Provost discusses coronavirus, classroom expansion, and strategic plan in virtual town hall

March 17, 2020
Author: Imran Ghori
March 17, 2020

UC Riverside interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Thomas M. Smith updated the campus on measures taken in response to the coronavirus while also outlining progress in several key areas during a town hall meeting Wednesday, March 11.

The update was held online via Zoom instead of in-person as part of the social distancing practice adopted to minimize the spread of COVID-19.

University leadership has announced several proactive measures to cope with what is a rapidly changing situation. Regular updates and advisories can be found at UCR’s Environmental Health & Safety website.

Smith said the campus will continue to send out regular reminders and updated information on a weekly basis at minimum.

“These measures are only meant to be temporary,” Smith said. “We believe this is an emergency situation, and they will be reviewed and updated.”

Turning to some positive news, Smith celebrated UCR’s climbing status in several recent college ranking lists, including Forbes magazine and U.S. News and World Report, where the campus was named No. 1 in social mobility.

“It’s clear we’re the fastest-rising university in America,” Smith said.

Everyone on campus should be proud of the work they’re doing, he said.

Even as UCR is rising in rankings, it’s accepting more students, going from an enrollment of around 20,000 in 2010 to 25,000 in 2018, Smith said.

Over the last eight years, the campus has increased its number of faculty by 40% to address the growing student population, with 919 faculty members now on campus, he said.

UCR continues to sit below other UC campuses in its staffing levels, a situation which the campus hopes to rectify. 

Smith said university leadership will be surveying the campus and listening to pitches from unit heads to identify the “biggest pain points.”

“We’re hopeful that as the budget situation improves over the next couple of years we’ll be able to make some serious increase in staff across campus,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, the campus is making progress in adding classrooms with an additional 1,667 classroom seats — a 24% increase — to become available by fall 2021, Smith said.

The biggest contributor to more classroom space is the Student Success Center, which began construction last fall and will have seating for 1,100 when completed in fall 2021.

Some classroom space will be available as early as this fall with the completion of the Dundee-Glasgow residence and dining hall. Additional classroom space will also be made available in Pentland Hills, University Village, and Sproul and Watkins halls due to conversion of computer labs.

Those projects are part of a wave of campus construction that also include the North District student housing, the Plant Growth Environments Facility, a new parking structure, and the renovated and expanded Barn.

Finally, Smith shared an update on the strategic plan process launched by Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox last fall, which envisions the goals and aspirations for UCR when it celebrates its centennial in 2054.

Five strategic plan working groups began meeting last fall and will continue to do so through the winter quarter before releasing their reports in spring. A draft strategic plan is expected to be released in the fall followed by the plan launch in winter 2021, Smith said.

Smith said a number of exciting ideas have bubbled up in the meetings. They include focusing on community engagement, emphasizing student-centered research, continuing the campus’ commitment to diversity, and exploring the concept of co-creation of knowledge between faculty, students, and community members.

“UCR wants to become a campus that is known globally for its emphasis on engaging with the community both with our instruction and our research,” Smith said.

More information on the process, including documents and notice of upcoming meetings, is available on the strategic plan website. A video of the meeting is available on the provost's website.