Valedictory to the Graduate Faculty
Tony Filipovitch, Dean of Graduate Studies & Research
“Valedictory” comes from the Latin for “saying goodbye,” so I guess this is my valedictory address to you. I was tempted to title it, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” (John Donne is one of my favorite poets), but you have seemed genuinely glad to welcome me back to the faculty. I am very grateful to you for that. I have also been grateful for the extraordinary opportunity you have given me to serve you for these last five years, and I need to tell you that I have had a blast! I think I had the best seat in the house. But, like Cincinnatus, the time has come to lean my armor against a tree (not that I have needed it, much, with you) and return to the plow where I left it in the field.
We have accomplished a lot together these last five years:
But I am not content with what we have accomplished so far. Of all the MnSCU institutions, graduate education is most central to our sense of who we are at Minnesota State University. The graduate education we provide is a key capacity-building component for the communities we serve, not only in southern Minnesota but around the state and in the Upper Midwest. We serve some of those stakeholders very well, with clearly targeted programs. But we must make this service the hallmark of all of our graduate programs. While most of us teach in a graduate program to satisfy our own desire to explore and transmit certain ideas, this cannot be the purpose of graduate education at MSU; our purpose must be to serve a community—a community of students, a community of place, a community of interest—which reciprocates by supporting us in that service.
We must demonstrate our worth. This goes against our culture. We believe that virtue should be its own reward. But we are not a monastery school. No religious community supports us for “doing the good work” whether or not they understand that work. For the civic culture in which we are embedded, each investment is expected to show a return. Our supporters are expecting us to demonstrate to them what they are getting in return for what they put in.
The world we work in is changing. While we have successfully resisted change in the past—one after another, the education fads insisted on being noticed, only to wither under the attention—this one will not, I think, pass. The fads we have resisted have been of our own design, and so no one else cared. But the coming change is not aimed at us, it is a societal change, and so it will not notice if we try to stand against it—it will just run us over.
Educational institutions may be among the oldest continuous corporations in the world, but that does not mean the University of Paris looks or operates today as it did 600 years ago. The book transformed the pedagogy of disputation. The Morrill Act changed the focus of liberal education from preparing gentlemen (sic!) to preparing mechanical engineers and agronomists. The GI Bill democratized the student body.
Now we face the withdrawal of public support. Higher education is no longer seen as a public good (preparing a qualified workforce) but rather is seen as a private benefit (preparing me to get a good job). Same thing, but the meaning of the thing has changed. We have seen the triumph of capitalism and the fall of Marxism; we are all accountants now (pace Lord Keynes!). Everything has a value and nothing is valued. We have lost a language of the public. All good(s) is (are) private. We no longer know how to speak about a res publica (a “common weal”—and the root of our word, “republic”). The Athenian oath (“…we will leave this place not only not less, but greater, better, and more beautiful than it was given to us”) sounds quaint. Students expect their education to be customized to their desires, and delivered at their convenience (after all, they are customers!).
I sound like a curmudgeon—“it was all so much better in my day”—but that is not my point. The good old days were not so good—the world of Ozzie & Harriet cloistered women on baby farms and gave us The Death of a Salesman and The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and The Ugly American. Rather, the point I am trying to make is that our ivory tower must be founded in real mud—and that reality does not coincide with the stereotypes we have developed over the course of our long careers (for some of us, “long” in actual number of years; for all of us, “long” as in “the greater part of the life one has led so far.”)
We have a finite set of resources—time, money, space, skills—with which to accomplish our purposes. One of those purposes is graduate education. We will never again in our lifetimes (if we ever did) have the luxury of being able to do all that we would like to do. But a $70million University budget is a lot of money with which we can do a lot of what we need to do (as opposed to what we would like to do). Do we need 72 graduate degrees in 34 programs? And who needs them? Are there ways we could provide our students with more choice (customization, remember?) by pooling our resources?
As we continue to discuss how to allocate our scarce resources, there will be an elephant in the room among us—How much are we willing to take from each of our graduate programs to provide for those programs that don’t meet their cost of provision? I am not saying that any program that does not return its direct costs (or some variation on this theme) should not be offered. We are a university, we share in common the good that all of us create together. But just as the medieval Commons was destroyed by overgrazing, we cannot thrive if each exploits the university to obtain his or her own preferences without also weighing the costs (damage?) passed off to all the others.
As our resource base shrinks, we can meet that challenge with some combination of two approaches—we can increase our volume (growth), we can increase our productivity (efficiency). In the time ahead, you along with my successor will be forced to choose among activities based on the resources available. To this point, we have sometimes tried to avoid that choice, tried to struggle on with partial resources and doing things partway. We cannot long pursue this strategy; it is bad for our morale and bad for our reputation (and in the virtual world, reputation is all).
You have reminded me over these
five years that graduate education is craftwork, not mass production, and that
each craft has a different mix of resources, a different piece rate, and a
different end product. Yet I will remind
you that the ideal model can no longer be (if it ever was) Mark Hopkins at one
end of a log and a graduate student at the other. You have successfully resisted efforts on my
part to consider productivity benchmarks for the
· The first is a reasonable projection of growth, (a) given current resources and (b) given the market (with additional resources). In the absence of any useful projection of demand, I have found it very difficult to decide where to put our limited resources. It is not enough to assert some number or other (when I have asked, most programs have told me that they are at about their right size—even though in subsequent years many of them increased or decreased in size); one must provide the reasons why a given number is appropriate.
· The second is some reasonable measure of efficiency. As I have said before, we don’t do efficiency; efficiency is how we do our job. It is not the first measure of success, but neither is it one to be ignored. We must be clear about the job. Then we must use the fewest resources necessary, but all the resources necessary, to achieve it.
Finally, every ending leaves some things undone. As I prepare to leave this office, there are three things that I entrust to your consideration with the next Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Research:
· I think there is a significant opportunity for the faculty in some of our smaller degree programs to join together in revitalizing the Multidisciplinary Master’s degree. Rather than each struggling to provide a full degree program separately, faculty from those programs could constitute a steering committee and pool their resources.
· Create a “Council of Graduate Coordinators.” While the Graduate Sub-Meet and Confer is, by contract, the exclusive representative of the faculty in matters dealing with graduate education, the issues are too broad for a single representative from each College to represent all the issues and views. The graduate coordinators should come together to focus on issues of recruitment & communication planning, retention, off-site visits & other marketing efforts, and on-campus events for recruiting graduate students and networking graduate faculty.
· Greatly expand our portfolio of graduate certificate programs. I would suggest that the faculty give serious consideration to certificate programs in nonprofit management, program evaluation, policy analysis, statistical analysis, web and wireless communication, information management, human resource management, and strategic marketing.
So, let me end where I began. I have enjoyed these five years and am grateful to all of you for the opportunity you have given me. We have done good things together. Or, as John Donne put it,
“Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like th’other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begun.”