Third Harpur dean candidate gives open presentationTweet
At the intersection of challenges and opportunities are choices, said Scott Casper, the third of four candidates for dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.
Casper, interim dean of the College of Liberal Arts and a foundation professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, spoke to an audience of about 40 on March 15. The topic all candidates are asked to address is the challenges and opportunities facing colleges of arts and sciences in highly selective public research universities in the next decade.
The biggest challenges facing colleges like Harpur are choices caused by limited resources, he said. One limit is money, another limit is time.
Choosing to launch one program may mean not helping another. “Choosing to design a course or to serve on that important faculty senate committee can mean choosing not to spend time on one’s research and creative activity,” he said. “It’s not just institutional choices but individual choices … and that’s not going to change.”
With the decades-long erosion of state funding, which has accelerated in the past five years, the choices have become not where to grow, but where to cut and how deeply, he said.
Casper acknowledged that students and families are feeling the same constrictions, and said he was heartened by Binghamton’s commitment to increase financial aid as tuition increases.
Besides ensuring access to highly qualified students, Casper said it is vital to explain why Binghamton’s arts and sciences education is the right choice and, once the students are here, to validate their choice by offering the programs that mark a world-class education, such as opportunities for undergraduate research, study abroad and internships.
How we make choices in a climate in which we can’t have it all, and translate those choices into opportunities, involves process said Casper, who called Binghamton’s Road Map process impressive.
“I’ve been involved in strategic planning for years but have never seen a process as broadly inclusive as this one. This seems like an unusually open, inclusive and transparent process.”
Substance is another important consideration in making choices, he said.
“Choosing to look for areas of scholarly connection between departments and colleges is really smart in a time of constrained resources. And casting the net broadly enough so that many departments can participate is crucial,” he said, referring to Binghamton’s interdisciplinary efforts in healthcare and energy.
Constellations built on areas of strength offer more opportunities to a wider range of faculty and are more likely to succeed because people see their value and, in turn, provide the expertise that’s needed to pull it off, Casper said.
Then, he continued, departments can map their own paths to coincide with the goals of the school. Faculty can think about collaborative research projects and interdisciplinary programs in terms of what’s being prioritized by the institution, and there will be less mystery about how resources are allocated.
Deans, with the help of faculty, can explain what they’re doing both inside and outside the institution. That helps expand reputation and draw interest from potential financial supporters.
“It’s smart process and smart substance. It connects the three missions of research and graduate education, undergraduate education and the community.
“In short, the challenge posed by limited resources will require choices that present opportunities for smart progress, not just progress all over the board, but smart progress, especially, in defining and articulating the scholarly constellations that make us into us, the best version of ourselves,” Casper said.
In closing, Casper addressed the value of a liberal arts education in today’s technology-specific world. “Our challenge is to articulate the value of that education to diverse constituencies at a time when public discourse often subordinates it to more overtly career-driven objectives and disciplines.
“The fundamental opportunity of a college of arts and sciences at a highly selective public research institution lies in enhancing … the integration among the students we teach, the research we do and the public we serve. That really is the key. And the more ways we can find to do that, the better.”