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Inside the President’s Cabinet

Members discussed upcoming website improvements, diversity and inclusion efforts, budget updates and more.

By Lindsey Coulter

MSU Denver sign on buildingMetropolitan State University of Denver employees and students have had to absorb a lot of changes and challenges since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., reflected on these tumultuous months during the Wednesday meeting of the President’s Cabinet, and praised faculty and staff for their perseverance and dedication.

Davidson thanked employees for continuing to prioritize “students, students and students” and for efforts to maintain inclusive leadership and unity of effort. She committed to continued transparency and inclusivity and shared an email from an anonymous associate professor applauding the University’s proactive decision-making, integrity, faculty support through the Canvas transition and more.

Davidson also shared that MSU Denver has exceeded enrollment expectations, and enrollment currently is down just 6.1%. She further noted that MSU Denver is well positioned to weather economic uncertainty, as the University does not rely heavily on sports revenue, housing revenue or attracting international students.

“The fact that our business model is all about students and enrollment helped us. This culture is our superpower. We’re practical,” Davidson said. “I believe the post-pandemic situation is going to show that MSU Denver is … exactly what America is going to be looking for in higher ed.”

Website transformation

Cathy Lucas, vice president of Strategy, and Whei Wong-Howerton, associate vice president of Marketing and Brand, shared details on an upcoming overhaul of the University’s website.

The yearlong transformation will be as inclusive as possible, integrating the needs and feedback of a variety of users and University community members. The project will improve accessibility, usability, quality, and accuracy and add new features. These efforts will improve the mobile user experience, and create a bold, engaging and well-branded “front door” to the University to help drive traffic, generate leads and increase enrollment.

The multiphase transformation will begin with a competitive vendor selection process this fall. The vendor will audit the current site with regard to access, layouts, functionality, content and visuals as well gather stakeholder input before developing plans for search-engine optimization, ongoing support, content migration and more.

A phased launch of the new site is planned for late spring 2021. The most highly trafficked pages will undergo improvements first, and the vendor will be required to develop Spanish language content and page-reading technology.

Budget update

George Middlemist, Ph.D., provided an overview of the University’s finances and proposals to weather the COVID-19-related economic downturn.

Enrollment decline and state funding decreases – as well as unexpected expenses related to the transition to online working and learning – created a $16 million deficit. The University worked with all departments to reduce spending and recover $9.3 million, pulled $400,000 from base reserves, and recovered $2 million through furlough and separation options. Pulling from reserve accounts will balance this year’s budget and avoid further cuts or additional mandatory furloughs.

Middlemist also noted that better-than-expected enrollment figures for summer and fall are promising. However, as the economic crisis is expected to persist, the Budget Recommendation Committee will recommend that spring tuition be increased by 3% with the fee structure maintained at fall 2020 levels.

Diversity and inclusion update

Michael Benitez, Ph.D., vice president for diversity and inclusion, shared his team’s extensive work to advance the University as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, as well as inclusion and diversity initiatives on campus and in the community.

Benitez highlighted the work of Manny Del Real, Ph.D., executive director, HSI Initiatives, to secure more HSI-related and CARES Act funding as well as to drive legislative advocacy and policy development. Jeremy VanHooser, diversity coordinator, will continue to lead diversity programming and initiatives such as the Richard T. Castro and Rachel B. Noel Distinguished Visiting Professorships, Latinx graduation ceremonies, the Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Breakfast, Higher Education Diversity Summit and more. Chalane Lechuga, Ph.D., associate professor, Chicana/o Studies, who also serves as the faculty diversity liaison, analyzes faculty data for patterns in recruitment, retention, development and success. Benitez also noted the commitment of the Board of Trustees to address systemic racism and advance social justice.

The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council is now studying faculty/staff recruitment and retention; student retention, persistence and success; campus climate cultivation; HSI synergy and integration; and community mending and engagement.

Moving forward, Benitez hopes to add more faculty liaisons, increase grant applications for HSI initiatives, continue community engagement and inclusion efforts, secure additional MSI/HSI and CARES Act funding, and more.

General updates

  • All Roadrunners are invited to attend Friday’s virtual Convocation celebration.
  • President Davidson’s virtual Welcome Back address will take on Sept. 17 from 10-11 a.m.
  • The president welcomed Todd Thurman, director, Athletics, and Bill Henry, Ph.D., interim provost, to their first President’s Cabinet meeting.
  • The Strategic Plan 2025 committee recently held a “game it out” exercise examining several post-pandemic scenarios and their potential impacts on MSU Denver. The team will now consider adaptations for the post-pandemic environment, making sure strategic-plan pillars are still in alignment, and will present a new plan to trustees in December. If approved, the new strategic plan will go into effect in January.
  • New Title IX changes went into effect Aug. 14. New policies and procedures are now in development to govern both Title IX and non-Title IX conduct.
  • This year’s Homecoming theme of Roadrunners Rise will be devoted to service, advocacy, support and more. Visit the Homecoming website for details.
  • The campus community is encouraged to help reinforce the importance of adhering to health and safety protocols.
  • Staff Senate recently welcomed a number of new senators and leaders to the body.
  • Employees are encouraged to connect students to services now available online.

A recording of the meeting will be available on the President’s Cabinet website later today.

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