UNO Hosts First President’s Forum of the 2012-2013 Academic Year

Students, faculty and administrators headed at lunchtime Thursday to attend a President’s Forum at the University of New Orleans, where UNO President Peter J. Fos spoke candidly and fielded questions.

The biannual event organized by UNO’s Student Government Association took place in the University Center Ballroom, where the audience filled a majority of tables and chairs and for one hour sat quietly listening as the president shared his plans for the university and experiences, aiming to increase connection and creating an ongoing dialogue with the student body.

His last nine months as UNO president have been “an exciting nine months for me,” said the president, whose tenure at UNO started with a midyear budget cut during his first week at the university. This summer, Fos led a strategic review of university finances to determine ways to trim expenses so that the university could meet onerous budget cuts. The president did so in a way that students will not feel a difference in their classroom experiences, he said.

“I told everyone during the budget cuts this summer that I didn’t want students to feel it, to actually know that it happened,” he said to the students assembled.

Fos also decided in March that UNO will remain Division I Athletics. This spring, UNO announced acceptance into the Southland Conference. Then last week, New Orleans experienced a hurricane. Fos led the school closing, security measures, damage assessment and cleanup, as well as the evacuation of students. He also worked on campus throughout the week.

The president said that he continues to move forward with plans for “one-stop shopping,” which entails consolidation of the Admissions, Registrar and Bursar’s Office to ease enrollment procedures and enhance customer service for students. He envisions a comfortable environment where students can get all their enrollment questions answered and needs addressed at one time in one place facing minimal lines and minimal stress.

The president said that Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Brett Kemker will make a benchmarking site visit soon to help iron out details and ensure best practices.

“We’ve been very aggressive here to get more students here and also to make student life more active. So you’re going to see us doing lots and lots more things,” Fos said about university efforts to attract and retain talented students and increase student involvement.

The president highlighted the university’s new commercial, a 30-second spot now playing on WWL-TV that is entitled “The Heartbeat of the Crescent City” and stars students as actors.

“We’re trying to make this university a university we can be proud of,” the president said. “I graduated from here. More important, my wife graduated from here,” he said referring to aggressive marketing, communication and student retention efforts. “If you think I have pressure at work, I have pressure when I go home.  I go home and I hear ‘What did you do today at my university?’ We want people to know how special this place is. We want them to come. And if they don’t come, that’s their problem, but at least the community will know that you can get a great education at this university.”

Fos also discussed upcoming events surrounding the upcoming investiture, when he will be officially installed as university president on Nov. 12 amid a whirlwind of traditional ceremonies. The four-day period will draw city leaders, business leaders, community leaders and local celebrities to campus.  The investiture will include a gala, investiture ceremony, a university-wide service project and a day of rest.  Political commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin will speak at the first presidential lecture. Irma Thomas, also known as the Soul Queen of New Orleans, will perform.

Student questions ran the gamut on issues ranging from parking tickets to customer service in the Bursar’s Office.

The Office of Student Involvement and other offices will move to the University Center in October, the president said. UNO is also adding online learning programs, which have been highly successful at other universities and urban research centers, Fos said.

Last Tuesday, the president launched a strategic planning committee made of faculty and administrators who will review and revise an existing strategic plan for the University.

“At any university, the president sets the vision for the university. There are other people that do the plan. I inherited someone else’s plan, so beginning this fall we have a strategic planning committee to look at the existing plan, which is 2011…when we moved out of the LSU system,” the president said. “My vision is that we continue to be the premier research university, not only in the state, but in the region.”