are special and they provide, not just an opportunity for students to get together—it’s a home. These aren’t just doors, offices and buildings, these are free-standing facilities that students, staff and faculty treat as a home. So I’m committed to ensuring their success and working with them to make them even more successful and effective. Certainly there are a number of opportunities in which we can support students and support staff. The challenge we are going to have is… we have a $10 million structural deficit. So we are going to have to have some conversations weighing what we can do and what may be a second priority. I don’t have an answer for that yet, that’s part of the reason why I have a presidential leadership council and we’re working on discussing those trade-offs and those priorities. But I am certainly committed to the success of students and I will be focusing quite heavily on that in the next coming years.”
A full transcript and video of the State of the University address is available on the university website.