A Spring Update from UIW President Thomas M. Evans, PhD

March 12, 2024

admin with flowers

Dear students, faculty and staff, 

Spring break has arrived for many of our students and faculty. I hope it offers an opportunity for a well-deserved rest and a chance to recharge before we head into the busy final weeks of the semester. We have so much to look forward to and much to accomplish as we near the finish line. I want to express my gratitude to our faculty for inspiring and educating our students and to our staff for all that you do to move the university forward. Students, your goals are just within reach! I encourage you to keep going and know that we are all here to support you. 

Just before the break, the Board of Trustees gathered on our Broadway campus for the final meeting of this academic year. I shared an institutional update and invited UIW leaders to present on key areas of progress. Board members also learned more about challenges facing UIW, and all institutions of higher education, as well as our current strategies to overcome these obstacles and strengthen our university.

Community First

As always, our principal area of concern is our community. As part of that commitment, we want to continue recognizing the tremendous efforts and innovative practices of our dedicated employees. I am pleased to share that the board has approved a two percent merit and equity increase as part of the fiscal year 2025 budget that would go into effect on June 1 for designated employees.

Every March, the Board’s Academic Affairs Committee reviews a list of faculty members who are recommended for promotion and tenure by the Rank and Tenure Committee of the Faculty Senate and recommends approval of candidates to the full Board.  I am pleased to share that their recommendations were unanimously approved. I extend my thanks to the Faculty Senate and the Academic Affairs committee for your efforts in recognizing our faculty. I also congratulate faculty on their promotions, tenure and sabbaticals.

The Board also voted to approve a new policy that supports student-athletes to pursue name, image and likeness (NIL) activities in alignment with UIW Athletic Department expectations, Texas law, NCAA and conference regulations, and the university student handbook. The policy will be posted to the Athletics website. 

Operating Tactically

As mentioned above, there are significant challenges facing universities and institutions across higher education and it is imperative that we operate more efficiently and effectively in all departments. During the meeting, the Board voted on several action items designed to ensure that we effectively manage and protect the university’s resources.

Notably, the Board approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2024-2025. This week, faculty and staff will receive information regarding our budget from Dr. Darrell Haydon, Chief Financial Officer and vice president of Administrative Services.

Just as we continue to safeguard and apply best practices toward our budget, we do likewise for our technology and digital data. Cyber threats and incidents are growing in pace and sophistication. With this in mind, the Board also approved the new Consolidated Information Security Policy, which was drafted to help ensure the protection of our systems, data and users from malicious threats. 

Safeguards are also at the heart of the Board’s approval of our Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, policy. As an educational institution, UIW is bound by FERPA laws and regulations. These laws and regulations impact our many offices and operations in different ways. This policy consolidates and codifies all existing guidelines into a single document. 

The board’s Academic Affairs committee also learned more about the new Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) announced by Interim Provost Dr. Dimitri Tamalis last week via special message to faculty and staff. I would like to thank all who contributed to creating the plan and to all who will contribute to its execution.

Focus on the Future

Issues impacting the future of UIW, such as AI, technology, federal legislation and campus development, were at the forefront of our board presentations and proceedings.

With the rise of AI, faculty are wrestling with its ethical applications and the opportunity it presents. Dr. Lucretia Fraga, associate professor in the Dreeben School of Education, presented “Teaching and Learning with Artificial Intelligence” and provided an eye-opening demonstration of the speed and quality of its output. 

Another issue at the forefront of higher education is the delay and challenges posed by the update to the FAFSA. The months-long delay in launching and processing this application for federal student aid has caused ripple effects for universities everywhere and delayed students’ admissions decisions. I invited representatives from EAB, the higher education research firm, to offer more detailed insights into this national challenge and offer a look at UIW’s all-hands-on-deck response. Our offices of admissions, enrollment and financial aid are working hand-in-hand to ensure our processes enable quick and seamless aid package delivery and support the enrollment of a robust fall class. I am grateful to those teams for their dedication to supporting our prospective students and their families. We are working on bringing this presentation to the employee community at a later date.

The Board also heard more about the Spirit Reach project, which will impact our Broadway Campus and our sister ministries, the Headwaters at Incarnate Word, the Village at Incarnate Word and the Chapel of the Incarnate Word. Like Mission Reach and Museum Reach, Spirit Reach is an extension of the San Antonio Riverwalk that will follow the river through our property and into the neighboring ministry campuses. UIW General Counsel and Vice President for Legal Affairs Cindy Escamilla shared that with its planned bike paths and walking paths, Spirit Reach is a very exciting project that will help beautify our campus and connect us more deeply with our city.

Strategic Planning

Key to our future is the development of our next Strategic Plan, which will be informed by all the work and priorities outlined above. I shared with the Board more about our current process and timeline. Led by Vice President for Strategy and Enrollment and Chief of Staff John Bury, planning will be inclusive and integrate members of our community from all campuses and at all levels. Listening sessions are already underway and have sparked engaging conversations about what participants would like to see in the UIW of tomorrow.

If you have not already, I invite you to visit the Strategic Planning 2031 website, which offers more information and includes a link to my position paper “Embodying the Mission in a New Era: Inviting Collaboration, Serving Students Better & Working Together to Ignite the Potential of Our Global System.” The 150th anniversary of our founding is just seven years away and I know that we have enormous potential to do, grow and be even more. I hope that my thoughts on our future encourage you to share your own perspectives via the embedded form.

As you can see, exciting and critical progress is taking place across the university. I ask for your continued partnership as we work together to see it come to life. I thank you all for your many contributions and pray for your continued blessings and success.

Praised be the Incarnate Word!

Thomas M. Evans, PhD