"Becoming What We Are"
Address to the Graduate Faculty, 9/12/97
Oh, my friends and relations--
Happy New Year! For almost my entire life, the change of the seasons has begun and ended with the cycle of the academic year. September has been the time of rebirth and renewal, the time for implementing new ideas, the time of new faces and new challenges.
For me, the changes which are ushered in with this new academic year are particularly striking. You would think that you would know a place when you have been there twenty years. But I don't mind admitting that the learning curve has been steep. Last year, I was sitting where you are; the view is so very different from where I am standing now. So many things were transparent to me as a faculty member, but now I am responsible for seeing that they keep happening. It has been particularly humbling for an aging former hippie to hear himself saying, "We have rules, and they have to be followed!"
Speaking of aging hippies, let me introduce myself. Many of you know me; some of you have known me for 19 years. But I wasn't always a professor of Urban Studies.
Except for one of my mother's younger sisters, I am the first person on either side of my family to complete College. I am the first person in my family to do any graduate work. My father's parents came to the US in 1920. Although they spoke three languages (German, Hungarian, and Croat), they were of peasant stock. My mother is a farm girl, and throughout grade school I spent my summers helping on the farm--shoveling the barn, baling hay, combining oats. During the school year, I grew up in Detroit (in Detroit, not the suburbs).
My high school and first half of College were at Sacred Heart Seminary (in the 1967 riot, the flames burned up Twelfth Street to within a block of the Seminary). There I received an exceptionally thorough liberal arts education. We not only studied the classics, we studied them in Latin and Greek and French. I graduate from the University of Michigan, one of the premier public Research universities in the country. My Master's degree, from Duquesne University, was at a Private Comprehensive university and my PhD from Portland State was at a Public Comprehensive university (PSU has grown to a Doctoral University, but this was back when....).
In other words, I have grown up with a fairly wide range of experiences.
Before I came here, I was at a school where the administration had announced that it was going to become the "Harvard of the Southwest." I pointed out to my Dean at the time that we had no infrastructure to support the level of demand for grants and publication, and we would chew up a whole generation of junior faculty getting to that goal. He replied, "Don't worry, you will be one of the survivors." I told him I would not, and started looking for a new job. I came to Mankato State nineteen years ago because the primary focus was on teaching. I could do research--I was encouraged to do research--but the primary focus was teaching.
I came to Mankato, expecting to move on in 3 years, the way academic gypsies do. In the end, I (and my family) chose to stay here. The students here are my kind of people. They may not come with the best preparation in the country, but they come to make the best of what they have. And they turn out "pretty darn good," as Garrison Keillor would put it. The approach here to learning is congenial to me. I love the classics. I also really get excited when my research comes together and I've "got something!" But what I really wanted a place which would nourish all sides of my intelligence, and I found it here.
At the Council of Graduate Schools' Summer Institute for new deans (someone there referred to it as "Dean's Finishing School"), one of the speakers compared being a graduate dean to being the groundskeeper of a cemetery--you have a lot of people under you, but no one is really listening. So what ever possessed me to turn coat and leave teaching? The flippant answer is the one I gave my family when they asked me how I could leave teaching. I told them, "Oh, I'll still be teaching, just to a more truculent bunch of students." A more considered answer is found in a quotation that I picked up at that same Institute from Jules LaPidus, the Council's president--"If we want things to stay the way they are, things will have to change." If Mankato State is going to remain the place where all sorts of people come to learn ideas and develop new ones and work out their practical applications, then we're going to have to go about it differently. I don't have the answers, but I do have a willingness to take the lead, my friends and intellectual relations, in this quest.
Where do we begin? Nietzsche wrote, "Become what you are." I think the aphorism is apt for us. We are the largest public graduate school in Minnesota, aside from the University of Minnesota. Graduate studies is one of the distinctive competencies of Mankato State University. We have been involved in graduate education for almost 45 years and many of our current graduate programs have been here for 30 years. It is graduate education which helps create our distinctive campus environment, different from the four-year colleges (which focus primarily on the transmission of knowledge and skills) and the Research Universities (which focus primarily on the development and testing of theory). At Mankato State, our teaching is tied to the application and generation of new knowledge; our research is an extension of our teaching.
As I mentally wander around our campus, I am struck by the number of outstanding programs we have nourished, my former department among them (I take no special credit for that--the program was nationally ranked when I came here 20 years ago). You heard President Rush describe some of them yesterday. Dick Wintersteen in Social Work lead a cross-disciplinary team in what promises to be nationally significant research on assessing changes in the delivery of medical assistance. I have met a number of graduate students who have come here from all over the country to study in the Experiential Education program. The Water Resources Center has a strong reputation Statewide for its work on wetlands conservation. Students from the Theater department win regional and national awards every year. Judy Kuster's and Don Descy's WebPages are internationally recognized. We host the Good Thunder Writer's series. The Education College has partnered with the Districts in setting up the Lab School project and with US West and the NEA for training teachers in electronic technology. The Engineering program is a lead player in the wireless communications consortium and MSU is the annual host for the Regional Science Fair. The list goes on and on. By and large, we are a marvelous place!
And I think it is because of our track record, because of the ties we have built to our communities (both local and national), because of our success in training our students and their success in the careers they have pursued, that the Minnesota Legislature was willing to set up a Center for Rural Policy and Development here.
There are, of course, a number of challenges which I see for the next few years ahead. As a graduate institution, we are just coming of age. I think we are facing the crises of adolescence as we try to determine just exactly what we want to be. We need to focus on the quality of our efforts in research and graduate studieswe have shown we can do it; now we have to show how well we can do it. And we will have to help MnSCU define the role that graduate education plays in the system. Given the fiscal conservatism of our times, we need to develop our fund raising and development capacity to generate our own sources to fund the activities we want to pursue. The graduate college plays a central role in recruiting students into our programs. About 80% of grad students make their first MSU contact with the Graduate School. While overall the number of prospects, applications, and admissions has declined, that decline is primarily in nondegree-seeking students. That is both an opportunity and a challenge. Our student body is changing. For generations, we have focused on the two-to-four years we have in which to teach our students. In the Information Age, learners will come to us throughout their lives--no longer will we teach them for four years, but for forty! But how we do it, and when, and where will be different. Technology will also change how we approach the process of teaching and learning.
These are some of the issues, as I see them. But the role of the graduate dean is to lead the College in enunciating its own Vision of itself.
First of all, this means leading the graduate faculty in an assessment of the present curriculum, focusing and redirecting resources as needed. This process would be guided by four principles:
a) Graduate programs at Mankato State are a common good; no
individual program can hope to achieve its promise in an environment which does not nourish graduate education in general. As Ben Franklin said, "We must all hang together, or we shall assuredly each hang separately."
b) Resources (human and physical) may be redirected, retrained, or reused, but we cannot afford to waste or throw away any of them. Sustainability depends on the principles of reuse and recycling.
c) Global competition (and with the advent of distance learning, we are in a global market) requires a clear vision of distinctive competency, and continual assessment to match our efforts with a changing environment.
d) Graduate work in a comprehensive university has its own role and character, distinct from that which occurs at a research and a doctoral university. Ernest Boyer has written that, "The comprehensive ...university, perhaps more than any other, can benefit most from a redefinition of scholarship." (Scholarship Reconsidered, p. 61). We must become what we are!
Second, it is the role of the Dean to lead the entire campus community in a common effort to serve our various partners. Boyer (Scholarship Reconsidered, 1990) calls for a recognition of four types of "scholarship"--that of discovery, integration, application, and teaching. In addition to the traditional pure research, we must be of service to the communities which support us through mentoring, applied research, continuing education and community service.
Third, the graduate dean will provide significant assistance to MnSCU as it works to define the role of graduate education in the System. MSU is the largest provider of graduate education in the System, and has an interest in helping our new partners in the merged system understand the role that graduate education and research plays in the System. It was hard enough to keep up on what six people were doing in my former department; now I am responsible for representing 71 degrees and 45 programs. I need you to feed me. I would like to visit with each of your programs to be briefed on your particular competencies and successes (and, yes, to discuss the particular "challenges" each of you faces). Although I am not native-born Minnesotan, I am by nature shy and I have a rotten memory for names (my wife is amazed that I can remember what Henri IV said in 1589 yet can't remember whom I met or what I did yesterday). In my new job, I am working to overcome these failings; but if I fail to seek you out and hear the latest news on your students or your ideas, pull on my coat and tell me anyhow. I may be a slow learner, but I'm trainable.
Through it all, the mode of action should be one of partnerships. In its 1996 report, Science and Engineering at the Crossroads, the National Science Foundation stressed the importance of interagency coordination and cross-cutting initiatives. The business and education communities are coming together in School-to-Work and Business/Education Partnerships. A dean with no faculty has to operate through consultation, cooperation, and collaboration. Each player (whether from the community, the faculty, the student body, or the administration) brings a different mix of resources, and money is not the most important of these. The new dean's first task must be to pull together the common vision which the various partners share (keeping in mind that the dean is one of those partners). Guided by that vision, priorities must be set--because not everything can be done first--and the first priority must be the learner.
While "Vision" is logically prior, in practice Action Strategies are developed along with vision building. I would anticipate several major foci of action:
1) Focus (and assess) graduate academic programs & research and service.
2) Foster collaborative leadership.
3) Coordinate faculty and graduate student development with efforts in the disciplinary Colleges:
In this last regard, I am pleased to take this occasion to announce that the Graduate College will embark on a fundraising campaign to establish the Winston Benson Fund for graduate student scholarships. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of working with him, Win Benson was the second graduate dean at Mankato State University. He held that position from 1967 until his retirement in 1989. While he was a man of many talents, I remember him most for his devotion to the students. He personally interviewed every graduate student at the completion of her or his program of study. I can think of no more suitable way to honor his memory than to continue his tradition of caring for the students.
Through all this runs the issue of Assessment . We don't do "efficiency"--efficiency is how we do it, and assessment is how we demonstrate our efficiency. The Graduate College Report, "Quality Graduate Education: Defining a New Direction," is a good base on which to build, but some of its terms are not readily measurable, different classes of measurement are lumped together, and often assessment measures are treated as hurdles to be cleared rather than information for a process of continuous quality improvement. I want to work with the Graduate Committee to develop and annually review a set of assessment measures which provide feedback for the programs. The emphasis is on providing information to inform our efforts to do what we do better, rather than a tool for separating "sheep" from "goats."
I am finding that being the graduate dean requires that I juggle a lot of balls in the air. And I am still learning how to do it. But one of those balls is special, and all of us must be careful not to drop it. That ball is the students. I am still a novice juggler; please be patient with me. And, no matter what our skill level, let us all renew our commitment to become what we are, or as the Athenian Oath would have it, to "transmit this place not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was given tous."
In closing, while I have emphasized here a number of elements and steps, I wish to emphasize that I have a bias for action. We have been planning and strategizing and visioning and assessing for the last 7 years. We do not need another occasion to put everything on hold while we debate the crystalline expression of our will. We have been thinking about it and talking about it long enough that we should have at least some idea of what we want, and we have been gathering some information which demonstrates it (at least to our individual satisfactions). As John Kennedy put it, "All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days.... But let us begin."