Minutes: Reinvention Center Northeast Regional Network Meeting: December 15, 2000
The first meeting of northeastern research universities sponsored by the Reinvention Center took place on December 15, 2000 at the University Club in New York City. It was attended by 36 faculty and senior administrators from 18 public and private institutions. A list of attendees is attached.
Wendy Katkin, Director of the recently-established Center, opened the meeting by introducing herself, and providing background on the Center’s founding and on the factors leading to this first network meeting. The purpose, she explained, was to explore the merits and feasibility of creating a regional network made up of faculty and senior administrators from research universities within the same broad geographic area. In addition to the New York City meeting, the Center is holding similar sessions in Washington, DC, San Francisco and Chicago.
Dr. Katkin explained that when the Reinvention Center was created a year ago, she was given three years to determine whether a Center focusing exclusively on research universities made sense and, if so, what its role might be. After a year of visiting campuses, talking with colleagues at universities, professional societies and government agencies and attending meetings of education-oriented organizations like the AACU, AAHE and Project Kaleidoscope, she determined that indeed such a Center could fill a critical gap and have many functions. Her reasoning was based on the observation that most existing organizations focusing on undergraduate education are geared primarily for four-year colleges. These colleges, however, start out with different assumptions and have needs and interests that are quite different from those of research universities. As a result, the organizations have generally failed to engage administrators and especially faculty from research universities. A forum made up exclusively of research universities would be able to concentrate on issues specific to their environments and to the demands and expectations of their faculty. Dr. Katkin envisions the proposed networks as small communities made up of colleagues from institutions that face common challenges and who might benefit from working together and sharing experiences. Her model is the group of ten research institutions that received the NSF RAIRE (Recognition Award for the Integration of Research and Education) awards in 1997. Over the past three years, faculty and administrators from these institutions have met informally on numerous occasions, have come to know one another personally and with reference to many of their programs, and they have become valuable resources for one another on a wide variety of issues. Dr. Katkin expressed her hope that the regional network would function in the same way.
Following the opening comments, a representative from each institution present was asked to provide a brief overview of the institution and to identify a pressing issue or educational aspect that the Center network might address. The introductions revealed the diversity within the group, which included small and large, and public and private universities, as well as ones in urban, suburban and rural locations.
The following issues were identified:
The group decided to abandon the formal agenda and focus instead on two questions raised by Bill Green, Dean of the College, University of Rochester:
In order to focus on a few urgent matters, Dr. Green asked participants to identify what they felt were the threats to the quality and reputations of research universities. Four main issues emerged: assessment, the use of part-time faculty, the role of politics, and the unique nature of a research university itself.
1. Assessment: Assessment is paramount. Research universities need to guide the assessment enterprise so that it is synergistic with and supports their goals. We need to use assessment to help us with respect to what we do with our students and to help alleviate public misunderstandings about research universities. Research universities are unique in that they have researchers to develop tools and instruments that measure students’ broad skills and cognitive development over time, and not content/ regurgitation of facts.
Research universities are good at assessing research, but less experienced in assessing students’ learning in meaningful ways; thus we run the risk of letting outsiders set the goals and of being influenced by politically-motivated "outcomes" assessment. Dr. Joan Secord Bennett of the University of Delaware described the complexities of carrying out a major assessment. To do a good study you need a large database and a large control group as well as highly experienced researchers. You can’t "just hire an assessor," but need to help develop the appropriate assessment instrument(s) for what you want to know. Delaware has created an epistemological assessment instrument in order to measure the direction of students’ cognitive development over time (the UDAES study).
Dr. Matthew Santirocco, Dean of Arts and Sciences at NYU, noted that the AAU has set assessment as one of the goals of its Presidential Leadership forum, via a grant from the Pew Trusts. The AAU is looking at assessment from an admissions standpoint and trying to determine what universities expect incoming students to be able to do and what the standards are for success. What value do they place on cognitive skills? On content? He noted that what we expect students to be able to do has implications for the type of experiences we expect to offer them. The Center network might have a conversation parallel to the AAU’s conversation on this issue, but which extends beyond the AAU’s admissions focus and involves research universities that are not members of the AAU.
2. The growing use of poorly-paid, part-time, non-tenure-track faculty, including many who are or were graduate students at our own institutions. Frequently, this growth has resulted from an attempt to follow a small-college model and provide small classes for all students. This model however may not be appropriate or workable at a research university. Moreover, it diverts research universities from what they do best.
A related concern articulated by several of those present is the possibility of freshman or lower-division general-education courses being spun off into a separate division from the rest of the university and taught by a separate, fixed-term (non-tenured) faculty who are often not involved in the research university’s major activities.
3. Politics and how it impacts universities. Although none of the public institutions present received more than about 30% of their funding from the state, state-appointed boards or agencies are increasingly intruding on their educational mission. In New York State, for example, the SUNY Board of Trustees has recently instituted its own requirements for general education on all SUNY campuses. In a similar way, governing boards may impact private institutions. Such intrusions raise two questions: Who speaks for universities, and how can/should research universities deal with external pressures?
4. The need to understand and make clear what students are getting out of a research university that they could not get elsewhere. Returning to the "value-added" theme Dr. Green raised earlier, the group focused on the importance of research universities creating a vision of undergraduate education that parallels the vision they have successfully created for graduate education and that engages the public imagination.
In contrast with liberal arts colleges, which enjoy a good public image and in many ways have set the commonly-held standard for undergraduate education, research universities have not projected a clear and coherent understanding of the kind of educational experience that they offer nor the unique benefits it bestows. Instead, they are often perceived as large, complex and confusing. Moreover, their emphasis on research and graduate training is often seen in terms of costs to undergraduate education. The problem is particularly great at public universities which students often attend as a "last resort" because of their accessibility and low costs.
A major challenge for research universities is to develop and articulate a vision that builds on research universities’ strengths and complex missions, including an emphasis on the production of knowledge, to inflect the undergraduate education mission. The vision should make clear the value of size and the choices and vitality that size affords to students. It is the complexity, breadth of knowledge, resources and multiple commitments to a variety of missions that distinguishes them from other institutions.. This is their unique niche. As one member of the group suggested, we need a meta-pedagogical strategy, "for letting our undergraduates in on the magnificence of this enterprise". We know who we are as research universities, but how do we communicate what we can do for undergraduates, and how do we let others know?
Dr. Katkin stressed the importance of working with disciplinary and professional societies in efforts to engage faculty in undergraduate education. Unlike their counterparts at four-year colleges who perceive themselves as members of "the college," faculty at research universities often identify most strongly with their department or discipline, and their expectations as teachers are driven by the norms of their discipline. This "guild" model was a recurrent them of the discussion. Professional societies should be powerful allies since it is not in the interest of the guild to turn students off, but to draw them in.
Peter Gold, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education at the University at Buffalo, suggested that the network also work with organizations such as the American Association for Colleges and Universities (AACU) which have an undergraduate education focus. The consensus was that that may be a long-range goal, but before undertaking linkages with other groups the network should have at least one more meeting and establish its own agenda.
There was a general consensus among those present that a network made up of research universities offers a rare and valuable opportunity for faculty and administrators directly responsible for undergraduate education at these institutions to speak frankly with one other. The size of the regional meeting was deemed a good one for holding conversations and undertaking some actions.
The network might have several functions:
1. To figure out the core goals of research universities and to articulate and work actively to gain recognition for the kind of undergraduate education they offer.
2. To share and disseminate best practices and strategies and relevant research findings.
3. To serve as a resource for one another.
4. Through joint effort, to be pro-active in responding to political and other issues that affect us and to work to shape the national agenda with respect to undergraduate education.
5. Although it is somewhat early to consider working directly with professional societies (whether disciplinary or educational in nature) or to consider any national meetings or symposia, both of these activities may be long-range goals.
Network members are invited to submit ideas and/or short descriptions of first-year experiences to the Center, for its Web site "Spotlight." Please send them via email to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 5.
The group determined to have a second meeting, in New York City in the late spring, after the other regional groups have all met once.
LIST OF PARTICIPANTS
Director, Wendy Katkin, University at Stony Brook
Assistant to the Director, Mary Leming, University at Stony Brook
Stephen Straight, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
Sharon Prado, Executive Director, Teaching Center and Director, UROP
Laurel Southard, Director of Undergraduate Research
New York University
Trace Jordan, Assistant Director for the Morse Academic Plan
Vincent Renzi, Assistant Director for the Morse Academic Plan
Matthew Santirocco, Dean of the College of Arts and Science
Pennsylvania State University
Don Bialostosky, Head, Department of English
Ingrid Blood, Professor and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education
Susan Forman, Vice President for Undergraduate Education
Justine Hernandez, Assistant Dean and Assistant Director, General Honors Program
Gregory Herzog, Senior Advisor for Undergraduate Education and Professor of Chemistry
Barry Qualls, Associate Dean
Ronald R. Cavanagh, Vice President for Undergraduate Studies
University at Albany
Sue R. Faerman, Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs
Judith Fetterley, Associate Dean for General Education
University at Buffalo
Peter Gold, Associate Dean
Sean Sullivan, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Planning
University at Stony Brook
Mark Aronoff, Associate Provost and Professor of Linguistics
David Ferguson, Director, Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching
Nancy Tomes, Associate Dean for Curriculum and Professor of History
University of Connecticut
Keith Barker, Associate Vice Provost and Director, Institute for Teaching & Learning
Cameron Faustman, Professor and Department Head of Animal Science
Ronald Growney, Associate Professor of History
Robert Thorson, Professor, Geology and Geophysics
University of Delaware
Joan Secord Bennett, Coordinator of Undergraduate Research
Thomas DiLorenzo, Dean, College of Arts and Science
University of Rhode Island
Deborah Grossman-Garber, Director of Academic Outreach & New Initiatives
Blair Lord, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
University of Rochester
William Scott Green, Dean of the College