Letter from Provost Lane Earns
While the state’s budget deficit continues to present financial challenges to operating our University at the level of excellence needed to provide our graduates with all of the high-quality skills necessary to be productive, socially aware and critically thinking citizens, there are still opportunities this year to address important academic issues on campus.
To that end, two broad areas within Academic Affairs will require our attention and greater progress: General Education reform and the University’s retention initiatives. We are now in our fourth year since our last re-accreditation review, when the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) flagged our General Education program as needing serious reexamination by faculty and staff.
At present, the reform effort is being led by the Liberal Education Reform Team (LERT). Together with LERT and other campus leadership groups, academic departments and units across campus need to take ownership of General Education reform by reexamining their student learning goals in light of last year’s mapping exercise. This reform gives all academic units an opportunity to determine how their programs align with the learning outcomes they established for their graduates, and, potentially, how they would modify their programs if practice does not align with these objectives.
The discussion, however, must not stop here. It is time for faculty across campus to engage in a dialogue over the very nature of General Education at this University. A broad, cafeteria-style approach that presents students a plethora of credit options that they must “get out of the way” in their first two years, so that they are prepared to take the “real” and “important” courses of their majors in their final two years, is increasingly out-of-sync with national practice.And we have been warned repeatedly against this approach by HLC.
Our faculty and instructional academic staff need to undertake a thorough reexamination of our curriculum. We must determine what is essential in helping our students reach the learning outcomes that we have designated, and what is extraneous to this process. How can we refocus our curriculum and reduce our poor credit-to-degree record?
Also, how do we implement a more successful First-Year Experience program? Would a senior capstone experience across campus improve our General Education program?
Let us take seriously our commitment to liberal education on this campus, and do our best to provide our students at all levels of our graduate and undergraduate curriculum with skills centered on inquiry, critical and creative thinking, civic engagement, social and environmental responsibility, intercultural competence, written and oral communication, teamwork and problem solving. Let us emphasize not only the acquisition of knowledge, but also the capacity to adapt knowledge, skills and responsibilities to new settings and new questions in a rapidly changing world.
Secondly, we must continue our good work with Inclusive Excellence to ensure that all of our students have the same opportunities to succeed on this campus. While we have done an admirable job at increasing the number of students admitted to campus without lowering our academic standards, we are not doing as well at retaining students. We must continue to work with existing retention initiatives, such as TAP, Supplemental Instruction, the First-Year Experience Program, and the various assistance programs offered by Academic Support and Diversity, the Writing Center, the Reading Center, and the Math Lab, while investigating additional ways to support our students.
A number of new programs have been suggested for the upcoming year. How many of these we are able to implement will be determined by the level of support that we receive from the state. Students of color, first-generation and nontraditional students, veterans, LGBTQ students and students with disabilities must have an equal opportunity to advance through our educational process and graduate in a timely manner. The success of General Education reform and our various retention initiatives are the keys to maintaining the quality of our curriculum and hence our status as the premier public university of northeastern Wisconsin.
I know that there is a clear morale challenge in attempting to maintain our level of academic excellence in this extremely difficult economic environment. But there will be countless opportunities for all of us to step forward and make a difference this year. I ask you to call upon the passion that brought you to the academy and the drive that keeps you performing creating, and conducting research. Remember what brought you to the classroom and what it is that you want this year's newly arrived students to have learned by the time they graduate. As a campus, we seldom take a collective look at our departmental and University-wide curricula and reevaluate whether they are working they way they should. This year, you have the opportunity to do so. Please participate in this conversation.
The campus administration will continue to provide faculty and staff development and salary equity opportunities, and to do its best to recognize faculty achievements. To this end, the Office of the Provost will be expanding opportunities to showcase the research accomplishments of the faculty through both an expanded recognition ceremony in the spring and a new faculty newsletter. It is equally important, however, to recognize and appreciate everyone who works hard and excels at the basic day-to-day educational responsibilities of teaching, research and service that help make us a quality institution of higher learning. Therefore, let me take this opportunity to thank you for the outstanding contributions that you make every day to the success of our students.
Provost and Vice Chancellor