Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw answers some of the more than 70 questions asked by members of the University community
Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw answers some of the more than 70 questions asked by members of the University communityOctober 09, 2001SU News ServicesSUnews@syr.edu
Following is the text of the address that Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw intended to deliver to the University community on Sept. 13. It was postponed due to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The address the Chancellor delivered instead, on Oct. 2, focused on the state of the University in the aftermath of the tragedy. I am grateful to all the members of the University community for submitting your questions in preparation for this annual gathering. This was a first for me, basing my talk directly on the issues you raised. All told, there were more than 70 questions. I felt invigorated and challenged. In fact, it was so much fun, I pledge to do the same thing 10 years from now.
Given the enthusiastic response, I had to plan carefully. I discarded the first two approaches that occurred to me. A. Divide my usual 30-minute talk by 70-plus questions. That gave me less than 30 seconds per question and would mean some fast talking and no substance. B. Or I could give each question the depth it deserved, and talk for 10 hours or so, knowing, of course, that you would give me your full attention. Clearly, a compromise was in order. Fortunately your questions naturally clustered around themes that
I’ll address today. I’ve also included some short answer questions to vary the pace, and I’ve left some questions for another time. Those I’ll answer over the course of the year in the Record, at open forums and the like.
Now to the themes-As I see it they were: ? The effects of technology on the University ? The meaning of our Academic and Space plans ? General academic issues ? The rankings games ? Diversity
Technology Questions in this theme went something like this: “What are the technological implications for Syracuse and higher education?” “Where will we be 10 or 20 years from now?” “What will teaching and learning be like in the next decade?”
Management guru Peter Drucker has predicted that advancing technologies will spell the end of higher education as we know it in a couple of decades
There’s no doubt that the pace of change in technology is mind-boggling. Moore’s Law states that computers double in efficiency every 18 months or so. Yet some say that our brains aren’t capable of keeping up with that pace.
I say that these and other experts have underestimated our capacity to both fund and make best use of these new technologies. They have also underestimated the role of the residential college as a catalyst for learning.
Thus, I’m not worried about the obliteration of the institution any time soon. But there’s no question that technology has drastically changed the way we do things here. Certainly our students come to us sophisticated in the use of computers. They expect us to meet them at their level, placing great demands on the institution to comply with both hardware and software. They deserve no less. We know, as they do, that to be technologically illiterate is to invite personal and professional obsolescence.
We are responding. Our M.B.A. upgrade program, for example, offers both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Both Information Studies and University College have undertaken similar endeavors.
Naturally, all this technological change will be for naught if quality gives way to efficiency. We must make certain that what we offer via computer is as good as-or better than-what can be had in a classroom. And that can be the case for distance learning.
However, I know of no institution that has saved money or turned a profit through technology, at least not yet. So we welcome technological change without any illusions that it offers an inexpensive way to teach and learn. Potential to improve instruction, yes. A money tree, no.
I believe that new technologies will have their greatest impact on campus. That is, we can greatly improve traditional instruction by supporting and enhancing in-class and out-of-class learning. Technology can and will intensify the learning process that begins with the faculty member and her class and continues through discussions, writing, learning communities and the like, and is built on as study continues with higher level courses.
These are the virtues of a residential institution, virtues that richly deserve to be preserved. Two caveats related to technology: 1. We can’t afford to allow technology to make our efforts impersonal. 2. We must educate our students in the right use of the Internet as a source of information. It is not as rich or as comprehensive as a first-class library, and it is not as reliable as a source of facts. There is much good information on the Net, and there’s an equal amount of junk. We must help students distinguish between the two.
Don’t expect Syracuse University to be on the leading edge of new technologies across the board, though some units will certainly be in that position.
For the most part, this institution will concentrate on using technologies to improve on-campus teaching, learning and services.
Short answers How old are you? Really old? Yes, I am really old. But Mary Ann says I’ve been an old man since age five. Do you dye your hair? No, this is a wig. Only Burt Reynolds and I know how to get this level of quality.
The Academic Plan The Academic Plan elicited a number of your questions. I won’t attempt to be as comprehensive as the vice chancellor was in her outstanding talk last spring. Rather, I’ll stick to your concerns.
What will the plan do for students? First, the plan aims to improve the learning environment for all students. That will make each person’s SU degree that much more valuable now and in the future.
How will the plan accomplish this? ? By increasing our six-year graduation rate to 85 percent in 10 years; ? By increasing the opportunities for undergraduate students to engage in research; ? By increasing exposure to information technologies; ? By more University-wide symposia and lecture series; ? By increasing the numbers of internships and service-based learning opportunities; ? By increasing and enriching theme housing opportunities; and ? By increasing opportunities to study abroad.
A great example of the plan in action is the Syracuse Symposium. Inaugurated last year, this campus-wide program was organized around the theme of poetry. This year’s theme is beauty. And we expect to do even better this year attracting people from every part of campus to explore the meanings and perceptions of beauty through discussions and presentations.
Another example is the new University Lectures Series made possible through a generous gift from Trustee Robert Menschel. This is another cross-disciplinary program that will bring people of exceptional accomplishment to campus. This year’s schedule includes the Hon. George Mitchell; Dr. Stephen Pinker of MIT, a leading scientist in cognitive behavior; Bruce Mau, an internationally known designer; Thomas Krens, director of Guggeheim Museums Worldwide, and Dr. Richard Leakey, archaeologist and environmental activist. And there are more to come.
Other efforts that enhance out-of-class learning for all our students are the highly successful Arts Adventure Program and our Center for Public and Community Service. All of these make this an environment like none other, an environment well worth preserving.
“Since we’re allocating $5 million per year to the plan, why not allocate the funds to the academic units and let them make improvements as they see fit?”
I believe that distributing these funds unit by unit wouldn’t have the impact that targeting the money toward our strengths will have.
By focusing support on the signatures identified in the plan, which is, by the way, available on the Internet, we’ll make these limited funds go much farther and will enable us to attract more support in the future from foundations and individual donors.
Another question related to the Academic Plan centered on the role of research here. I respond that, yes, we will emphasize even more the creation of new knowledge at this research university. We are a student-centered research university and we must do both well.
This means making sure that faculty have both the resources and the time to do research. It means we continue to recruit outstanding people who, we expect, will be excellent teachers. We will also expect them to be leaders in their disciplines.
The Trustee and Alumni Professorships outlined in the Academic Plan will help us both retain fine scholar/teachers and recruit new colleagues as well.
It is true that a research university by definition has a high level of scholarly productivity. Our sponsored research funding per faculty member has gone from $38,000 to $48,000 in the past 10 years. The vice chancellor has challenged us to double the latter figure by the year 2010.
General Academic Questions “How do we go from our present graduation rate of 74 percent to 85 percent in 10 years? Is there a plan for this?”
Not yet, but the vice chancellor has formed a group to work on this critical effort. I have shared this questioner’s detailed response with Dr. Freund.
“What about undergraduate enrollment? Will it go up, in light of the growing numbers of traditional college-bound high school students?”
I hope not. Currently we admit approximately 2,950 new students per year. That compares with nearly 3,600 students annually 12 years ago. That’s too much of a strain on a private institution with a limited endowment like ours. It’s also true that admitting fewer students means we can be more selective. I’m glad that many of you share my sentiments about enrollment.
“Is the declining graduate enrollment part of the plan? If so, you’re doing a great job!” No. We could easily admit more qualified graduate students than we do now. But our enrollment pattern mirrors the national trend.
We are studying this complex issue with great care. We must distinguish between professional and master’s programs on the one hand and Ph.D. programs on the other. The strategies are different for each. Vice President David Smith has been working with the professional programs to help them better market their offerings. We can and must to a better job in this area of graduate study.
The competition for the best Ph.D. students is intense right now. In the Academic Plan, the vice chancellor has called for a better financial package for doctoral students and for a targeted effort to build on our best Ph.D. programs. We have been encouraged to avoid confusing quantity of programs with quality.
“What can we do about grade inflation?” To me, it’s true grade inflation if A’s are given where they are not justified. At Syracuse, overall GPA is 2.93 – nearly B work. Thirty or 40 years ago, there was the gentlemanly C, so called because then, as now, women presumably made better grades than men.
So, the more important question is not the GPA but whether students have met the demanding requirements of the courses they take. Have they learned what we expect them to learn? If they have, then the prevalence of A’s and B’s ought not surprise us.
In short we need to focus less on GPAs or on the old-fashioned grading curve and more on learning outcomes.
Here are some questions that I’ll touch on, recognizing that they deserve more time at a later date. “How can the University give the humanities more support-especially in an age when we are pressured to turn out narrowly-trained job seekers for business and industry?”
First, no university is worthy of the name if it doesn’t have a solid general education program for all its students. At Syracuse, we require students in our professional schools to complete between 36 and 65 credit hours in the arts and sciences out as part of their degree requirements.
Is that enough? Too much? Is it too fragmented? Or just right? I leave it to the faculty to decide. But clearly this is a major opportunity to ensure that we graduate educated people.
Second, universities can emphasize the humanities and sciences in their overall environment. At Syracuse, as I’ve said, we have symposia, lecture series, Arts Adventure, service learning, and a host of other such activities available, which can be offered only on a residential campus.
Third, universities owe students who major in the humanities the chance to develop job-related skills such as mastering technology, communicating effectively and the like. This we do through minors and internships.
To me, the strength of a good university is the extent to which its professional program students graduate with a solid grounding in the liberal arts as well as with a firm base for their chosen profession. The strength of a good university is also dependent on its ability to provide majors in the humanities and other liberal arts with marketable skills.
The Rankings Game Now for my least favorite subject-the rankings game. Specifically, the U.S. News & World Report rankings game.
What would it take to move us to the top 25 national universities level? Two things are true. The current ranking systems are flawed, some more than others. And this is a country that loves to rank, whether that’s for the most popular pudding mix or the so-called “best” universities and colleges. Incidentally, the U.S. News system, with all its flaws, is one of the better ones.
A recent article in the Washington Monthly was titled “U.S. News College Rankings Measure Everything but What Matters … And Most Universities Don’t Seem to Mind.” The authors report that U.S. News and other guides pay little attention to measures of learning or to good educational practices. In short, they pay little attention to what matters. They say that’s like measuring the quality of a restaurant according to its silverware and lighting, ignoring the taste and presentation of the food.
Don’t forget that the U.S. News rankings weigh most heavily (25 percent) an institution’s reputation, a very loose term, if I say so myself, as perceived by current provosts, presidents, chancellors and deans of admission. All good people, of course. But there is no way that they can avoid being influenced by where they went to undergraduate and graduate school.
Another key factor in reaching the top of the reputational list is the amount of federal funding received for research and development. Not an unimportant factor, but also not an indicator of quality of the undergraduate experience.
I don’t mean to belabor this point, but I offer this tongue-in-cheek guide for rising in the rankings. I hate to admit it, but one of these is actually followed-not here, of course.
1. To improve the ranking of student selectivity (accounts for 15 percent of the overall score), deny admission to qualified students who your experience shows wouldn’t be likely to enroll anyway.
2. Borrow money around the time the U.S. News rankings are being done and put it into the operating budget so that your per-student expenditures are inflated (10 percent of the score). Then give the bank back its money once the rankings are published.
3. Increase the number of applications with slick-and misleading-advertising. At Syracuse, we could photograph attractive students playing beach volleyball, hoping that geographically challenged applicants wouldn’t understand that February in this climate doesn’t encourage such activity.
Silly ideas, yes. But then so are some of the rankings. I expect they will always be with us. We are better off focusing on what’s important here-the highest quality teaching and discovery.
“How should we reward faculty for community service in the areas of promotion and tenure?” I think it’s important to distinguish between general volunteer service-those things which good citizens are expected to do-and service offered out of a faculty member’s particular expertise.
In the latter category is the faculty/student project in the School of Architecture to design a park and center in one of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods or the Maxwell School study of effectiveness in state government or faculty/student projects in the Newhouse School to assist not-for-profit organizations. This is application of knowledge, the kind of work I’d like to see considered in tenure and promotion decisions.
Some more short answer questions: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s probably too late for this, but I’ve always wanted to be a Viking.
“What makes you happy?” Easy-seeing students grow, making the faculty and staff very proud.
“What program has delivered the biggest bang for the buck?” Far and away that would be the Center for Public and Community Service. It began with a very small grant from my office, some local funds and hours and hours of volunteer effort. Today it oversees some 4,000 student participants who, together with faculty and staff, put in more than 400,000 hours of service, and some 135 academic courses with service learning components.
“What’s been your biggest disappointment?” No real big disappointments. Like my fellow presidents and chancellors, I find it very difficult to cope when a member of the University community dies or is seriously injured.
“Why is tuition so high?” Yes, it is high. But it’s actually less than most other high-quality private institutions. About 60 percent of our operating budget comes from tuition. Another 20 percent comes from our auxiliaries. In fact, our cost to educate a student is about the same as at a public university. The difference is that public tuition is heavily subsidized by state government.
It comes down to the best value for the price that we can offer. If the decision makers here-the Senate Budget Committee, the Trustees and I-thought there was a way we could provide for our students for less, we would do it. But even if we could reduce tuition by, say 10 percent, this would still be an expensive place. And, I believe, it would be a place where the value for the price was less than we’re accustomed to providing. We measure the value-to-price ratio by our increasing graduation rates and by the steady growth in quality of each incoming class.
In the last analysis, each student and his or her family must decide whether the value of a Syracuse University education is worth the cost. If a given student is not getting everything he can from the experience, then it’s not worth the cost. But if he is, it’s the wisest investment he could make. There are legions of happy alumni who agree.
“How can we get more operating income from areas other than tuition and auxiliaries?” The answer is, of course, fund raising. Next to that would be increased research support. I’ll return to fund raising in a moment.
What about faculty salaries? I know we’ve fallen behind our competitors. Two factors have made our comparative situation worse. First, the decision just prior to my arrival in 1991 to freeze salaries stalled salary progress for all faculty. Then, during restructuring in 1992, 150 faculty members opted for supported resignations. Their replacements have earned less comparatively. That brought down the average increase more than would otherwise have been the case. For example, for existing faculty, the average annual increase has been about .6 of 1 percent greater than the pro forma amount, meaning that over the past 10 years, actual increases for existing faculty have been over 5 percent greater than what is shown by the averages. Of course, we must do better. And the strategic development fund now built into our budget is designed to help.
Faculty salaries will remain a highly competitive item for the next decade, and we must remain competitive in the context of the other budget priorities.
“Whatever happened to that study of part-time faculty salaries?” The questioner notes that it was a good study, but wonders where the beef is? Show me the money, so to speak. The data from that study has been preserved and will guide the vice chancellor’s work as part of the Academic Plan. She will discuss this issue with the Senate Budget Committee this fall. “Are we paying attention to athletic graduation rates?”
Yes, we are. The recent NCAA annual report shows that our overall athlete graduation rate is 81 percent, seven percent higher than for all of our students. All of the seniors on last year’s high profile teams-football and men’s basketball-graduated. I’m proud of them, and I assure you that this area is monitored very carefully.
“Will we be building any new residence facilities? If we do, will it be apartment-style?” Since we are determined to keep new student enrollment around 2,950, there’s no real need to add a large number of new beds. However, one idea that I like would be a combination parking garage/apartment building in conjunction with the new School of Management building now in the planning stages. Such a facility would be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional, if, of course, it makes financial sense.
“Is SUIQ still out there somewhere?” Yes, and I’m happy to report it’s alive and well, though you wouldn’t necessary recognize it in its current form. We’ve moved from the all campus effort to help people focus on continuous improvement by focusing on customer needs, to the Herculean effort to implement PeopleSoft, to a greater emphasis on education and training and now to a renewed effort to assess quality at SU and to identify directions for the future. None of these steps have disappeared. Rather, they’ve become part of the culture of life on campus. And I’m convinced we are all the better for it. Diversity
A number of you had questions about diversity on campus. They ranged from general questions about how we’re doing to specific suggestions to improve the climate for people of color and for others who may feel estranged from time to time.
I devoted a series of five BuzzWords, my irregular newsletter, last year to the topic. They touched on four steps toward valuing diversity: discrimination, institutional barriers, tolerance and appreciation. I noted that discrimination, offensive as it is, is often the easiest to deal with. Simply stated, discrimination is intolerable on this campus. Eliminating institutional barriers takes more effort. Witness our moving to random assignment in the residence halls for new students instituted this year. And tolerance and appreciation are the hardest to achieve given an imperfect world made up of billions of imperfect people. This series of BuzzWords concluded with an issue devoted to specific steps we need to take to support diversity. In it, I assigned responsibility to the various units for achieving certain goals.
A recent report from the units showed gratifying progress in the areas of student recruitment, in new staff, new faculty and new programs. In particular, faculty recruitment has been highly successful to date thanks to a special initiative under Graduate School Dean Howard Johnson and a pilot program to lead to a campus-wide diversity training program has been launched to good reviews. I am pleased. But there is much more to be done in this important area.
“Are the components of the Academic Space Plan falling into place?” “How are we going to pay for the operating expenses?” I view this plan as a work in progress. We need to remain flexible as new opportunities and new challenges arise. First out of the box is the new School of Management building to be located on University Avenue across the street from Marshall Square Mall. We have an architect and approximately $15 million in pledges.
Next we’ll make decisions about the other major building projects such as the Life Sciences addition to the Center for Science and Technology and the addition to the Library. Then, like dominoes falling, the other projects will fall into place.
We know now that we have to scale back the expenditures identified by the Space Plan report. It called for some $240 million in projects. We have, through borrowing and other funding, approximately $170 million.
We’ll cover the costs of operating the new space with .5 percent of the scheduled 5.5 percent annual tuition increases.
And I was asked about the bricks. One person wanted to know what other improvements in the appearance of our campus were scheduled. Another person wanted to know what they cost. Implicit in that question was another question “Are we spending too much on beautification?”
The improvements over the summer are part of a five-year project to enhance our roadways and walkways. It has been expensive-more than $3 million.
Yet I’m sensitive to the fact that looks do matter. The campus must be functional, of course, but it must also reflect our pride in the institution.
I don’t apologize for the costs.
Where are we headed? Now to the ultimate question “Where are we headed?” I think we’re headed in a very positive direction. We’ve made great progress over the past 10 years, a fact that was underscored by the recently published Decade Report.
And we’ll continue in this direction if we do three important things: 1. Make wise budget decisions guided by the Academic Plan. We will have the signature programs that set us apart from the pack. We will break down the silos that keep us from communicating with each other. We will capitalize on our strengths, our vision and our values. 2. Ensure that the Academic and Space plans remain tightly coordinated. We know already that our desires exceed our present capabilities. We are challenged to use each dollar wisely. 3. Raise much more money. By any assessment, the Commitment to Learning Campaign was a tremendous success, but it’s just a beginning-a modest beginning. Vice President John Sellars has already taken steps to strengthen school- and college-based fund raising and leadership gift activities. He has supported a far more sophisticated system of identifying, engaging and stewarding donors. I am very encouraged by the progress to date.
“After 10 years here, what pleases you most? What makes you the most proud?” I am most proud of you. You responded so willingly and effectively to the great challenge of restructuring. You worked together to make this a much better place. You improved the quality of student life, increased retention, attracted more support from alumni and others, launched new initiatives, and so much more.
The result is that Syracuse University is one of a very few institutions that went through major financial restructuring and made bold steps to improve simultaneously.
Our reputation as change agents has spread far beyond campus. Said a recent article in Change magazine: “Will it be possible to meld student-centeredness with research in this new way? If anyone can pull it off, it’s Syracuse University.”
You should be proud.
I am proud to be your Chancellor. And I am confident that the same intrepidness will carry us forward to a most promising future.