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University of Denver dean gives open presentation
March 13, 2013Tweet
The daily grind of financial, technological and social challenges will never go away, but how a university turns those challenges into opportunities can be the key to its success, said Anne McCall, the second of four candidates for dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.
McCall, dean of arts, humanities and social sciences and professor of French and Italian at the private University of Denver, addressed about 50 people on March 13. The topic for all candidates is the challenges and opportunities facing colleges of arts and sciences in highly selective public research universities in the next decade.
“We all know that there are plenty of challenges and opportunities; we experience them in a messy way, not necessarily coherent or comprehensive,” she said, before suggesting that it’s helpful to step back and look at the big picture.
McCall addressed three challenges:
Financial: What will research universities do as federal grant money dwindles, tuition rises, families face more economic stress and more first-generation students seek higher education? Adding to the pressures are more state mandates and fewer appropriations to pay for them.
“At the same time, we always want the things that professional staff want and students need,” McCall said. “I want students with special learning needs to get the help they want. I want the gallery to have a special collections person. I want technical experts in the departments that use a lot of technology. But all of those raise costs.
“What have most universities done? We make our students pay for it,” she said, adding that that raises ethical issues: How much should undergraduate students be footing the bill for high-level research? And how many out-of-state students will get slots because they pay more tuition?
“No matter how great and important it is, navigating those choices and tensions is no easy task,” McCall said.
Using the term “unbundled university” for the second challenge, McCall discussed how to retain the character and value of a university when the physical space it occupies is made increasingly unimportant by a student’s ability to learn online.
What do people have to give up to come here — a chance to live at home, keep a job? “That’s a fair question,” she said. “What kind of behaviors and teaching would we need to adopt for that to be worth their time?”
McCall said the unbundled university also refers to the need to accommodate students who are accustomed to less-traditional methods of learning. She cited students applying to the University of Denver — some have come from tiny schools supported by distance learning; others have come from elite, private schools where such things as “flipped classrooms” are normal. How will those students adjust to old-fashioned classrooms, she asked. And remember, only 18 percent of students are considered traditional these days.
The third challenge McCall identified is the ability to do public good. What is the impact of our work and what are the job prospects of our students? “We haven’t been good at talking about what we do and why we do it without sounding hopelessly snobby or terrified and defensive. Neither are strategies for communication with the public. It’s not their fault if they don’t know what we do, and we need to let them know what we’re doing,” she said.
McCall said that many of the actions she identifies as opportunities are already being done here, and praised the University for what she calls “vigorous experimenting.”
“One of the things I find very attractive in all of you is what appears to be a relatively healthy appetite for experimentation; not crazy, but healthy, experimentation,” she said.
Specific opportunities she touched on include increasing grant money, building networks with colleagues and other schools to enrich teaching and learning, building strong partnerships with industry and community, strengthening and expanding the study-abroad program and keeping a close eye on the ethics of being education providers. Binghamton can and should also raise a lot more money, she added.
In closing, she said that it’s everyone’s job to promote the university.
“It’s all of our jobs to be translators for what we do … not just a few named public intellectuals. We are all public intellectuals. It is our job to let people know what we do, why we do it, why it’s important, why they should care, and why we care about them.”