Presidential candidate: Gary MillerTweet
Gary Miller, currently provost and vice president for academic affairs and research at Wichita State University in Kansas and the first of five candidates for Binghamton University president, spoke to about 160 members of the campus community at an open forum Thursday, Dec. 2, in Old Union Hall. His topic was “Addressing the Challenges and Opportunities Facing Public Higher Education and Promoting Student Excellence in Learning, Scholarship and Research.”
Noting that he wants to work for a university that is “a model builder in every facet of society,” Miller spoke of the overall challenges facing higher education.
“Higher education in America is going through a pretty tumultuous time. State funding has been declining for two decades and the global economic situation has exposed stresses,” he said. “There is a sense of a whole new way of dealing with information that is causing us to rethink and recalibrate the way we teach students and discover.”
Higher education faces an adaptive challenge with no easy solution, Miller said, but with a requirement that institutions think differently. He outlined four covenants for renegotiation in this environment: with students, with faculty, with the community and with government.
Leaving the student covenant for last, Miller touched on the faculty covenant first. Historically, American public higher education has involved one sacred promise, according to Miller – that faculty will have the freedom to teach and discover – and the expectation is that innovation and new knowledge will result in the betterment of society.
“Both the promise and expectations are under assault for a lot of reasons,” he said. “Some of this is due to natural changes in the environment, with the way information is changing. Our challenge is how to interpret it.
“Binghamton has a chance to really lead,” Miller said. “If I look at the way you’ve structured your strategic plan, this is a very unique approach. You’ve identified some very difficult goals wrapped in the character of Binghamton University and you are about affirming these values you’ve always held in the professoriate and academy. This approach will succeed because you have decided to rely on what is strong about American higher education.”
Identifying the community covenant as interesting and complex, Miller said the expectation that universities will be the economic drivers of the economy is changing the relationships we have and the way we partner with the community.
”This problem or challenge is, we want to be involved in the economy, but it will test our resiliency with regard to our basic ideals,” Miller said. “The other part of this is globalization. There is no doubt in my mind that a person born in Binghamton, raised in Binghamton, who goes to school in Binghamton, comes to Binghamton University and stays here to raise a family is no less a part of the global economy than a graduate student from Bangladesh. Everything we do is part of the global economy and we need to approach the global with the local perspective.”
Government is also an area for renegotiating our covenant. “Everyone is watching SUNY about this,” Miller said, “The chancellor is very forthright about her advocacy and we will continue to deal with it because we have to not only deal with money but with regulations. We have to understand ourselves and the Binghamton way of interacting with government and we have to be a full partner with SUNY if we want to have a Binghamton soul to it.”
The fourth covenant, and the most important one, said Miller, is that with students.
”There is no doubt we are renegotiating our covenant with students,” he said. “The nature of information has changed dramatically. Students come to us digitally fluent and often with a lot of college credit. They have access to knowledge faster than ever before. There are a lot of first timers and adult learners. For-profit higher education is increasing. Students want to have a good job and life – it’s important and a real challenge for higher education.
“Specific to Binghamton University, I can tell you that there will be a Binghamton way to promote scholarship and learning and research,” he said. He then spoke about a realization he had when he was a student and a particular faculty member had a major impact on him. “His approach was to treat me as a scholar emerging,” said Miller. “I know he was committed to take the time to have this discussion and in the end, this is the essence of promoting student learning and what Binghamton University is good at. Part of shaping the covenant of students relates to the shaping of the covenant with faculty.”
Miller said renegotiating this covenant will also involve technology in some way and we have an obligation to be on top of the game with how technology and knowledge coincide.
And, in terms of our “world-wise aspiration,” students need to be world-connected even if they never leave here.
“They need to see their lives in a global context,” he said. “We have to also understand students for their value to the University. Learning is a collaboration, not a business transaction. Make sure they’re involved and have some role to play. In the end, Binghamton’s commitment to undergraduate education is already a model.”
Finally, Miller specifically addressed graduate students. “The desire here is to expand graduate education while maintaining the quality in both graduate and undergraduate education. There is no presidential stroke or process that will bring balance, he said. “It will depend on the faculty. One factor is the effort to understand the modern mentoring of graduate students and to be effective at moving graduate students through their programs. Few models in public higher education merge graduates and undergraduates, but we have an opportunity to do it here because the model is similar to what you do in your research centers. You can do it around research centers in ways you cannot in academic programs.”
My observation is that you have to spend money to support graduate students,” he said. “This is one area where direct investment pays off in measurable ways, particularly at the doctoral level and it must be a priority for the University.”
The remaining four presidential candidates are set to hold open forums on Dec. 6, Dec. 8, Dec. 10 and Dec. 13 on campus, and will speak on the same topic.
To read about Susan Jeffords’ open forum, click here.
To read about Jonathan Alger’s open forum, click here.
To read about Uday Sukhatme’s open forum, click here.
To read about Bruce Bursten’s open foum, click here.