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First Harpur dean candidate makes presentation
March 12, 2013Tweet
Elizabeth Spiller, one of four candidates to be the next dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, said the challenges and opportunities facing Harpur College in the next decade don’t exist in the future, they exist now.
Spiller, professor of English and associate dean of Florida State University College of Arts and Sciences, spoke to an audience of about 70 on March 11. She addressed the topic, “The challenges and opportunities facing colleges of arts and sciences in highly selective public research universities in the next decade” by posing a series of questions, beginning with “To what extent is the fundamental landscape for sponsored research changing?”
Citing dwindling dollars for the kind of research grants that explore big ideas and keep big projects funded, she asked how high-quality but potentially smaller research communities would be able compete, and what can institutions do to help faculty and students.
“Some kinds of research initiatives require very expensive resources,” Spiller said. “In other instances, enhancing research may not be always about resources or money, it may be about thinking flexibly.” She ticked off ideas that included taking advantage of open access research publication models to help offset increased library costs and integrating grant specialists and administrators into individual departments to improve faculty award rates.
A second challenge she identified was the role of technology and teaching within the residential college model. “Personal contact, the sense that one does not just attend college but lives it, is a key note of liberal arts colleges. What does contact mean, if a student is taking your class from his dorm room?” Spiller asked.
Today’s students differ in the ways that they read, learn and think, leaving educators to wonder how best to educate the whole student, she said, and educators need to challenge, and be challenged by, new ways of teaching “so we can identify the best strategies for using new technology in ways that integrate with, rather than disrupt and disable, our core understanding of what learning is and can be.”
The costs and consequences of funding public education was Spiller’s third topic. With the ratio of state appropriations and tuition revenue at public universities almost evenly split, she said, that can cause public universities to become more tuition-driven.
“The immediate consequence is a perfect storm in which students and their parents pay more and get less,” she said.
“If affluence rather than merit becomes the basis for the selectivity of highly selective public colleges and universities, who and what will we lose? The racial and economic diversity of student bodies? First-generation college students? The veterans, who were integral to the foundation of Harpur College? Who won’t we be educating, and what ideas and innovations will we lose because we do not educate?”
Spiller explained why she chose to address the challenges as questions: “This reflects my sense that an institution such as this is at its very core about asking questions, such that any answer should remain provisional and preliminary, an interlude on the way to becoming a new question. Challenges are by definition things that structure new opportunities. Different versions of what I see as challenges are thus inseparable from future opportunities.”
Opportunities at Harpur College, she said, can be found in the established collaboration between teaching and research, because innovation occurs in places where ideas collide with one another.
Cluster hires, she said, are a way to strengthen the collaborative atmosphere. She was recruited to Florida State as part of a cluster hire and now is an administrator of clusters. An example of the power of cluster hires at Florida State is a new major in the English Department.
“We recently built a hybrid major in writing, editing and media that took discrete parts of our department and synthesized them into a major that now has 850 undergraduate majors in less than two years. It’s been a little breathtaking, but that is something we could not have done without collaboration across very different areas of our department.”
The theme that runs across these challenges is that the boundaries of the world are changing, she said.
“The biggest collective challenge to my mind thus defines a college of arts and sciences as such: to keep returning in thoughtful and never final ways to the questions of how our arts and inventions change the physical boundaries of our world in ways that change not just who we are but who and what our world is.”