Faculty perspective: Dr. Susan Hanssen on the new college

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Dr. Hanssen, pictured here with other members of the faculty, expresses concern for the treatment of UD's professors surrounding the new college discussions. University of Dallas photo.

The UD News article on the proposed New College for Adult Degree Completion surveyed two faculty members’ views, but I would like to provide a more comprehensive outline of faculty concerns that might be valuable for our conversation on the topic going forward.

At a series of all-faculty meetings last fall semester, many faculty expressed principled, financial, and procedural concerns regarding the proposal, and the administration has failed to address these concerns in any substantive way since.

Despite the almost unanimous concern, President Keefe asked the faculty senate in March to form a committee to consider the university’s need for new revenue-building programming. Many faculty members, however, doubt that the administration is genuinely open to any ideas other than the Degree-Completion College, which the president hopes to present to the board in May or October.

First of all, many faculty members do not consider the New College plan “new” or innovative. In 2001 President Milam Joseph proposed a similar program; the faculty rejected it as financially unsound and a bad fit for UD. In 2007 President Frank Lazarus tried to push through a new school of pharmacy as a revenue builder; he faced a vote of no confidence in the senate and resigned.

Since then, many schools have launched degree-completion programs. It will be very difficult to underprice UT-Arlington, UT-Richardson, Texas Wesleyan and University of Phoenix. Many private schools have gone under after becoming mediocre copycats of their state competition.

It is also not clear where the start-up funds for the New College would come from, considering recent budget cuts. Would it not be dangerous to create a new academic unit which would compete with the already existing colleges for resources?

Many faculty members would like an accounting of why the university continues to lurch from financial predicament to financial predicament based on a fundamentally unsound revenue-based financial model. Many had hoped that the university would shift toward a transformative, endowment-building, capital-campaigning approach that would establish the university on a firmer, more sustainable foundation than our current rather desperate dependence on tuition.

Second, the faculty have expressed procedural concerns about the way the provost presented the New College Plan to the faculty in the fall.

Since the Pharmacy School debacle of 2007, faculty have worked hard to put proper processes in place for establishing new institutional units. But when Josh Parens, dean of the Braniff Graduate School, raised the question about following the proper Faculty Handbook procedures, he was abruptly told that his contract as dean would not be renewed for the following year.

Now a cloud of potential retribution hangs over the president’s call for “civil and respectful dialogue.”

There seems a danger that if Constantin faculty voices are ignored now, they will be even more marginalized when the faculty senate is flooded with representatives from the New College, and commitment to the Core will be even more diminished.

Third and most important, the history of higher education in the 20th century has been the history of the dilution of commitment to the liberal arts.

Many other institutions, including Catholic institutions, have followed this path of multiplying a variety of colleges, reducing their liberal arts college to a mere “honors college” within a larger entity.

Henry Adams famously described modern universities “growing to dinosaur proportions” — the larger they grow, the less alive they are with the spirit of genuine liberal arts education, the more they approach educational and financial extinction. The college responsible for liberal education becomes proportionally weaker, and the spirit that should inform the whole ends up informing only a part of the school.

One faculty member compared creating a new undergraduate college to grafting a parasite onto a living tree — trying to make money from a parasite that will kill the host.

The University of Dallas was founded on the innovative idea that the liberal arts education that formed the founders of our republic is the best education for all participants in our modern democracy. Diluting or weakening that education in an attempt to reach greater numbers does service to no one.

The University of Dallas is distinguished as a truly unified university in a higher education landscape of multiversities. Creating the first undergraduate “unit” without the Core is a fatal step towards disunity and fragmentation.

The president has referred to the faculty’s expression of concern as an “emotional catharsis” — he assumes that having gotten over our “emotional attachment” to the Core as the centerpiece of UD’s undergraduate education through a series of “cathartic” meetings last fall, we will now move on to dealing with the financial exigencies he has outlined. But “civil and respectful dialogue” needs to be precisely that — dialogue — a two-way conversation where the reasons given and concerns expressed are actually addressed.

6 COMMENTS

  1. As a parent of five University of Dallas graduates, I would have to agree with the faculty. Diluting the Common Core would be counter- productive to the stated philosophy and goals of the University of Dallas. Dialogue with teachers should be paramount, without fear of retribution from the administration.

  2. The faculty should not let their perspective on the Core and other educational implications become washed out and compromised by also presuming to know better than the president and his administration do about the financial cost/benefit analysis. I’m humbled and inspired by the faculty’s commitment to the Core and UD’s mission, but Keefe does not owe them constant answers and dialogue on the business side of this proposal.

    • Well, Mr. van Schaijik, the president did call for “civil and respectful dialogue,” and it’s not dialogue if he won’t respond to their concerns. For the record, the students hate the “New College” idea as well. I’ve heard plans for a public protest.

  3. Bravo, Dr. Hanssen! These are not only valid questions, but essential ones, questions anyone putting forward a proposal should have anticipated.

    Mr. van Schaijik, I don’t think the faculty is looking for “constant answers”; rather, it is my understanding that the same questions have been repeatedly asked, without answer. As with any dialogue, frank answers and honest listening by both sides create the trust which, in turn, provides the space for developing a concept. But those foundations need to be laid.

  4. About halfway through this piece, I was convinced that Dr. Hanson had forgotten to lend to this important issue the invaluable perspective of Henry Adams. To not remember the words of Henry Adams at a time like this, I thought – devastating. It turns out I was wrong and need not have worried. It just goes to show, as Henry Adams said, “Young men have a passion for regarding their elders as senile.”

  5. I am currently benefitting from a degree completion program myself as an alumnus of the University of Dallas, I value the education I got from completing the core requirements and I wonder how the core could not be consolidated into a 30 credit-hour required block for a general BA in Liberal Arts like the one I am completing. It would certainly be a better program than the one I am completing and I assume the vast majority currently available if kept true to what was discussed by Dr. Hanssen, and could be marketed as such. I obviously don’t have enough information about the proposed program, but perhaps if kept simple and including those topics/classes most important to understanding that idea that “a liberal education that formed the founders of our republic is the best education for all participants in our modern democracy.” Principles of American Politics stands out to me. But I suppose my conclusion is that I agree that simplifying or short cutting the full UD core is not in line with the university’s ethos, but it would allow more people to experience it and plant the seed. I don’t know enough about the financial problem or the proposed program, but I know that I benefitted a lot from the core curriculum (whose broadness essentially forced me into another liberal arts degree completion program) , but I did not need every single requirement to get a positive influence.

    But is it the right answer to the financial problems? Will it work? Will it promote and plant a seed for or neglect “the core”?

    Thanks Dr. Hanssen. You are correct in many historical obesrvations and are asking the right questions in my opinion.

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