Wednesday, December 19, 2018

A deep breath before a new beginning

The past four months have been a virtually non-stop whirlwind of activity. They’ve gone by so quickly; and—with them—my first semester as chancellor is over. I’ve already attended my first two commencements—at East Stroudsburg and Millersville—where I was honored to be given the opportunity to serve as keynote speaker. To all of the members of this fall’s graduating class—from all 14 universities—congratulations! (WATCH VIDEO)

I’ve learned so much since arriving on the job in September, and am more excited than ever about the challenges and opportunities facing us as we design for a stronger future for our universities and the entire State System. That’s important to our students and the people of Pennsylvania.

I admit it, I’m looking forward to a short break to relax with my family and to enjoy the rest of the holiday season. I hope all of you can do the same.

But, things will pick right back up in January. Prior to the quarterly Board of Governors meeting, I will be formally sworn-in as the System’s fifth chancellor—an honor for which I am extremely grateful. While an inauguration is a largely ceremonial event, it also will give me the opportunity to lay out a vision for our collective future in my first State of the System address.

That vision will be richly informed by the conversations I had during the 14 university tours I made this fall, by the hundreds of email responses to my earlier blogs, and by the dozens of meetings I’ve had with students, faculty, university leaders, Board and council of trustee members, elected officials, community and business leaders, and yes—believe it or not—still others.

The vision also will be shaped by the excellent and creative work that has been conducted by three task groups whose members have been working assiduously to recommend to the Board answers to questions that we know we must answer in order to chart our future course.

One task group asked: Who are our students? What do we mean by their success? Another asked: What do we expect of our universities? What do we mean by their success? The third asked: What do we expect of our system? How should it perform in the interest of our students’ and our universities’ successes. (You can comment on the recommendations of these task groups when they are posted at the end of the month on the State System website at www.passhe.edu/SystemRedesign)

And of course (because you know by now I can’t help myself) the vision will be informed by my having plundered our rich and invaluable data stores, reviewed countless trend lines, generated spreadsheets, pressure tested fractions and probably driven our wonderful analytics team to distraction (thanks to the team for such patience and support. I appreciate each and every one of you— and you know who you are).

We’ve worked up narratives from the numbers and tested them on countless people, blending the quantitative with qualitative and experiential in order to gain a deeper understanding of our rich and wonderful history, our many accomplishments, and our ongoing challenges.

These several inputs have informed an emerging, powerful vision for and establishing the foundation on which, together, we will build our future. That vision will be the focus of my inaugural remarks in January. Consideration of concrete next steps in enacting it will occupy the attention of the Board. No doubt, this will be an important—dare I say, pivotal—meeting.

Finally, know that I have been overwhelmed by your gracious hospitality and your willingness to engage so openly with me. I am encouraged by the eagerness with which so many of you are ready to get down to the serious work of redesigning the State System in a way that will best serve students and the Commonwealth. I am impressed by how much you recognize both the sense of urgency and the magnitude of the task ahead of us.

But honestly, what inspires me most is not that we recognize the challenges that we face and are willing to talk openly about them… No, what inspires me most—what fuels my optimism—is our willingness, our passion to transform the System so we may expand opportunity. That is what makes me certain we will succeed.

No, it won’t be easy at any level. But we have the grit, the determination, the talent, and the courage we will need to think ambitiously, act boldly, execute faithfully, and win.

As I have at the conclusion of each of my previous blogs, I encourage you to continue to engage in this process. Specifically, I would ask you to share with me 1) one thing we as a System are doing now that you believe we should continue to do, and 2) one thing we should stop doing. Please share your thoughts by commenting on this blog or emailing me at chancellor@passhe.edu. (You can also follow me on Instagram and on Twitter.)

Of course, take a moment to enjoy the holidays, to rest, and to recharge before the new semester. And maybe have a cookie or two.

26 comments:

  1. Honestly, all we're wondering is whether you have the backbone to fight for higher education in the face of unrelenting hostility of conservative politicians.

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  2. One thing we should keep doing is keeping class sizes small to facilitate inclusive dynamic learning environments.

    One thing we should avoid is a movement towards online learning. The data on the benefits of face-to-face learning are clear.

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    1. Now THAT's a great sentiment that I echo. I know its "fashionable" to move towards online learning....perhaps some would say 'cost effective" and others like the "ease and comfort". It will be hard NOT TO follow others since "convenience" has crept into (higher) education like it has in other sectors of the nation. But I implore everyone to avoid movement and strongly encourage state system faculty to remain "personally engaged" with our students and let's put a higher value on "personal involvement and interaction" with the students that we are charged with preparing for the 21st century.

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  3. Climate chaos and catastrophe; eco-system breakdown; SIXTH GREAT EXTINCTION, insects disappearing; ice-caps melting...ten to twelve years to address the root causes of these problems to minimize likely global disasters...urgent transformations needed to save the future...these topics should be at the core of meetings at all levels, yes?

    And yes, smaller classes are crucial to meaningful engagement and participation of the sort needed to address the above problems and more...

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  4. I agree that the size of certain classes, such as "foreign" language, is not pedagogically sound nor fair, but I disagree with Witchazel regarding online courses. The Hybrid and 100% DE platform has been a dynamic delivery system to facilitate outreach. Our Office of DE is so supportive that a neophyte like me could do it. Delving in has helped me transform many of the weaker components in my f2f classes to allow for more structure and clarity. F2f is preferible, since online teaching is arduous (for the teacher, especially), but magic happens there, too.

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  5. PASSHE should keep class sizes small to facilitate learning.

    PASSHE should mitigate the current competition between Universities for students.

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  6. We need to set tuition by a formula rather than by a political game. To do that, we should bring in a respected outside accountant to develop a calculation of the cost of running the system (or at least that part of it that is chargeable to tuition). Tuition is calculated by dividing that number by the number of tuition-paying students. We than take the appropriation (that part that can be used for educational expenses) and divide by the number of in-state students. That is the in-state discount. If the Assembly wants to be generous, they can provide more funding and increase the discount. What we need to do is to take away their opportunity to feel generous by preventing us from raising tuition.

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  7. What is at the heart of the problems of the PASSHE system: History and culture and the inability of leadership to recognize how these forces within the state and within the system have lead to a lack of creative leadership, a dominance by mindless bureaucrats, and a good ol' boy and girls network. All of this of course operates within a regressive state that sees public higher education as a burden rather than as an investment and/or as the embodiment of the most noble spirits of a democratic society. The question for the Chancellor is: Do you wish to emulate the terrible public higher education systems of Mississippi and the like, or the good public higher education in California and the West? Culture and history will either prevent you from seeing the problems or will thwart you in the needed effort to make fundamental changes to leadership with the universities and within the PASSHE system.

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  8. As a faculty member, I appreciate your enthusiasm for this challenge and your willingness to get to know our system and its many local contexts. The decisions you and others make need to be informed by research, and I am glad to see you cite the various kinds of research you have doing on our students and their experiences. I also know that PA higher education has been assaulted by governors and leaders in the past and that faculty have no representation at the body that makes the most crucial decisions about our state system, so I am understandably nervous that our leaders' decisions will not truly serve students or restore a value for higher education. We have also had leaders who do not speak to that value. I hope you can and will.

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  9. I like your messages and visits. They help me feel more connected to PASSHE. As a new person I don't know much about the other 13 institutions so any information you can provide is helpful.

    We should let go of SharePoint, change our PASSHE requirements, and become Google Campuses in order to improve collaboration across our system and also when we are working with professionals from other institutions on articles, presentations, conference planning, etc.
    It's embarrassing to explain to others that we aren't a Google campus. It causes issues with collaborating when people forget my personal gmail account. And SharePoint is not user-friendly. Also note that we have to have a google account just to post this comment.

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  10. The Chancellor asked for one thing PASSHE should continue to do and one that it should stop doing. I address the latter above, but I'm struggling with the former. I have been on the faculty of the same PASSHE institution since 1985. I served under every Chancellor. I can't think of anything the Harrisburg office has ever done for us that could help us become more effective, more efficient, more renowned, provide greater value, or enhance student learning. If someone told me that the entire PASSHE building fell into the river, could I give her/him the lie? What would have stopped happening that we would notice out here at the sharp end?

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  11. PASSHE....107,000 students, budget=$453 million

    PA DOC....48,000 inmates, budget=$2.1 BILLION

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  12. Obvious solution: Get those 48,000 inmates to enroll.

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  13. One of the biggest challenges for all institutions of higher education is to stop viewing them through the eyes of a "business model". Education is not a business and those who seek to monetize it will never put sound educational policies ahead of what is best for the bottomline. When we put the MBA's in charge we sell out the soul of education. I am all for being fiscally responsible, but there is a difference between being fiscally responsible and running our institutions using business models. I am insulted when I go to meetings and hear things like our students are consumers and at the same time they are being displayed on spreadsheets like yesterday's inventory. Education is an organic process that involves individuals working together to teach and to learn; to expand the knowledge base for all. The goal is to bring a student in and in four or more years send them out into the world educated and ready to take on the challenges of life. Our measure of success should not be the quantity of graduates we turn out, but the quality of our graduates. As a graduate of an institution of higher learned that was established over 325 years ago and has at its core the following, "...teaching, research, and public service are linked through programs designed to preserve, transmit, and expand knowledge..." I am concerned at the emphasis we seem to be placing on market trends and business cycles. We need to put forth a vision of our system that embraces the preservation, transmision and expansion of knowledge and activities and supports these efforts. A narrowly focused vision of preparing individuals to find jobs in the Commonwealth will ultimately fail in the long run and no one will be talking about this system in 300 years beyond the point that it failed as most businesses ultimately do.

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  14. I teach philosophy and freshmen experience courses at EU. What should we continue doing: offering relatively inexpensive degree programs with a strong and diverse general education requirement. What we should stop doing: using a private sector business model of our state university's performance indicators.

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  15. I am inspired by your motivation and your openness to new ideas. As a faculty member at IUP, I have noticed what seems like a shift in our university mission; it feels as if our priority is retention rather than education - keep any student who will pay tuition rather than educate students who want to be and should be in college. I hope that faculty will have more of a voice at the state table, since many of us have research agendas that provide evidence of what's happening in PASSHE classrooms and how to effectively improve access and opportunity for all PA students.

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  16. The system should continue its emphasis (challenged of late) as low cost access to a high quality liberal arts based undergraduate education. It should also continue building its research and graduate education profile in innovative areas where a system of decentralized nimbleness can achieve much.
    It should STOP working toward centralization of authority and planning. The system office should work hard gain resources and to maximize the impact of the incredible work being done at the institutional level. Lesson from farming/gardening: improve the soil and the produce will amaze you.

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    1. What about breaking the State up into "Regions" and providing incentives for students to stay in their region? Regions that are sparsely populated would be larger than regions that are densely populated. Also, liabilities aside, if you want to get people to visit a campus, put in a dog park. The dog parks in my community are often full and some owners travel from pretty far away just to visit! Most Universities have some land that could be used in an isolated area and it would be an innovative way to incorporate Animal Behavior programs while providing access to the community :-)

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  18. If you want to overcome competition, offer what the students want, rather than try to make other PASSHE institutions less attractive. Students want strong, well-respected programs that lead to well-paying jobs. The institutions that concentrate on gimmicks are going to lose out.

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  19. I look forward to your leadership!!My only hope for this blog is that people who post anonymous would have the "backbone" to post with their name.

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  20. Chancellor, I appreciate your willingness to come out to meet with faculty and openness to listen to us. Please keep class sizes small and get rid of the PASSSHE-imposed 120 credits limit to graduate. Some programs (i.e. professional programs) require more.

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  22. We should continue to provide quality education to students who attend PASSHE schools. We should STOP prioritizing the need to recruit students of color, to our universities, if we're not going to provide them with the resources, mentors and well-funded programs that will offer a rich and culturally sensitive experience while in college.
    Happy Wednesday!
    Dr. Malaika Turner

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