Dean's Newsletter

Volume 9, Issue 4

Volume 9, Issue 4

On January 27, I attended a preview lecture by Mike Skladany (Sociology) on Karen Becker’s book Understanding and Engaging Under-Resourced College Students (2009).  My original (mis)understanding was that the “under-resourced” reference was primarily about financial resources, and I thought that Dr. Becker’s book would offer new insights on how universities might help to keep financially-strapped students from dropping out of school. What I learned, however, was that the “resources” to which the book refers have to do more with a lack of social capital than with a lack of money. Our pedagogical practices, so the argument goes, are founded upon certain unspoken assumptions, assumptions that are typical of the middle class. When students from other social classes enter the university, they do not necessarily bring those unspoken assumptions with them and, thus, face a higher risk of academic failure. By alerting faculty to the gap between the educational assumptions of the middle class and those of other classes and enumerating some of these differences, Dr. Becker hopes that faculty can become more proactive in helping their students to navigate the culture of higher education and, thus, to succeed in their studies at a higher rate.

I mention this experience not only because Mike did a good job in making the case that these considerations are important for CSU faculty, but also because he was preparing the way for Dr. Becker to visit our campus on Thursday, February 26, to personally present her argument. The lecture will take place from 11:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. in Main Classroom 103. I believe that this lecture fits very well with the university’s emphasis on promoting student success, and, thus, I hope that many of you will take this opportunity during common hour to attend.

I also attended the roundtable discussion featuring the Presidents and CEOs of the three major Cleveland-area health systems—the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and the MetroHealth System. President Berkman did a fine job in moderating what turned out to be a significantly informative session, with the different presidents speaking candidly about the current state of health care in the U.S. and in Northeast Ohio and the challenges for the future. This was the first in a series of five such special sessions, organized specifically to celebrate CSU’s 50th anniversary, and it set the bar very high for the remaining four. Our own Katie Shames has had an important role in helping to bring about these sessions.

The third such session, sponsored by CLASS and the Graduate College, will be held on March 17 and is entitled “Preparing a 21st Century Workforce through the Liberal Arts.”  Moderated by Provost Deirdre Mageean, the session will include a presentation by Dr. Caryn McTighe Musil, Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy at the Association of American Colleges and Universities and a panel discussion featuring four highly successful CLASS alumni. The panelists include Kelly Falcone-Hall, President of the Western Reserve Historical Society, Deforia Lane, Director of Music Therapy at University Hospitals, Thomas O’Toole, Senior Vice President of United Airlines, and Doug Piwinski, Senior Vice President of TOMS Shoes. The session will demonstrate what the AAC&U has already found in its research: that graduates in the liberal arts are exceptionally well-prepared to flourish in the modern economy. They just need to be trained to see the best pathway into the economy upon graduation.

All the Presidential Forums are free and open to the public and include lunch, but you must register in advance at They take place conveniently in the Student Center. I encourage as many CLASS faculty and staff as possible to attend what promises to be a highly relevant and engaging session on the relationship between study in the liberal arts and employment in the workforce.

I also wanted to call your attention to a cohort of students from our international partner Jilin University in China. Eight enthusiastic Jilin students, all English majors, are spending the semester with us and enjoying taking courses in Communication, French, and Psychology, as well as in English. While we have welcomed international students to our college in the past, we have never welcomed such a large cohort from a single international partner. Having such students among our local population is good for the college in a number of ways. It helps the faculty become more globally focused and aware, and these guests should also enrich the academic experience of our local students.

It also fits well with recent enrollment trends at CSU. International students at CSU increased from 205 in the fall of 2007 to 1377 in the fall of 2014. Moreover, in 2007, international students accounted for only 1.3% of the total student population. By 2014, however, international students accounted for nearly 8% of the CSU student population. In other words, the university has started down an important path toward even greater internationalization, and CLASS is playing an important role in this movement. I want to thank all CLASS instructors who have these students in their classes and who are going the extra mile to make sure that the students have a successful CSU experience.

I end by noting that Ed Horowitz was asked to make a presentation to the Provost’s Council recently about his pioneering work in Public Sphere Pedagogy. First introduced in 2006 at California State University, Chico, Public Sphere Pedagogy integrates students’ civic work in the community with academic learning. After visiting CSU, Chico, and working with VP Byron White, Dr. Horowitz created a new model for Communication 224, Foundations of Journalism and Promotional Communication. He structured the entire course around a single public theme: Cuyahoga County’s Arts Sin Tax. Dr. Horowitz’s approximately 40 students were asked to design various live media products (such as entries on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) as well as posters, newspaper articles, and fliers for use in the campaign to renew the tax. The semester culminated in a Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, December 2, in Trinity Commons. Community representatives who attended the Town Hall meeting were impressed and eagerly listened as CLASS students presented the fruits of their work. I believe that many of the deans present at the Provost Council were also impressed with this innovative attempt to make “engaged learning” an ever more important part of CSU pedagogy. Congratulations, Ed! This kind of hands-on learning certainly can appeal to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds, even those who may in certain respects be “under-resourced.”

Best wishes,

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