November 15, 2004

Town hall examines academic program

The challenge of defining academic excellence in the Destination 2010 initiative was the focus of the first town hall meeting of the academic year Nov. 10. In front of a packed house in the Union Hinde Auditorium, President Alexander Gonzalez, Vice President for Academic Affairs Ric Brown and Faculty Senate Chair Cristy Jensen led a discussion about where the campus should direct its efforts in the years ahead.

“When we talk about Destination 2010, we should be clear it is not just about the physical development of the campus," said President Alexander Gonzalez.

Brown said the campus has to clearly define its vision of academic excellence. “We need to foster academic excellence, not maintain it,” he said, suggesting lighter teaching loads, clearer paths to tenure and increased resources are givens.

He also called for a road map for Destination 2010 that states what the campus’ priorities are: a stronger liberal arts programs? increased civic engagement? a more global perspective?

Several participants raised the issue that excellence requires effort on the part of students, not just faculty. And that some efforts to instill excellence may not sit well with all parties.

A criminal justice professor said, “It’s important not to assume all our programs are excellent. There are probably pockets of excellence and pockets of mediocrity and some that aren’t even that. To be excellent, you have to have standards. And if you have standards, they will impact somebody in a way they won’t like.” He also brought up a study that showed 80 percent of students assume their work rates a B or better, and suggested faculty are responding to that expectation.

A biology professor continued the theme saying he feels there shoud be some “tough love.” While he said he supports giving students who are struggling a second chance, some take advantage and try to get a third and fourth chance. “We need to develop an attitude that this is your chance and you’d better make the most of it,” he said.

Another faculty member suggested the need to set a standard for out-of-class time per unit, saying that one reason for “non-excellence” is that faculty use the commuter campus tag as an excuse for not requiring enough effort outside the classroom. She suggested that if students are working 40 hours a week they may need to cut down on the number of units they are taking.

Jensen responded that the Faculty Senate is developing an advisement policy that suggests department faculty talk with students about workload.

But a journalism department faculty member put the blame on resources, saying the cause may be increased class sizes. “Maybe we’re letting them slide because we don’t have the time to devote to them,” he said.

Brown said this year was frustrating because of the fluctuations in expectations for enrollment, but with the compact between the chancellor’s office and the governor, the campus may have reached a “sane” level of expectation in terms of enrollment. “I’m hopeful that with the compact we will begin to see relief.”

The role of the planned Recreation, Wellness and Events Center in Destination 2010 prompted a faculty member to express concern about the possibility of a resource tug-of-war between athletics and academics. President Gonzalez replied, ”This is the third campus I’ve been on and that tension that exists between athletics and academics is an artificial one. The way I view . . . athletics is as a vehicle to go out into the community. My experience has been that when you have success athletically, support goes up and the people who are supporters of athletics are the same ones who will support academic programs.

“Academics will always be what we do. Athletics will be ancillary.” He also noted that the funding for the new facility will not come from the operating budget but from non-state money—student fees and private donations.

In response to a question about deficiencies in funding for graduate programs, Brown agreed, noting that graduate students are now paying more but are still being funded at the same rate. He also noted that funding shortfalls and additional professional licensing requirements may affect the University’s ability to continue some of its master’s degree programs.

In response to an audience question about student complaints about the limitations of campus radio station KSSU, Gonzalez said he is looking into increasing wattage for the station but it might not be feasible. He also noted that while he has limited control over the license held by Capital Public Radio, he is in discussions with the Black Chamber of Commerce about student opportunities with a new station it is developing.

Other audience members discussed the need for choice in software while another spoke to the need to support faculty who act as advisors to student groups during the tenure process. Another suggested excellence could be fostered through more collaboration between departments and increased technical support outside the classroom.

Gonzalez closed by answering questions about his vision for what a representative faculty member might be in 2010. “We need to think differently about the work we do and how we do it. When I say we should be a flagship campus, we should be. It’s not out of the question.”

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