Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why do Strategic Planning?

As I'm eager to tell people, I am a first generation college student and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and more specifically CASL, transformed my entire life. But when I returned to the campus as a faculty member in 1999, CASL looked very much the same as it did when I graduated 15 years earlier. That has not changed much even today, in spite of the fact that the environment and constraints are changing rapidly and in dramatic ways. We have the ability to change and transform lives. That part of CASL has not changed. We must, however, figure out how to continue this work in ways that are smarter and more efficient and that jibe with the reality that we have fewer resources to work with and that we must at the same time attract new resources, students, and partners, and continue to grow and evolve in our ability to offer the best of what a CASL education can be.

At the same time, and maybe more importantly, strategic planning is an opportunity to bring the CASL community together. We are disconnected too often, we don’t know what’s going on in other parts of the College, and we miss the opportunities to witness and celebrate the amazing things our students, faculty and staff are doing.

You are speaking about this as well in your responses to the survey:

"I am not quite familiar what is going on in other departments. It could be a good idea for each department to introduce themselves and their goals/plans in a college wide meeting."

"Building community is a great idea! I think students over 25 having a harder time connecting to the college life. CASL feels like home to most of us, but older students need ways to make deeper connections to campus."

"I am interested in hearing about the staff experience. What are their expectations and how do they feel about change in their job classifications and job descriptions? This would be very important information to share."

"It’s important for all of us to come together so that we can pull together to make a CASL education all that it can be. We have the ability to change and transform lives. Let’s do it."

Join the conversation. The CASL Strategic Planning survey is open through Wednesday, December 3, 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Heart of CASL

What should be preserved as we look at change? Your survey responses highlight many aspects of our experience together:

• the community feel
• engaged faculty/student interactions
• small classes
• faculty collegiality
• inclusive nature
• respect for diversity
• the focus on the classroom experience
• our individuality
• the way we look out for one another
• the strong academic/professional relationships between faculty and students
• openness
• interdisciplinary spirit
• being a community of scholars aimed at enriching the minds and enabling the futures of students

And even your ideas about what might change reflect the passion for a liberal arts education that lies at our core:

"We need to create a new model for higher education around the liberal arts and focus on attracting incoming students rather than transfers. Students should want to come here because we offer something unique-- not because we're that place they can go and transfer all their other credits."

"Provide additional opportunities for students to engage in the extended academic and business community."

"Better communication and relationships across departments. In other words, cohesion. I feel we're too fragmented. This would also encompass better organization and systematizing. I think issues/problems/students sometimes fall through the cracks in the midst of multiple disconnects. While systems and processes will help, this improvement will also be very dependent on the commitment of invested faculty who CARE."

"More intellectual interaction among faculty, more colloquia, forums, etc. Not more meetings."

"I would like to see greater support for the unique blend of teaching, research, and mentoring which characterizes the teacher-scholar model at quality liberal arts colleges. All of the time spent on deliberations and vision statements will be for naught if we do not invest the time and money necessary to truly support faculty, staff, and students. To be truly supportive of small classes, small programs, and research mentoring of undergraduate students, we will have to reconcile our financial constraints with a vision where faculty have time to meaningfully engage with students in this manner."

"We need a modernizing of our approach to higher education, e.g., a strengthened commitment to connect theory to practice, via academic service learning, work/study, community engagement and related programming. Students also need to better understand how to link what they are learning to careers that are family sustaining and meaningful."

Join the conversation. The CASL Strategic Planning survey is open through Wednesday, December 3, 2014.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Introducing the CASL Community

As the results from the CASL Strategic Planning Survey start to come in, I find myself meeting the CASL community in a new way. As you know, CASL has been my home for many (many!) years and I deeply value our students, staff, and faculty and the amazing education we make possible here. But now I get to see you in a new way – in the passion you have for CASL, the concerns you struggle with, and in the hopes and visions you have for what we can become.

Here are just a few of your comments that I have found heartening:

• CASL represents tolerance, debate, and imaginative innovation.
• It's one of the few educational options that surround words, thoughts and concepts, rather than numbers, formulas and algorithms. Some, such as myself, work in concepts and ideas, rather than absolutes, and CASL offers strong educational paths for people like this.
• My CASL education provided me with the foundation to be successful in business, industry associations, and the extended UM community. My multi-discipline UM-Dearborn education allowed me to adapt to the changing world and to function in a global society.
• I really value the small class size, which leads to fantastic opportunities for complex discussions in class.
• CASL is my home and a place where I have made my career. I care deeply about its students and their success after they leave the University.
• Done well, a liberal arts education and foundation can help produce compassionate, empathetic, well-grounded, open-minded and thoughtful citizens - who can help bring about a better world. That is my constant prayer as I work with other faculty and teach students.

Join the conversation. The CASL Strategic Planning survey is open through Wednesday, December 3, 2014.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Invitation to Help us Shape CASL's Future

A group of CASL faculty, staff, and students have been busily engaged in planning for the launch of the college’s strategic planning process. Specifically, the group’s charge is to identify important questions that we need to bring to the CASL community, to identify important data/information that we need to share to inform our discussion of these questions, and to think about how best to engage all of CASL and its varied constituencies in the planning process. To assist us in framing the conversation, we now seek your input via this short survey: The survey will remain open through December 3 so please be sure to respond by then. Your responses will help us understand your perspectives and vision as well as how you would like to participate in the formal planning process. Many of my earlier posts suggest why strategic planning is an imperative at this moment in time. Two years of declining enrollments and a tightening financial picture for the college, growing media hostility toward the liberal arts and their relevance for today’s students, and an intensely competitive higher education market serve as important external reasons for engaging in strategic planning. But even more important are the opportunities that strategic planning offers us. Our college has been infused with new faculty and staff talent, we continue to draw talented and engaged students to our majors, and our alumni are making a name for themselves and for CASL is a wide array of professions. When coupled to the deep institutional knowledge and rich history of success embodied in our veteran faculty and staff we have the makings for a creative and empowering re-imagination of the college and of its priorities and future direction. Strategic planning will allow for those conversations, will prompt new ideas, and will enable us to tell CASL’s story in ways that are both meaningful to our community and understandable to those outside of CASL. As I look at the college and contemplate its future I am very excited about the opportunities that I see. The things I’ve come to value the most about my own time in CASL - the small classes, the engaged faculty, the opportunities for mentored research - are all still very much a part of what we do. It is my belief that the educational experience that we offer our students parallels, in these attributes, the education that students receive at smaller liberal arts colleges. I can readily imagine CASL embracing this model, aligning our structure and resources in pursuit of it, and becoming a public (and thus much more affordable) alternative version of this model. Doing so would enable us to tell a compelling story and would position us to grow in ways that are consistent with our values. A few words about our timeline CASL will begin our formal strategic planning process in the Winter term of 2015 with a goal of completing a plan by the end of the 2015 calendar year. Our planning process will look at the longer term (5-10 years) as well as the shorter term, and we expect our action plan to include both initiatives which require a longer timeline and improvements which can be undertaken immediately – even during the planning process. Your participation is critical to the success of this process: CASL is not defined by just one group or another, but by all of us together. Thank you for participating. I am very much looking forward to our collective work on behalf of CASL.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Commodification of Higher Education

Last week marked the beginning of the training process for the CASL faculty, staff, and students who will be leading the college’s strategic planning discussions over the ensuing academic year. It was an energizing and inspiring event that reinforced what I already knew—that the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters is an incredibly special place. Among the many topics discussed within the group was one that has long worried me—whether students should be thought of as customers? The university certainly talks about students in terms of head count and credit hours generated and students do pay a fee (tuition) to enroll in their classes. Many also view their diplomas as credentials paid for to ensure access to good paying jobs. There are also many in the university who talk about providing good “customer service” to our students or who use the “customer experience” as a foundational paradigm to implement changes. These are worthy frameworks to be sure. We want our students to have the best experience possible at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Still, this sort of “transactional” language also rubbed many in the room the wrong way. A college education was not merely something that one purchases nor is it something that can (or should) be imagined purely in vocational terms. Of course we want all of our students to be happy and gainfully employed once they graduate from the university. At the same time, as graduates of CASL make especially clear, there is often no way of predicting precisely the direction that one’s life and career (or, more appropriately today, careers) will go. I am certain that my History degree did not train me in a direct way to become a college dean. It did, however, teach me to think in a critical and analytical way and it taught me how to write and speak clearly. Likewise, the Economics courses that I took prepared me to think about forces at both the micro and macro levels that must be considered in making decisions that impact the financial future of the college. Do I use those science courses in my day-to-day work? Absolutely, a day does not pass where I do not test some hypothesis made about any number of things against data collected or against real life experiments run. In short, it all matters and it is all relevant. It thus pains me to see how much the consumer mentality has crept into higher education. Many examples spring to mind: grade disputes (I paid for that A) and the correlate, grade inflation (who wants to pay for bad grades and what will that mean for enrollment); the now overdone stories about rock climbing walls and hard wood floor, granite counter top standard housing units; the focus on university branding over education; the demonization of the liberal arts and the growing tendency to treat higher education as little more than expensive vocational training (sorry Walsh College—those live, breathe business commercials drive me mad! Though, as you can see, they are effective.); etc. These are the very real forces at work in today’s higher education landscape and they are forces that threaten the core of what we do. Therefore, I was beyond gratified to hear the nuanced dialog about the nature of education at our training workshop. For me, the discussion in the room was reassuring and inspired. As we plan for our future it is clear that CASL faculty, staff, and students are committed to the principle of a broadly framed and expansive liberal arts education and to providing each and every CASL student with an opportunity to learn, explore, grow, and transform. They are committed to the belief that an education is not just something you buy, it is something that you engage in, shape, and interpret. As the day closed I was reminded of a quote that I had tucked away in a drawer during a recent version of this debate as it is playing out in our k-12 public school system, though it is relevant to CASL’s works as well: “Excuse me, but I thought education was a public and social good, like the environment, democracy or the armed forces. It's not a cellphone. Different considerations apply.” I am looking forward to the work ahead on strategic planning and to ensuring that CASL keeps its eyes firmly fixed on this lofty goal.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Pomp and Circumspect

Let me open this entry by congratulating the CASL graduates of 2014! Your hard work and effort have paid off and the faculty and staff of the college, along with the alums who walked across that stage before you are very proud. We cannot wait to see where your futures lead and look forward to boasting of your many accomplishments. The end of the academic year is always an exciting time in CASL. Awards ceremonies, Commencement, the Sargon Partners CASL Student Research Showcase, Meeting of the Minds, and numerous other events showcase the many accomplishments of our students, faculty, and staff. They also have me reflecting upon what it is that makes the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters such a special place. Certainly, similar degree programs exist at many other universities throughout the area. Likewise, our facilities mirror what you can find on many other campuses. In thinking back on my own experience in CASL, both as a student and as a faculty member, what stands apart for me was the ability to interact with caring faculty and staff. For those of us familiar with CASL this will not come as any great surprise. Time and time again students, their parents, alumni, and friends of the college share with me stories of the accessible, caring faculty and staff in the college. Indeed, it takes little prompting from me to get people to share a personal story about their favorite professor or staff member or about the professor or staff member who gave that extra effort to help them out. Inevitably, they report how this one individual transformed their lives forever. A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education based upon a Gallup-Purdue Index Report confirms the importance of these connections and demonstrates what UM-Dearborn CASL students and alum already know: “College graduates, whether they went to a hoity-toity private college or a midtier public, had double the chances of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor on the campus who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams.” This is certainly true for me. I will always be grateful to professors such as Don Proctor, Pater Amann, and Dan Moerman who took the time to mentor and encourage a timid, uncertain student and to point me toward a future career in academe. Without them, and others like them, I cannot imagine where I would be today. I know that this is true for all of our students and alums. So, as the academic year winds to a close and we reflect back upon another school year come and gone, I invite you to reflect back on your own experiences here in CASL. I’d love to hear about that one person who changed your life and would encourage you to reach out to them to let them know how much their mentorship has meant to you. I know that there is nothing that they could hear that could make them happier. Enjoy your summer!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Signs of Spring: CASL Faculty Honors

As the academic calendar reaches the home stretch (usually a sign that spring is here--here's hoping!) the university community takes time out to honor the achievements of its faculty, staff, and students over the last year. It is a tremendous honor for me to announce that three CASL faculty have been recognized for their achievements: Jack Nelson, LEO Lec II in the Department of Natural Sciences, received the campus’ Distinguished Teaching Award in the Non-Tenure Track Category; History Professor Pamela Pennock is the recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award in the Tenured faculty category; and alumnus and Professor of Mathematics, Joan Remski, is receiving the Distinguished Service Award. This recognition is well deserved in all three cases. Both CASL and the university as a whole have been enriched through the efforts of these three individuals. Recognition of this sort comes all too infrequently for our faculty but when it does come it reminds us all just how committed and talented our college community is. The efforts of these three individuals, while rising to a level meriting university-wide recognition, are not at all unique. Their faculty colleagues throughout the college, many of whom were also nominated for these awards as well as others, are absolutely committed to the teacher/scholar model and to exposing our students to both cutting edge research and a rigorous, engaged classroom. They also give untold hours of their time working to make the college, the university, and our broader community a better place. I hope that you will join me in congratulating these award winners but also in extending a big thank you to all CASL faculty and staff for their hard work and effort and for their devotion to making CASL the absolute best liberal arts college in the state. Well done!