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Issues in Higher Education and DePauw University

Report from the GLCA Academic Leadership and Innovation (GALI) Institute

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glcalogoReport from the GLCA Academic Leadership and Innovation (GALI) Institute, October 28-30, 2016, Ann Arbor Michigan.

By Jen Everett (Philosophy), Ophelia Goma (Economics), and Michael Roberts (Psychology and Neuroscience)

Jen Everett (Philosophy), Ophelia Goma (Economics), and Michael Roberts (Psychology and Neuroscience) attended the 2016 GALI Institute in Ann Arbor Michigan last weekend – “a program designed to engage faculty in understanding the sometimes conflicting, often misunderstood, and nearly invariably complex factors that must be considered in decision making and problem solving in liberal arts institutions.” The Institute included sessions focused on better understanding the perspectives of university stakeholders, on working through the complexities of university budgeting, and on negotiating department-level conflicts, as well as the opportunity to get feedback from peer institutions on strategies we developed to address a challenge facing our own campus.

Jen Everett writes:

Working with similarly-situated colleagues from 11 GLCA campuses for about 18 hours over three days, for me the workshop conveyed a straightforward lesson: Academic leadership hinges on empathy and the ability to cope with complexity. The first substantive session (“Perspectives on Higher Education: Differing Interests”) was an exercise in understanding the perspectives of different university stakeholders: faculty, students, staff members, parents, trustees, alumni, and community members. Each participant served as an interviewer of one of the stakeholder groups and as a representative interviewee. I was surprised at how effective the role-playing exercise was. As an imagined alum, for example, I realized how important it may be to some of our alums to have opportunities to give back to DePauw in educational and experiential ways rather than solely through financial gifts. As a group, a number of insights emerged regarding different stakeholder groups – e.g., that university staff often go unrecognized or are rendered invisible in campus communications, and that students’ and parents’ concerns about employability may arise out of legitimate economic fears rather than commodified conceptions of education.

The centerpiece activity, “Design a College and Make it Work,” introduced us to the complexities of university budgeting, balancing institutional priorities, providing a distinctive model of liberal education while making it affordable, and recruiting students in a competitive market beset by a collective action problem that incentivizes perpetually increasing both our sticker price and discount rate. The sheer number of line items in a college budget was eye-opening to me, but above all I came away with considerable respect for the immensely complicated work carried out behind the scenes by our offices of finance, admissions, advancement, and so on.

Ophelia Goma writes:

The institutional challenge our team examined was the ways in which we can better integrate our experiential learning opportunities into our academic curriculum. I thought that the GALI Institute provided a useful context for thinking through challenges that universities face and for examining new initiatives brought to campus. To this end, one lesson that I found particularly relevant was the importance of understanding the competing expectations of various college constituencies. As we explored at the GALI Institute, key stakeholders (e.g., faculty, students, staff, parents, alumni, trustees, local community) bring unique perspectives on their needs, challenges and priorities. Stakeholders stand to gain or lose from the institution’s successes or failures and, therefore, are relevant in the development of any new policy. Meaningful participation by various stakeholders in the decision-making process not only improves the governance process but also leads to better policies.

A key consideration in the implementation or restructuring of any program is resource allocation. Implementing any curricular vision requires us to make careful decisions about resource allocation while considering the needs of all parties involved, as well as weighing these decisions against the potential for success or failure of the program. In a budget exercise at the GALI Institute, we were asked to design a college in which we were urged to “consider strategies to sustain and strengthen essential qualities of liberal arts education in the context of available resources.” This exercise serves to reinforce an understanding of the inherent trade-offs involved when considering the competing needs and multiple demands on the limited resources of a university.

Michael Roberts writes:

I found the GALI Institute somewhat comforting in helping situate DePauw’s challenges in the broader landscape of challenges that our peer liberal arts colleges are facing. Unfortunately, the threats become no less daunting, but it’s heartening to hold these types of discussions of institutional purpose and recognize that all of the GLCA institutions are seeking – and trying out – solutions for better handling of inclusiveness, shared governance, curricular visions that seek to coherently integrate experiential learning, etc.

Here are some ideas and phrases that resonated with me:

  1. Holding curricular conversations among chairs + program directors each spring in order to find/enhance interdisciplinary connections in the courses that will be offered the following year.
  2. One of the presenters described the “insanity” of all of the GLCA schools raising their “sticker prices” and raising discount rates (in an arms race that harms the reputation of anyone who backs out, because they don’t seem worth as much as the others) but failing to adequately communicate the actual, much lower, net prices paid by students. Many families may be turned-away by the advertised prices and never look more closely at the GLCA schools, but anti-trust regulations prevent schools from discussing their tuition prices. However, apparently the GLCA would be allowed (if there’s sufficient interest) to conduct a marketing campaign to prospective students in which they advertise the average net price (across GLCA schools) and post-graduation student debts in order to help families understand that this type of liberal arts education is affordable and then lead them to look more closely at applying to specific GLCA schools.
  3. Phrases thrown out (I’m not sure who deserves the attribution) when describing the goals of fictitious universities that were designed in the “Design a College” activity.
  4. “Informed, culturally sensitive global citizens”
  5. “Capacity-building for positive social change”

Our team’s institutional challenge:

Each campus team identified an institutional challenge that could only be achieved with significant faculty buy-in. For DePauw’s challenge, we discussed the creation of a more coherent (and, ideally, scaffolded) vision of integrating our academic curriculum and our experiential learning opportunities. These opportunities are deeply embedded in DePauw’s history and can singularly position students by helping them form idiosyncratic connections between liberal arts and the “real world.” Furthermore, a “bubble” can be beneficial when it increases the chances of cross-pollination, and we think one of DePauw’s potential – but currently underutilized — strengths is the interactions between students pursuing management fellows opportunities, studio art opportunities, media opportunities, 21st century musicianship opportunities, sustainability opportunities, creative writing opportunities, technology opportunities, ethical leadership opportunities, social justice opportunities, undergraduate research opportunities, etc. A “DePauw education” seems to need a clearer identity that proudly integrates, connects, and scaffolds such opportunities within a rigorous liberal arts curriculum.

In considering models, we discussed three alternatives along a spectrum that roughly varies in the number of major university changes needed for implementation. After getting a bit lost in the potential details of these models, we realized that the best next steps would involve gathering clear data.

Therefore, we’re proposing three steps:

  1. An inventory of experiential learning opportunities that are offered across the university (including in Centers, departments, special programs, etc.). We realize that the definition of “experiential” can be controversial, but we suspect that there would be a lot of agreement on the prototypical instances.
  2. Consult existing data where possible. If it is insufficient, survey a representative sample of students to ask:
    1. The number of experiential learning opportunities they have fulfilled (checking-off from the inventory)
    2. Perceived quality of those opportunities
    3. Extent to which they have reflected and connected these to other facets of their DePauw education
    4. Demographics – determine the distribution of experiential learning opportunities and perceived outcomes among students
  3. Survey the Centers, departments, and other programs to determine, for different types of opportunities:
    1. Current number of opportunities offered vs. ideal number vs. maximum number
    2. Perceived quality of those opportunities (and compare to students’ perceptions)
    3. Ideas for better integrating these opportunities into the curriculum.

 

2 Comments

  1. C. Wells
    C. Wells

    I am so thankful for these reports from the field and the connection they offer me to the good and thoughtful work happening at DePauw.

    This was for me a very comforting posting. I was particularly struck by Jen Everett’s wise declaration that “leadership hinges on empathy and the ability to cope with complexity,” a fitting mantra for these challenging times. Those of us who passionately believe in the need for these qualities have work to do in our communities to nurture and make space for them, and, as we can, model them.

    November 16, 2016
    |Reply
  2. Thank you for the wonderful report, Jen, Ophelia, and Michael. I note the presence of “complexity” in the thinking about navigating the multiple interests in univeristy governance. I wonder if the GLCA offered much by way of substantive framing of what complexity is, or if the term is assumed? Was there, for example, a consideraiton of the distinction between self-organzing properties (emergence) and pacemaking (leadership), and how important that distinction might be for thinking about institutional resilience? As chair of Governance, I wonder about the proposal that comes at the end of your report. Is this something that’s being sent to the VPAA’s office? These are important conversations for our institution to have, so thank you for attending the GLCA institute, representing DePauw, and moving us forward.

    November 20, 2016
    |Reply

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