administrators

Relevance and Perceptions of Higher Education

People are much more likely to have positive perceptions about the value and quality of their college experience when they feel their college courses are relevant to their work and daily lives, according to the results of a survey conducted by Strada Education Network and Gallup.

The survey, which is part of a broader series from the two groups, included a nationally representative sample of 78,000 adults who were employed and had taken at least some college courses. It found that respondents who had a positive feeling about the relevance of their college courses were 63 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that their education was worth the cost. They also were 50 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that they received a high-quality education.

“The clarity and strength of these findings tell us that career relevance of courses and experiences is a key driver of consumer assessments of the quality and value of their education,” Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and work-force development at Gallup, said in a written statement.

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Louisville Names New President

The University of Louisville on Tuesday named Neeli Bendapudi its next president, making the University of Kansas provost and executive vice chancellor the permanent replacement for longtime Louisville president James Ramsey almost two years after Ramsey was ousted amid scandals.

Bendapudi was the dean of the business school at Kansas before becoming provost and executive vice chancellor at the university in 2016. Her priorities at Louisville will be making the university a place where students can learn and one that is attractive to faculty, staff and the surrounding community, according to a university news release. She wants to create a culture of trust and openness, it said.

The hiring comes after much turnover among high-level leaders at Louisville in recent years. Kentucky's governor engineered Ramsey's exit in 2016 after the president drew attention for leadership scandals, a secretive style and high compensation. Neville Pinto, who was acting president after Ramsey's departure, left to become president of the University of Cincinnati in 2017. Louisville had to restart a search for its chief financial officer earlier this year after its choice for the job backed out, citing family reasons.

The university also fired athletics director Tom Jurich and men's basketball coach Rick Pitino in October after several scandals rocked the athletic department and men's basketball program.

Bendapudi acknowledged she “would have been a fool” not to have looked carefully at the university's recent history of scandals, according to the Courier-Journal. But she compared the university to an old house with “good bones.”

She has also been noted for her fund-raising abilities.

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A look at the OPM market, spring 2018

E-literate's review of the online program management space reveals diversifying priorities among institutional partners.

Presidencies in one's 70s can have many advantages (opinion)

Michael Martin sees advantages to presidencies at older ages than was once common.

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New presidents or provosts: Alamo Brockport Denver Eastern Gordon Knox Maryland Reading Rochester UMKC

  • C. Mauli Agrawal, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has been appointed chancellor of the University of Missouri Kansas City.

UCLA takes on 'grand challenge' of ending depression

UCLA is attempting to end the disease entirely, starting with students on its campus.

Author discusses new book on free speech on campus

Author discusses his new book calling for academic leaders to defend free speech on campus.

Advice for managers on having difficult discussions with poor performers (opinion)

Honest discussions about poor performance may be difficult, but they are necessary for managers in higher education, writes Ellen de Graffenreid.

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Unauthorized searches of professors' email create rift at Rochester

University of Rochester professors found out their emails were reviewed and shared, raising questions of how much privacy faculty members should be assured.

Why the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point plans to eliminate certain traditional liberal arts majors (opinion)

How can you be a university without a major in history?

We field this kind of question frequently at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. In March, we released curricular recommendations designed to repair our budget and stabilize enrollment. The proposal, Point Forward, called for the elimination of numerous majors in the traditional liberal arts, a greater emphasis on career-focused programs and the reimagining of our core liberal arts curriculum.

Since then, we have received a flood of messages from students, faculty members, alumni and scholarly organizations across the country. Some of them ask about process, wondering why we made recommendations suddenly and without stakeholder input. In fact, we discussed these issues for years. Others suggest there must be alternatives to eliminating underenrolled majors. I wish there were; we have tried nearly everything else. A small but growing number of people express sympathy with our dilemma, placing responsibility on the decades-long erosion of public investment in higher education. They are correct.

Set aside such issues for the moment. More interesting are the numerous messages wondering how we can be a university without majors in the traditional liberal arts. Are we not becoming a trade school, abandoning enrichment of the mind in favor of training in workplace skills?

These perceptions result from misunderstanding. Far from eliminating liberal arts disciplines, our proposal aims only at full majors. In fact, we are fighting to preserve as much as 80 percent of our faculty and curriculum in these areas -- and not just through general education but in refocused majors and minors with upper-level courses offering genuine opportunities for deep engagement in the liberal arts. Equally important, our baccalaureate degrees in natural resources, health, business, education and the performing arts -- the majority of degrees we offer -- are hardly narrow or technical.

But set this aside, too. Implied in the claim that “abandoning the liberal arts” means we “cannot be a university” are assumptions worth examining. Most students at UW Stevens Point do not choose to major in the traditional liberal arts disciplines. In fact, many universities already do not offer some of these programs. Within the University of Wisconsin System alone, four universities lack full majors in philosophy, three in sociology and four in Spanish. One of the founding tenets of the UW System was the idea that each campus would have a distinct program array defined by its select mission. If our current proposal takes this concept seriously, do we really cease to be a university?

Reading these comments as an environmental historian, I’m reminded of American attitudes toward wilderness. Few people choose to live in the wild, and most visit only rarely. True wilderness is uncomfortable and the Wi-Fi is terrible. Instead, most Americans seem content just knowing that wilderness is there, a notion that celebrates a romanticized frontier that never existed. Similarly, the implicit message from some of our critics is: it’s OK if your students major in finance, health science, and resource management; we just need to know that a philosophy major is there. This feeling, too, derives from false nostalgia -- specifically, for the idea that regional public universities can be smaller versions of research institutions. During the 1950s and 1960s, an aberrational moment in higher education when students and funding were plentiful, institutions like UW Stevens Point could afford to launch majors in the traditional liberal arts. Today, everything is different.

The inability to acknowledge this reality is deeply rooted in academic culture. Take the numerous condemnations we received from scholarly organizations asserting that without majors in their respective liberal arts disciplines, our university will lack something fundamental. “Elimination of the history program,” reads the letter from the Organization of American Historians, “means the elimination of a university’s capacity to teach … critical life skills.” Really? No one would dispute that every graduate should have meaningful courses in history. As the letter noted, “History is the discipline dedicated to studying the past … [and is] essential to navigating rapid economic transformation, international crises, epidemic disease, political gridlock and myriad other modern challenges.” I agree. I want every student in our College of Natural Resources to have a course in environmental history. But to conflate this with needing to preserve a history major seems disingenuous.

Here we encounter the elephant in the room in our current dialogue about the liberal arts and the meaning of a university. If the majority of students in universities today encounter these traditional disciplines, not as majors but only through general-education programs, should we not direct our attention there? The need for new approaches to general education has long been evident, and many institutions have sought meaningful change. Yet many such efforts, including ours, have run aground due to structural impediments rooted in our conflation of the narrow role of liberal arts majors with the much broader and more vital role of these same disciplines, a dynamic that stifles curricular innovation.

Too many general-education programs rely on courses that are introductions to liberal arts majors, even as they enroll primarily nonmajors. This double duty leaves the majority of students wondering why they must take such classes and hoping only to “get them out of the way.” Too many general education programs spark battles over department “turf,” elevating the protection of student credit hours, budgets and faculty positions above thoughtful consideration of student needs in shaping curricula. As a result, too many general education programs have little purposeful cohesion and little relevance to the majority of students. Given that most universities assign one-third of the courses required to complete a baccalaureate degree to these core curricula -- and given the tuition we charge -- is it any wonder that students resent the cost of higher education?

Our aim at UW Stevens Point is to fix this problem, to look beyond a set of majors that serve roughly 6 percent of our students and ask how the disciplines of the liberal arts can better educate everyone. Do we lose something in this equation? Absolutely. The loss is real and should be debated in the context of urging greater public investment in higher education. Will we cease to be a university? Of course not. In fact, if we succeed in making the liberal arts more relevant and available to the majority of students who never major in these disciplines, we will be a stronger university indeed.

Greg Summers is provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point.

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