Service Award from UArizona

I earned a pretty hefty honor last Friday -- the SBS Outstanding Service award. As you might imagine, this is an award for service above and beyond the call of duty, and it's especially meaningful because it's college-wide, not departmental. Particularly with how nasty the last academic year has gone, with contentious in-fighting concerning such basic concepts as labor equity in teaching loads, sort of recognition from the university means a lot.

Anyway, since I put excessive time and energy into crafting this self-nomination letter, I'm sharing with you all.

SERVICE AWARD LETTER

My service story began early in Spring 2023 when, tragically, our department suddenly lost both our Department Head and Associate Head to catastrophic medical issues—the first to brain cancer, the latter to long Covid. Although Dean Poloni-Staudinger quickly selected an Emergency Acting Head, our department desperately needed someone willing to perform the Associate Head duties. In my department, this position handles scheduling, and we had no summer schedule ready and only a bare-bones draft for the fall schedule.

Unfortunately, none of our tenure-track faculty had the bandwidth or resources to step up. At the time, I was finishing up my second year as Director of Undergraduate Studies, but, as a career-track faculty member, I was technically ineligible to serve as Associate Head. Nonetheless, I was the only person still left in our department who understood the newly implemented AIB budgetary model—even our business team was new to their jobs—so our Emergency Acting Head asked me to do what I could, and I did, tackling some fall scheduling problems and creating our summer schedule from scratch. Despite my lack of previous scheduling experience, I managed—through a combination of advertising and strategic scheduling—to garner our highest summer enrollment in 23 years.

However, this success isn’t why I’m self-nominating for the SBS Outstanding Service award. After my experiences with the summer schedule, I starting wondering if we couldn’t find a new, data-driven method for improving our department’s scheduling practices. One area of inefficiency is that, for a variety of historical reasons, our department doesn’t have any clear guidelines on courses sizes—faculty have traditionally just negotiated their own course caps, and this has led to weird discrepancies in teaching loads. Since I believed the best way to propose a standardized “max-seat policy” (as I called it) was through reference to historical norms, I began pulling and analyzing enrollment data for the last 17 semesters: i.e., from Fall 2017 through Spring 2023. 

As a baseball fan, I have a flair for spreadsheets and statistics, so I created a 7-page Excel spreadsheet to support my data analysis. While it’s easy enough to pull raw enrollment data Analytics, if it isn’t analyzed, it doesn’t do much to help you make data-driven decisions. This past enrollment data, however, helped me formulate a Max-Seat Policy Proposal based on our past historical norms, which I thought the most palatable method for presenting it to our faculty, who have traditionally resisted a standardized policy.

Nonetheless, I was also fully aware of UArizona’s budgetary crisis—even before the university discovered its $177 million shortfall last November, the Dean had been telling the English Department how dire our finances were: we were responsible for half of SBS’s total debt. So, since I had all this enrollment data available, I took my analysis a step further: how would the English Department’s budget been affected had we implemented the Max-Seat Policy Proposal eleven semesters ago?

Answering this question obviously entails some methodological assumptions about the value of SCH and so forth, but after meeting with James Schlittenhart, the Assistant Dean of Finance and Administration, he approved my math as solid: my Max-Seat Policy Proposal would generate about an extra $48,000 in revenue every semester for the English Department … and all simply by being more equitable over how we distribute teaching workloads to our faculty.

In addition, I also created a “Programs Analysis” using the enrollment data in my spreadsheet. This analysis measured the revenue generated, on average, for every course our department has offered in the last eleven semesters. Courses that have performed well historically are designated “gold courses” (). Courses that perform poorly are designated “red flag” courses (🚩). For instance,

A number of surprising revelations came about via this analysis, and we’re hoping to better manage our scheduling practices in light of this new information.

All this service labor was undertaken beyond my official duties as DUS, and it was explicitly undertaken to (a) improve equity among our teaching faculty and (b) address our department’s budgetary situation vis-à-vis the larger university crisis. In Fall 2023, our department held many, many meetings talking about these issues, and I’m proud to report an immediate, positive impact on our Spring 2024 enrollment numbers: i.e.,

  • Our 2nd highest enrollment percentage (92%) in the last 17 semesters.
  • Our 4th highest number of total students taught in the last 11 semesters.

This latter is especially significant given how our department’s total majors have been declining steadily for the last 15 years.

I therefore hope you’ll consider this nomination for the SBS Outstanding Service Award.

Best,

Dennis W. Wise

Dr. Dennis Wise

Senior lecturer / Director of Undergraduate Studies / English

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