VC Notes Archive Office of the Vice Chancellor
Friday, May 3, 2019

Sustainability, Data, and the Quality of Academic Life

Good morning!

I want to cover several topics this week that have been front-and-center on my mind recently.

VC_May_3_GivingTWOsday.jpgFirst, I want to thank everyone who participated in “Giving TWOsday.”  This was a special one-day fundraiser for our Grow Children’s building campaign.  An anonymous donor agreed to match all contributions on that day, up to a total of $250,000.  Hundreds of other contributors stepped up and actually gave more than $500,000, which the anonymous donor agreed to match, for a one-day total of $1 million.  Giving TWOsday put us nearly three-quarters of the way toward our $100 million goal for the children’s expansion, which continues on time and on budget toward a fall 2020 completion.  A big shout-out to our Development team for all the work that went into making this a success and, once again, thank you for your support!

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In last week’s Q&A column one of the questions I responded to was about UMMC’s use of plastics in various settings and the resulting non-biodegradable waste that ends up in landfills.  I receive a lot of comments - in person, through VC Notes and other means - about our waste generation, our recycling activities and our institutional carbon footprint.  At one time we had a campus recycling committee that did some excellent work in establishing our current program, but as the market for recyclables softened, the committee and some of our initiatives seem to have lost some steam.  Yet concerns about the protection of our environment and preserving a healthy planet for future generations have only grown.  Based on student, staff and faculty interest in these issues and input from my Executive Cabinet, I have decided to establish a Sustainability Committee.  The committee will be advisory in nature and serve the following functions:

  • as a repository of the ideas and suggestions that can be evaluated and possibly implemented,
  • as a group to catalog what we are doing in this space,
  • as a vehicle for the interested parties to have a voice and input and
  • as a means of communication with the campus about these efforts.

Do you have a passion about sustainability and the time and energy to devote to this issue?  Do you know someone with these qualities that you would recommend?  If so, you may nominate yourself or others, providing a brief description of the qualifications of the nominee(s).  You can contact me through the VC Notes comment/question feature, by email or any other means.  Please be sure to include the name of the nominee and contact information.  I am looking for interested faculty, staff and students.  I can’t promise that any particular nominee will be chosen, but all will be considered.  Thank you. 

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On Tuesday I invited a group of about 16 people to have a discussion with me about data.  That’s right, data.  These individuals are in some way or another the keepers of data that we use to make all kinds of institutional decisions and, increasingly, as a basis for clinical research.  With the advent of electronic health records, we have more information than ever before – more evidence – on which to base clinical decisions that serve our patients.  When aggregated and properly de-identified to protect patient privacy, this data can be an invaluable tool to answer any number of research questions that can ultimately improve care and patient outcomes.  At the same time, we possess or have access to a number of analytical tools and associated data that help us make operational, financial and management decisions – what programs to invest in, our costs per unit of service, and whether to outsource an activity or build and manage it ourselves, for example.  We are in the data business, big time, including data we collect, manage and share with others. 

What I’ve begun to notice is that we have a lot of data but not always a lot of information.  The various data sources are not always coordinated; they aren't known to everyone who could benefit from them; they are not always easy to access; once accessed, they can be difficult to navigate; and support from experts who manage the data can be inconsistent.  By starting this conversation, I’m hoping to get all our data sources and data management activities better organized and then share information about their availability more broadly.  In particular, we need to make sure we have experts in place who can help researchers, managers, leaders and students formulate the right questions that correlate to the data sets that are available.  As one participant said in our meeting, we need an “easy button” that connects a person to the data that has the potential to yield insights.

Stay tuned for more on this topic.  In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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If you read Monday’s eCV, you may have noticed the story on the Quality of Academic Life Survey that’s available to faculty members at Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning campuses, including those at UMMC.  Commissioned by the IHL, the survey was developed and distributed by the John D. Bower School of Population Health.  We’ve been working on clinician burnout for a couple of years now, but it’s no surprise that non-clinician faculty are also subject to burnout.  Faculty burnout “has been linked to poor student outcomes, early retirement, lower research productivity and diminished teaching quality,” according to Dr. Bettina Beech, dean of the School of Population Health and leader of the study.  So far, about 900 faculty have taken the survey, and nearly 41 percent of those showed signs of burnout.  I commend Dr. Beech, Dr. Josh Mann and others who have organized this study on this important topic, and I hope  our faculty will consider completing the survey available on the Quality of Academic Life website.

Just looking back at what I’ve written today makes me realize anew that continuous improvement is not a destination but a journey, one that is not made in a single day or even a single career.  We have to stay focused and pace ourselves, on our path to A Healthier Mississippi.

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