Fall 2012 Convocation Speech
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Fall 2012 Speakers
August 20, 2012
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
Chair of the Faculty
Associated Students President
Staff Representative to the Academic Senate
Welcome back all – it's great to see the university so busy again with faculty, staff and students – as Leonard Cohen said 'it's lonely here with no-one left to torture'.
Let me start the academic affairs part of the ceremony by recognizing our new faculty:
Dr. Megan Taylor joins the School of Education and comes to us from her postdoctoral fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her Ph.D was in Mathematics from Stanford University and she believes improving public mathematics education in the U.S. hinges on improving teacher education. To this end, her research focuses on how mathematics teachers can use their curricula in more effective ways.
Carrie McDade joins the library as the instruction and outreach librarian. Carrie has been working in our library where she contributed to the pilot information literacy and instructional program for first-year composition and expository writing courses. She received her Master's degree in Library Science from San Jose State University.
We also welcome three visiting faculty.
Dr. Marlin Halim joins the Chemistry Department after receiving her Ph.D. from Columbia University. Her research interests are broad and she intends to continue research in collaboration with other science faculty to span organic chemistry, chemical biology and cellular biology.
Dr Haider Khaleel joins the Department of Engineering Science. He comes from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock where he completed his Ph.D. His research interests are on the design and development of novel wireless systems to be integrated within flexible electronic devices.
Dr. Mary Flett joins the Counseling Department where she has been lecturing in adult development, career development and sexuality counseling. Her research is centered on the needs of aging adults and she is currently developing tools to evaluate quality of life and engagement levels in aging adults.
We also hired Mark Fabionar as the new director of the multicultural center. Mark was previously the director of a similar center at Cal Poly where he developed campus and community programs for students.
Please join me in welcoming our new faculty and Mark to SSU.
I realize that many Departments are still short on permanent faculty and there are many needs – but this new blood to the campus will help. It may surprise you that our tenure density at SSU is 70.6% - which is highest in the CSU which averages 62% systemwide. Even so, we are 9 tenure track faculty down from 5 years ago and this year we shall conduct 5 new faculty searches for fall 2013 to fill positions in communications, ENSP, chemistry, accounting and engineering.
Thirteen months ago I stood in front of you as your new provost, I am still thrilled to be here – heading up academic affairs – and I want to thank all faculty and staff for being patient with me as I transitioned – you have all been wonderful.
It has been an interesting year – and while we are not as agile as I believe we need to be – I have certainly been an agile provost as I reeled from one challenge to the next – trimming budgets, cutting classes, reducing credit hours all while striving to keep morale high and faculty and staff engaged. I was helped enormously in this task by senate chair Ben Ford whose enthusiasm to have discussions aimed at re-imagining the University over the next five years was the perfect counterbalance to the torrent of bad news that rained down on us with the force of an unrelenting monsoon. So as I stand here today – I have a different perspective than 13 months ago – but I remain every bit as confident, as I was then, that SSU will be a preferred destination campus for many Californian students in the years to come.
But as we go into academic year 12/13, we cannot afford to be complacent – higher education is changing fast – and everywhere we look we see the warning signs. Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University sums it up well 'our challenge today is radical reformation – change at the margins will not do. The choice is reinvention or extinction. If we think it cannot happen to us, we ought to recall the fate of the Swiss watchmakers. Fabulous craftsmen, certainly, but the world has moved on, technologies have advanced, habits have shifted'.
Of course change can be slow in a university setting – and I was smiling, or perhaps grimacing, the other day as I read over the 1990 five year plan for SSU – of the 6 priorities to be explored, 4 are still lagging 22 years later. These are, should you care to smile with me – internationalizing the curriculum, expanding off-campus educational offerings, promoting faculty scholarship and development and increasing faculty diversity.
So my appeal to reason today is let's engage a large number of people next year in discussion about how to change the DNA of this great university – so that we can evolve and occupy the correct niche that best matches the unique characteristics of SSU. Competition is increasing and success no longer depends on imitation – that has been the folly of many universities in the US – striving to be Harvard without the huge dollar endowment to back it up. But more on that later – so what has your provost been up to in the last year?
I had to rapidly learn the ways of SSU and gain the trust and respect of faculty, staff and students. So I worked hard to become an accessible provost – always willing to listen and learn. And I want to continue that next year – so keep the invites coming.
In addition to getting to know everyone, I joined the Graduation Initiative Group and learned about all the steps we have been taking to improve graduation rates – perhaps the most dramatic being the expansion of first year learning cohorts for our incoming freshmen designed to set them on the correct path. This year, 1,600 of our 1720 incoming freshmen signed up for a learning cohort – congratulations to all who worked hard to make that happen.
But the main problem facing the group was the lack of data to drive decisions. If an initiative is working we should retain it – but if it's not – it should go. I'm delighted to say we are about to get that data – Sean Johnson has kindly accepted the position of Director of Institutional Research and as he grows into this new role, we shall start to see the data we need to make informed decisions across this campus.
I inherited a gap in the Office of Sponsored Programs and it took almost a year to solve that issue – but I am pleased to report that Matt Benney is now Director of the grants and contracts pre-award office and he will be helping to promote increased grant success on the campus. As we continue to build upon faculty conversations of last year to become more collaborative, remaining strong in grants and contracts is mission critical. There have been too many faculty successes in the grants arena last year to list – but consider just one example from the Chancellor's CSUPERB initiative – a program for education and research in biotechnology. Last year we realized a 586% return on our investment and brought in more funding through this initiative than 19 other campuses in the CSU.
Extended education continues to look at broadening offerings in line with its mission, namely to provide opportunities for non-traditional students such as those looking for degree completion programs at community colleges. Dean Merkel is also the Senior International Officer on campus and has set a goal of recruiting 50 international students to SSU over the next few years.
The newly established faculty center in the library was the venue for conversations and workshops helping to define the face of our campus in five years' time and how we might build instructional technology. From this, we started to get a sense that SSU might become a more Collaborative University in its broadest sense building scholarship; project-based learning, community outreach and internship programs. Three examples of this happening can be given:
Water Works is an interdisciplinary project across campus and I encourage you to engage with this program that promises to forge new campus connections by focusing on the many aspects of water. As described on their website, Water Works is an extended classroom reaching across the university and beyond – so look out for performances, lectures, art installations - all promising to give faculty, staff, students and the community a full interdisciplinary experience.
At the end of last year, I put out a call for proposals to renovate a classroom on campus to provide a technology-enhanced collaborative learning space. I received three very strong proposals and rather than single out a single winner, I asked all to collaborate on renovating PE 33, a classroom in the Physical Education building. This renovated space will accommodate 30 students and for interested faculty, it will provide a new platform for trying out learning ideas.
The merging of student and academic affairs was a major step. This venture is evolving but the structure we have now will facilitate better communication as we decide how to recruit the students we want, how to advertise our University as we continue to refine our uniqueness and of course how to better serve our students. I want to be clear that SSU still has a student affairs unit headed by our new Chief Student Affairs Officer – Matthew Lopez Phillips. However, this unit is now under the umbrella of the Division of academic affairs.
But as I said earlier, amid all these positives we cannot afford to be complacent – the warning signs about the new normal in education are everywhere.
In 2006, the Spellings commission report gave us our first wake-up call telling us that fewer US adults are completing degrees, that the costs are rising faster than inflation and that employers report graduates are unprepared for the workforce. Many can't write well enough to satisfy their employers or reason clearly – even although all universities rank critical thinking as a primary goal of higher education.
Then along came 'disruptive technology', the explosion of on-line learning, hybrid learning, and blended-learning. This prompted a few universities to rethink the entire traditional educational model and despite some of the for-profit on-line universities failing to produce results, others are impressing accrediting agencies with their tight focus on learning outcomes. Online enrollments have grown by 17% in 2009 compared to 1% for traditional higher education.
We should also pay attention to the proliferation of open online courses that are now available. The demand for these free online courses promises to grow amid a perfect storm in education – global recession, reduction in state support and increased tuition. Although it would require faculty oversight – it might not be long until we see these free courses being transferred into degree programs.
Strangely enough, the reluctance to increase tuition in the CSU in response to state budget cuts is an advantage for us as we posture ourselves to compete in the higher education market. In 2003, only two colleges in the US charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees and accommodation. By 2009, 224 colleges were above this mark and the outstanding student loan debt currently stands at more than one trillion dollars.
We are a liberal arts and science institution – and we should protect this as we go forward with conversations about our future. We need to stay true to this vision because it holds so much promise for the institution and our students. It helps us define our niche and lower competition since less than one percent of higher education students attend select liberal arts colleges. And while liberal education may seem impractical to some, it does produce leaders – 19 percent of US presidents are liberal arts graduates.
Last year, the book Academically Adrift painted a chilling portrait of what the university curriculum has become. By using standardized testing, the authors concluded that 45% of students made no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, or writing after 2 years of college. A large percentage even graduated with less critical thinking skills than they entered with! But the book provided a positive for us – graduates from schools with a liberal arts focus fared much better.
Liberal education sharpens the ability of a student to reflect critically – and this self-reflection is crucial since it can set you free. It's all about making our students appreciate the intrinsic value of inquiry as they learn Mathematics, French or Geography.
As the American philosopher Robert Pippin wrote 'if we open to multiple possibilities, the path ahead might look broader and more various, surrounded by less darkness and uncertainty.'
So how do we move forward in the face of draconian budget cuts? It's simple – we first accept that the playing field has changed and the goalposts are moving – we then use the amazing intellectual wealth in this room to find a way to do business differently.
As we proceed through the coming semester, I am asking for help from the Academic Coordinating Team. This group comprises the Deans, AVP's, chairs of the senate committees and the student president. How can we better focus on student success and student recruitment? This builds upon the question of why would students choose SSU as their destination campus in 5 years' time. While we did bring in almost 1,800 first time freshmen this year, only 900 of these students attended sea wolf day which tells me not all of our freshmen chose SSU as their preferred campus. I want 1,800 at next year's sea wolf day.
I also want the coordinating team to identify initiatives to expand collaboration on the campus. Important in this regard is helping me define tangible links between this amazing Weill Hall here at the Green Music Center and academia. I have been active in discussion with GMC board members about what such links might look like. And while imitation has led many universities down the wrong path, we would do well to look at Stanford's new plan.
Stanford's faculty have just agreed that future graduates will be best served by being broadly educated and a new requirement for students is 'creative expression' and this is being achieved by Stanford's investment in the Arts. Perhaps SSU has an opportunity to make our students both collaborative and creative – we need to embrace this amazing facility and together we need to make this happen.
I have had a lot of discussion with local industry over the last year – about the needs of the employers both here and beyond. I would like more of our students to graduate faster – although we are a four year institution, less than 25% of students graduate in that time. I have said many times over the last year – if students are going to stay at SSU for 6 years, we should be giving them a master's degree. Alternatively, we could offer them certificates with specific skill sets to help them compete in the job market. This was suggested by both industry and the faculty committee that offered guiding principles for meeting looming budget cuts. I would like to start building some certificate programs for interested students through extended education. Exact titles will be determined by faculty but some examples might be conflict resolution, gender studies, geographic information systems or digital technology.
And perhaps the hardest conversation of all is a look at the curriculum. Over the last ten years, curricula have become more complicated, often without consideration of the needs of employers. This process is known as mission creep or 'Carnegie creep' for those universities with visions of grandeur. This creep has serious consequences in the new normal of education. Additional students are welcome because of their tuition dollars, but as they declare majors and proceed to advance classes, class sizes shrink and the larger student body is divided into numerous smaller expensive classes. This is exactly what happened last week during open registration – a disproportionate emphasis on upper division classes as we accommodated students across 45 majors and 48 minors. This resulted in insufficient space for the freshmen and sophomores. It is easier to continue to schedule as we have in past years – but it is an unsustainable practice for this campus.
The challenge being taken seriously by only a handful of institutions nationwide is how to educate more students, better at less cost. I sincerely hope we can continue to expand conversation in the faculty center to find ways to serve more students better, to use the GMC to redefine the campus, and to be the number one destination campus for all our students. Part of the solution is to continue to discuss how technology could be used to enhance instruction and be willing to consider that the combination of online technology and the college campus has the potential to take traditional universities to new heights.
The Professional Development subcommittee of the senate would like to continue offering hands-on workshops for faculty in the faculty center and I am delighted to support this. We also have a nucleus of faculty ready to form what I call a 'think tank' on technology and learning – these are the faculty who are active adopters of moodle and who responded to the collaborative classroom project. Let's sit with this group informally and open our minds to the possibilities. Across the campus – only 25% of faculty are using moodle and few to full potential. Let's change that!
And to help make change happen we are going to search for a new library position – and instructional designer to work directly with faculty interested in using innovative technologies and learning environments.
We have choices ahead and changes to make – that's for sure given the budget reality – so as I leave you, consider the words of the Jungian analyst Robert Johnson ' the mystery is this, there is one right thing to do at every moment. We can either follow or resist'.
We can only effect change in the academy if we work together while banishing the temptation to resist change.