Dean's Newsletter

Volume 13, Issue 3

Volume 13, Issue 3

Welcome back to campus for the spring semester! I hope that your winter break was both festive and restorative and that you are now ready to face the spring semester with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

On January 16, the CLASS Diversity Council started the semester with one of the most important workshops that I have recently attended, given our current political climate. Lauren Litton from the National Institute for Civil Discourse led a discussion on reviving civility and civil discourse. Indeed, lack of civility in discourse is a growing problem in a nation that is increasingly polarized with respect to social and political issues. We have all seen it in our personal contacts and also in the digital world that most of us inhabit. Having differences of opinion on important matters is, obviously, to be expected in a large and diverse society. In fact, one of the roles of the university is to make a space available for students and faculty to explore and debate those differences within a respectful context. But when it becomes commonplace that citizens treat those with whom they disagree with disrespect and even hostility, when this becomes the typical modus operandi for our national leaders, our culture faces an alarming problem. As a society, then, we have come up short in the area of civil discourse, which can be defined as the ability to disagree without being disrespectful. It’s a skill that we all need to sharpen. This context is what makes Ms. Litton’s workshop so timely and such a brilliant way to begin the semester. Thanks go to Cheryl Bracken and the CLASS Council on Diversity for making it happen.

CSU continues to address issues of first- to second-year retention of our in-coming students. An important component in this effort is to promote student success in “gateway courses,” i.e., introductory courses taken by large numbers of students that also have an oversized influence on whether or not students eventually graduate. CLASS is taking some steps to help increase the success rates in these courses, and one of these steps is to sponsor a workshop on student success for those CLASS faculty who teach these courses. The workshop will take place in Student Center Room 313 at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, January 31. It was organized by Marnie Rodriguez and William Breeze, and it will include presentations by Breeze, Aycan Koksal, Nicole Hanna, Lisa Bernd, and Ramune Braziunaite. A light lunch will also be provided. Thanks to all the instructors who have already signed up—it’s a great sign of your dedication to our mission.

When the Film & Media Arts School moved to the Idea Center, they vacated prime space on the 1st and ground floors of the Music and Communication Building. I am happy to report that we have gained approval to repurpose those areas for critical needs in the School of Communication and the Department of Music. Communication will create new spaces for digital communication and journalism on the ground floor. Music will create a Music Therapy Clinic on the 1st floor, which will give students in the Music Therapy Program a chance for clinical experience before they graduate. I have allocated dollars from our Annual Fund to do some initial remodeling in both spaces, and Communication was awarded tech fee monies to equip two new labs in that space. However, we will need to seek gift monies to fully develop the Music Therapy Clinic down the road.

Speaking of Music, I wanted to announce that their efforts to transform the department into a School of Music were successful. The ten-step program change process concluded successfully, and the Provost has given his final approval. The department will become a school on July 1, 2019. Congratulations to John Perrine and his colleagues on achieving this important step forward, which will make the unit much more competitive in the conservatory-rich Northeast Ohio region.   

In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Steven Brint asks the rhetorical question: Is this [American] higher education’s Golden Age? In an argument that will strike many as counter-intuitive—given falling state funding for public universities, severe enrollment challenges in many parts of the country, and the American public’s declining levels of trust in higher ed.—Brint claims that the statistical evidence proves that it is. While I am not completely convinced by Brint’s argument, I do think it is helpful, in an era of increasingly negative coverage, to achieve a balanced view by looking closely at areas where American universities are achieving real successes despite strong headwinds.  

What about CSU? I agree that we have made significant progress over the past decade or so. We can look at a number of remarkable accomplishments from the creation of the arts campus and the Film School, to the revitalization of our neighborhood, to the NEOMED/CSU partnership, to our attractive and vibrant Student Center, to the creation of the CSU International School. We have added quite a few new and innovative degree programs—such as CLASS degrees in Criminology, Music Therapy, and Global Interactions—and hired energetic, dedicated, and talented new faculty, whose research output and teaching skills are ever more impressive. CSU has raised its retention and graduation rates significantly, and we are better connected locally as well as globally. It is true that budget and enrollment challenges are nagging, and we have recently learned that the university is facing another significant budget shortfall. However, while we will no doubt be forced to make some difficult choices in the short term, the arrival of new university leadership promises ever more aggressive and creative strategies to attract and keep greater numbers of CSU students. If I were just starting my career as dean rather than finishing it, I would not hesitate to move to CSU again.

But are we in CSU’s Golden Age? I don’t think so, if only because I see that our trajectory continues to move upward, and I do believe that, in the decades ahead, CSU will reach even higher levels of excellence. 

Best wishes,