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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Roundtable Roundup

LAH has already distributed his blow by blow description of the first roundtable. I will give you mine although they don't vary by much. If you are in a hurry please proceed to my conclusions which do vary from his.

Evening One:

The evening began with Zemsky noting that we had about a 33 percent chance of success, a 33 percent chance of failure and a 33 percent chance of "cotton candy." This latter is when you think you've gotten somewhere and haven't.

This was followed by a discussion of the five words used to describe the College. He noted that we were the most negative group he and the Alliance had ever interviewed. Three of us were entirely negative, three of us entirely positive and the rest fell somewhere in between but generally more positive than negative.

There were some commonalities in the interviews. Many saw A & S as a hub. Many wanted it to become a destination of choice for students. Many wanted to better retain young vibrant faculty.

Everyone was adamant that we should remain one college.

Lots of things were then tossed around including: retention, access, funding and leadership or lack thereof. Zemsky said that if we want to become a destination we can get there through being more selective about who we let into the college. Discussion of our mission and role in the City of Toledo then ensued.

The conversation moved to whether we were a family or not and if we are a family is it a dysfunctional one. I personally disliked the family metaphor. The idea of a public collaborative was tossed out and people seemed more interested in that.

As the evening ended, Zemsky noted that the portrait painted by the interviews was not a flattering one. He did say there seemed to be a strong attachment to the university.

Day Two--Morning:

This began with someone asking Zemsky to name a couple of places where the process seemed to work. He did that naming Johns Hopkins and Temple. He then said that whatever we decide would involve a sales job. This is not an exercise in governance; it is a way to give us a language through which we can make decisions.

The discussion rambled a bit as we talked about our relationship with the City of Toledo. It came back around when we were asked about bragging rights. In other words when discussing the college what do we brag about? Much of the discussion revolved around interdisciplinary programs. Zemsky asked if that was what the college should use as a hallmark. He thinks we need to find a way to make A&S distinctive and this might be the way to do that. Examples were then given of programs or efforts that have been made which cross disciplines.

Integrative learning was then discussed.

There was discussion of the paradigm shift occurring in the State of Ohio. The system is going toward far more integration of programs and courses. The person talking said the liberal arts needs to be at the center of this. We did not, however, define liberal arts. The issue was then raised if we were only after efficiency in this effort. No answer was forthcoming.

We came back to the Leadership issue. Zemsky noted that we may be resistant to change because we have developed survival skills and strategies that work under the current set of circumstances. Whoever becomes dean needs to be able to lead us and take us to the point of being the university hub. Things need to revolve around us.

We then went back to what we can brag about. There was some nice discussion about creativity and that what we do is allow students to make connections across discipline and enhance their creativity and hence their abilities to perhaps solve problems.

Lunch: Yea

After lunch the discussion got a little fuzzy. Before lunch we were talking about integrative learning, after lunch about departments. You can have both, but the discussion really seemed to slow down in terms of what changes might be made and how those changes might be made.

After this we talked about the benchmarking study. LAH has sent a memo to you all and you can read about this in his memo.

Zemsky was fairly positive at the end of the day. I am not so sure.


Okay, let's be honest I have a tendency to see the glass as half empty. That comes from 22 years of essentially being disappointed by the administration of this institution. I heard nothing from the Provost during these eight hours that reasssures me. (Let me say in her defense, that she may perceive her role here as that of an observer.) In the middle of day we receieved a copy of an article titled, "The Campus of the Future." It came from the President. It was ill-timed and appeared to be a ham-handed attempt at influencing the process.

I have a couple of conclusions. First, the administration (please include the state government in this definition) sees the university system of Ohio as an economic engine of change. Our university administration sees marketing as an integral part of economic development and university image (branding). It wants A & S to be marketable. While Zemsky is not a marketer per se, his research is about a university's ability to market itself. He makes the point in his book that a quality education is not what prospective students actually seek out. He thinks they make their choices in other ways. We, the faculty of A & S, are not in the marketing business, but in the education business. This creates issues between the administration and us. We are interested in how to do what we do better. We want our students to know more and be able to do more when they graduate. Anything that helps in that process interests us. Anything that gets in the way of that process does not. My main conclusion is that anything we decide to change has to be marketable (in that the administration thinks it will separate us from other institutions), economical (in that it can't cost the university any more or much more than the present delivery system), and educational (in that the faculty have to believe it will improve the overall quality of the students we graduate.

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