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Cluster hires in relevant areas and greater diversity in recruitment will bring research and understanding to a broader community.

By Joe Rojas-Burke

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles outlining the University of Utah’s four strategic goals, an initiative that began with dialogue sessions last spring.

One of the most important goals of a university is taking its treasures of acquired knowledge and bringing them to a larger community outside of academia: local citizens, businesses, political leaders and policy makers. And to develop and transfer new knowledge stands as a top strategic goal at the University of Utah.

The Transformative Excellence Program, in its second year, is recruiting clusters of high-achieving faculty in areas highly relevant to society – and building on fields where the U already is strong. It’s a way to expand the capacity to address urgent concerns and boost impact by focusing investments strategically. “Today’s most pressing problems – from climate change to the educational achievement gap – all touch on multiple academic disciplines. Solving them will require the best efforts of researchers from multiple disciplines, too,” says Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for Academic Affairs.

To increase diversity of faculty, including women in science and engineering, the U has committed significant resources to accelerate recruitment of scholars and educators from diverse backgrounds. “We’re trying to bring in more diverse graduate students as well, to increase the pipeline leading to faculty positions,” says Graduate School Dean Dave Kieda. For example, since 2011 the U has been a part of the Western Alliance to Expand Student Opportunities, a comprehensive program that supports students who are historically underrepresented in math and science so they can move successfully from college to graduate degree to jobs in academia and technology industries.

The U is stepping up graduate student recruitment and education to attract top talent. “We’re providing more competitive financial packages to recruit the most capable people,” says Thomas Parks, vice president for Research. In addition, he says the U is working to give graduate students training and experience that also will prepare them for careers outside of academia. “I believe that makes programs more attractive,” Parks says.

To make the most of limited funding sources, the U is focusing more explicitly on building program quality in key areas. “The administration doesn’t create the ideas for new areas of research and creative works. The faculty does that,” Kieda says. “And then we try to find the resources to provide strong support for the vision of the faculty, department chairs and deans,” says Kieda. “It’s an ongoing process.”

The Northwestern Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) will perform a comprehensive accreditation evaluation visit to the University of Utah campus on Oct. 28-30, 2015. The NWCCU evaluation team, led by nine university faculty and staff from peer institutions in the NWCCU region, will meet with campus students, faculty and staff to evaluate the U’s accreditation status, in conjunction with the U’s recently released 2015 Year Seven Self-Evaluation Report.

In preparation for the October visit, the U invites members of the U community, as well as members of the general public, to provide comments regarding the U’s qualifications for regional accreditation.   Comments should be sent directly to NWCCU by Sept. 28, 2015, in order to be fully considered in the accreditation review. All signed comments will be forwarded, as received, to the U, to the visiting evaluation team, and to NWCCU.

The University of Utah has continuously maintained its accreditation through NWCCU since 1933. Accreditation through NWCCU means that the U meets the Commission’s established standards of educational quality and effectiveness.

The last comprehensive campus visit by NWCCU took place in Fall 2012, in conjunction with the University’s Year Three Self Evaluation Report. NWCCU subsequently confirmed the university’s accreditation status in February 2013.

A copy of NWCCU Policy A-5, Public Notification and Third Party Comments Regarding Full-Scale Evaluations can be found at the NWCCU website  (via the Standards and Policies and then Operational Policies links), or by contacting the Commission office at 425/558-4224).

All documents and correspondence associated with NWCCU accreditation of the U, including the Year Seven Self Evaluation Report, is available online at