“I think we have some work to do to make sure the public understands the role of public education in this state.” – Grace Mims
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Grace Mims knows she has big shoes to fill on the University of Nebraska at Kearney Faculty Senate.
The counseling and school psychology professor and department chair will serve as the group’s president for the 2018-19 academic year, replacing associate political science professor Claude Louishomme, who held the position during a difficult time at UNK.
Mims called her predecessor a “very strong advocate” who represented the faculty and their concerns as the university was forced to cut $3.67 million in spending to address a budget gap created by decreased state funding, declining credit hour production and scheduled salary and benefits increases.
That led to a lot of anxiety as several faculty and staff positions and three sports programs were eliminated, but Mims applauded University of Nebraska administrators for keeping faculty informed and valuing their input throughout the process.
“Our central administration definitely raises our voices and elevates faculty input,” she said. “They really respect faculty and want us to have a say.”
There’s another state funding cut coming for the fiscal year that begins July 1 – this time it’s 1 percent instead of 2 percent – so that issue remains on the Faculty Senate’s radar.
Mims, who joined UNK in 2008 and became a department chair two years later, said one of her goals is to address the public perception of higher education.
“I think we have some work to do to make sure the public understands the role of public education in this state,” she said, adding that there are “disturbing” trends nationally regarding state funding for colleges and universities.
Mims is stressing the importance of developing relationships with state senators. Mirroring the “I Love NU Advocacy Day” held in March, she wants faculty and students to share their stories with lawmakers and let them know how the University of Nebraska positively impacts the entire state.
Locally, Mims said she was impressed by the campus and community support for UNK during the Legislature’s debate over funding for the university system. That connection, she said, continues to be an asset.
“This is still just a very positive culture,” she said. “I love coming to work every day. I wouldn’t want to work anyplace else.”
Mims also believes Faculty Senate can be a key player in the ongoing effort to boost student enrollment. Faculty have expressed interest in increasing their presence at high schools and smaller colleges that can serve as “feeder programs” for UNK and they want to make the university more visible to students earlier in their high school careers.
“I think there’s going to be more connecting with high schools and colleges,” said Mims, a licensed professional counselor who taught for 15 years as a professor at the University of South Dakota before coming to UNK.
Another recruiting tool she’s excited about is the research recently presented by Ruffalo Noel Levitz. That information is driving a number of changes, including updates to programs, marketing strategies and the UNK website.
“Things like that are really helping us realign and figure out what our next steps are,” she said.
Other Faculty Senate priorities for the upcoming year include a smooth merger between the colleges of Natural and Social Sciences and Fine Arts and Humanities, which will be known as the College of Arts and Sciences, and the General Studies Council’s upcoming recommendation regarding general studies requirements for students.
In her role as Faculty Senate president, Mims will meet monthly with the UNK executive cabinet and University of Nebraska Board of Regents while advocating on behalf of faculty members and promoting the advancement of UNK.
What is the UNK Faculty Senate?
Faculty Senate acts as the official voice of the faculty at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
Through parliamentary deliberation and action, Faculty Senate:
- strives to protect academic freedom
- addresses academic matters that affect more than one college
- advises and consults with the university community on matters of general concern
- reviews existing academic programs and all new departments and academic programs with universitywide impact, including majors and minors
- recommends candidates for honorary degrees and acts on other business specifically delegated to it by the administration
- provides a means of appeal to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents when normal administrative channels are exhausted
Representatives from all undergraduate colleges, the library and senators at-large comprise the 35 members. Meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month during the school year, except in January and May. The May meeting is held on the last Thursday in April. Meetings are open to all members of the UNK academic community and the general public.