Saturday, September 5, 2020

A Year Like No Other


A Year Like No Other


At Susquehanna University, we are fortunate to have completed the first two weeks of the Fall 2020 semester with no positive cases of COVID-19 on our campus. Much can be attributed to careful, rigorous planning and a campus community committed to shared success, but we have also been lucky.


As Branch Rickey said, “Luck is the residue of design.”[1]


Here is a link to a list of many of the actions we have made. These are some highlights:

·      Waste-water from residence hall is being tested every 2 days.

·      All students and employees are being tested before returning to campus.

·      We have been bringing students back to campus in stages to provide an opportunity to adapt to new processes with fewer people.

o   Student leaders returned first

o   First-years followed

o   Seniors arrived this weekend (5 and 6 September)

o   Remaining students will arrive two weeks later.

·      Just over 300 students have elected to take their courses remotely this semester, and students with delayed returns to campus began the semester remotely. Therefore, most classes are being offered as hybrids, combining in-person and online modes of instruction.

·      Teaching spaces have been reduced to 40% of their traditional capacities.

·      New air-filtering systems have been installed, and residence-hall rooms with 2 occupants have UV air-purifiers.

·      Every building has been heavily labeled to maintain socially-distanced navigation.

·      We have an oversight group with broad collaborative expertise, including Dave Richard, Professor of Biology, to be sure we are applying the appropriate scientific analysis to our efforts.


Our goal is to keep our campus safe, and to use this year like no other as an object lesson for a liberal education.


The university’s learning goals include the development of an integrated set of intellectual skills to help students:

·      Think creatively and critically to analyze issues, consider solutions, and make effective decisions;

·      Incorporate methods of analysis from a broad range of academic disciplines to understand and explore conflict, and solve problems;

·      Engage effectively with others through gathering, evaluating, synthesizing, and articulating information to generate informed opinions and arguments through multiple avenues; and

·      Work effectively within a team, function with professional and digital competency, and understand and navigate problems that often elicit complex and ambiguous responses.


We continue to evaluate the best information to make data-informed decisions to mitigate the risk of infection on campus. Those data have come from a wide range of disciplines with the sciences and public health as the core. We have all engaged in a social contract committing to work collectively to keep each other safe and healthy.


Our national failure to successfully control the spread of COVID-19 has been the result of not being able to navigate an objective path through the current bedlam of complex and ambiguous responses to the pandemic. The democratization of ideas has rendered sages and fools to equal status, and we must strive to help our students to discern the difference.


We may have never had a richer opportunity for deep learning.


I have been asking students how their classes are going. They share frustrations about the experiences that are not possible this year, and then they say, “But I am learning so much more.”


Edward Gibbon said, “The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators.” This year is a lesson in navigation.


We are all in the most elaborate laboratory course in resilience and flexibility imaginable. Science, technology, social sciences, the arts, and humanities are all being pulled into play as we work together to find solutions to an infinitely complex web of problems.


What could be a better curriculum than that?




[1] quoted in Sporting News, 21 February 1946


Monday, August 3, 2020

College Doesn’t Change Students’ Politics, but It Does Make Them More Tolerant of Difference

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to be part of a very good conversation with a U.S. Senator who expressed concerns that higher-education institutions were marginalizing conservative views. Contemporary media certainly propagate that assumption, but the conclusion is one of anecdotes, which could be just as easily framed in the opposite direction.


As Taylor Carr wrote in “Is There a Liberal Bias in Higher Education?” in Medium, “News stories pop up frequently of ‘assaults on free speech’ allegedly taking place in campus protests. Though these are usually isolated incidents reported on with little in the way of thorough detail, the impression is easily given that they are part of a wider national epidemic.”


I have been reading American Conservatism: Reclaiming the Intellectual Tradition, an anthology that includes writings ranging from Henry Adams and Henry Cabot Lodge to Reinhold Niebuhr and George Santayana. At every turn, I am reminded that it is our institutions that keep this work alive and engage each new generation in these ideas.


In the past two decades there have been shifts among the two parties related to political affiliation with academic attainment and perception of the value of higher education, but this appears to be independent of any ideological impact of higher education.


According to a recent Pew study, between 2012 and 2019, Republicans who believe colleges have a positive effect on the U.S. has moved from 53% to 33% while Democrats have remained steady at 67%.


According to another Pew study, historically, the majority of college graduates identified as Republican. Equilibrium was achieved around 2002, and since about 2014, a growing majority of college graduates have identified as Democrats. Among Americans who have attained a post-graduate education, the majority were Republican until 2002, and a Democratic majority has grown steadily since.


Despite those shifts, there hasn’t been a significant ideological shift of our graduates. They continue to be fairly centrist. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, 60% of American college professors identify as liberal. This is not reflected in their impact on the ideologies of their students.


The authors of, The Still Divided Academy: How Competing Visions of Power, Politics, and Diversity Complicate the Mission of Higher Education, which explores the impact of a college education on the political perspectives of students, found that students typically graduate with a political leaning very similar to when they enrolled. The authors offer a number of possible explanations including intellectual resilience among our students and a professoriate committed to providing a balanced experience in the classroom.


“Does College Turn People into Liberals?” a study published in The Conversation, surveyed over 7,000 students from more than 120 higher-education institutions in their first and second years. Forty-eight percent of the students reported that they viewed liberals more favorably after a year on campus and that 50% viewed conservatives more favorably. The same survey reported that 31% had a more negative view of conservatives, and 30% had a more negative view of liberals.


The initial takeaway is that these are very balanced statistics, but the really important element is that the favorable numbers on both sides are significantly greater. The collegiate experience opens students up to a broader view of the world and the issues that affect us all, which will hopefully lead us to find common ground as we attempt to move forward as a nation.


Let us hope that, like our students, our leaders and we can grow in our appreciation of the perspectives of all our neighbors and respond with compassion and a renewed spirit of collaboration.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction

The following appeared as an opinion piece in the Daily Item, 10 July 2020.

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that international students will be prohibited from staying in the United States if they are enrolled in online-only instruction. This includes a shift to online-only classes in response to changes in the status of the pandemic after a semester begins. On Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT jointly filed a lawsuit seeking temporary and permanent injunctions on behalf of their students.

The policy change came with little warning, and it is difficult to understand who benefits from this change. A headline in Tuesday’s New York Times posits that the move was intended as leverage to impel institutions dependent upon international-student revenue to remain open for face-to-face instruction in the Fall.

Like Susquehanna University, many institutions are doing all they can to open their campuses for in-person classes safely, and no institution that opens its classrooms this Fall is going to move to all-online instruction mid-semester unless it is in the best interest of the health of the campus population and that of the surrounding community. If that is the case, how can immediately putting the international members of a student body onto airplanes and sending them around the globe be a compassionate or responsible action?

Allowing those students to have the option of sheltering in place until conditions improve is the ethical approach for the well-being of the students, and it is better business for our nation. There are some countries, like China, that will support visas for students to study in the U.S., but will not allow the same students to enroll in online U.S. programs from home. Under the new DHS mandate, were these students to attend a U.S. institution that temporarily moved fully online, they would be sent home, and the semester would end unfinished.

International students studying in the United States provide remarkable benefits to all our students, they strengthen higher-education institutions, and they are a boon to the U.S. economy:

·      International students diversify our campuses culturally, intellectually, and experientially;
·      They enrich the global awareness and fluency of our domestic students;
·      By educating citizens from around the world, we develop advocates of the U.S. abroad, and many international alumni of U.S. institutions become leaders in their home communities and nations;
·      We have the opportunity to engage some of the best young minds from around the world in our domestic academic enterprise;
·      For many institutions, international enrollments provide significant revenue to support the education of all our students.

In 2018, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy. The initial economic impact is revenue to universities, but these students contribute greatly to the commercial vitality of our surrounding communities and the nation. Sending students home if their programs move online strips that economic opportunity from our communities, and worse, it is affront to young people who have had the courage and passion to travel around the world to learn and who have chosen to invest in those communities as part of the experience.

Just as we all benefit from international students enrolling in the U.S., we are ethically obligated to be good stewards of them as our students. This includes advocating for their ability to complete their courses and their programs, tending to their health and safety as we would our domestic students, and treating them as welcome guests on our campuses and in our nation.

This has been a hallmark of international education in the United States for decades. In the face of our global crisis, the need to support our international students has never been more important. The DHS announcement is a move in the wrong direction.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Self-Evident Truths

Self-Evident Truths

I recently had a rich conversation with a friend about the political tensions and social divisions we currently face.

I mentioned that because of Title IV (federal financial aid) expectations, as a university leader, I had often said that I couldn’t be publicly political, but that I had been corrected by a colleague from a sister institution who averred, “We can’t be partisan, but we must be political.”

This is absolutely true. College presidents have an obligation to lobby for education and to engage in efforts that protect and support the missions of the institutions they serve. I have a professional responsibility to advocate for my university on a regional, state, and national level.

I also have an ethical obligation to our surrounding community to pursue state and federal support for our students and the institution. As the largest private employer in Snyder County, Susquehanna University’s success redounds to the health and vitality of our region. It has often been said that “All politics is local.” The implication is that voters are driven by what happens in their own back yards, but the literal meaning of “politics” is “the affairs of the city,” so local has always been at the core.

What does it mean to be political, but not partisan? For years, when students have asked me what candidates I will endorse, I have replied, “I will vote for the person who will best support the arts and education.” I am confirming to them that my choice is driven by platform, and that it is in line with my professional position. I am being political, not partisan.

I have a professional obligation to be political, but not partisan. On Independence Day, I am struck by the realization that this should be the goal of all citizens.

A few years ago, I was visiting with a member of the House of Representatives (from another state), and I asked his position on a particular topic. The response was, “It depends on where the other side comes out.” This is being partisan and not political, and it is a toxin that plagues our nation.

In January, I had the privilege to attend a workshop led by William Doherty, Professor of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and co-founder of Braver Angels, a community organization that seeks to depolarize our nation by seeking common ground between “reds” and “blues.” As Prof. Doherty noted, most people are not liberal or conservative. We are each an amalgam of varied positions across a range of topics. An individual may be socially liberal and fiscally conservative. Many who oppose abortion rights adamantly support the death penalty, while others oppose or support both.

Our individual ideologies are often scattered across a spectrum. Not that long ago, that kind of richness existed within our two-party system. When I was a kid, politicians would frequently be referred to as a conservative, moderate, or liberal Republican, or as a conservative, moderate, or liberal Democrat. This fostered opportunities for much richer discussions of ideas and bipartisan achievements than our contemporary “us or them” mantra.

Politics is about values, ethics, and compromise. Compromise is a necessary condition of collective action, but it is not always good.

Where might we be as a society had the Founding Fathers retained the abolition of slavery from the original draft of Declaration of Independence? Would we still be a colonial dependency if the abolitionists hadn’t compromised and struck the clause?

Our greatest triumphs and our most egregious sins as a nation have often been born from compromise. The definition of the outcome has often been whether those in the right or the wrong acquiesced or stood their ground. Progress, by its definition, is incremental, but compromise built on a bet that the next step will be expeditious and continue in the right direction is laden with risk.

Our failures as a nation have occurred when we have been unable to recognize moral issues as being right or wrong rather than right or left. Our greatest successes have been those moments in our history when ethics, rather than affiliation, have won the day.

As I have written many times before, the founders of this nation were profoundly flawed people, as are we all. They seized a moment in history where brave and radical change could be achieved. The Declaration of Independence established an ideological foundation that would not be a lived reality for many in their lifetimes. Although they set a malleable prenatal nation into motion that has since made significant incremental progress, equality, unalienable rights, and a government deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed is a self-evident truth that is not enjoyed in common.

We may be living in another rare moment, when, as a deeply flawed people, we can make another heroic leap, and secure for all our citizens the “equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.”[1]

I hope we have the moral courage to make good on that promise from the first Independence Day. It is most certainly political, but it is not partisan. It is not right or left, but it is most certainly right.

[1] Declaration of Independence, first sentence.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Why Division III Athletics Should Report to Academic or Student Affairs

I had the privilege to be yesterday's guest blogger for Spelman and Johnson on the merits of having Athletics report to the Chief Student Affairs Officer or the Chief Academic Officer at D-III institutions. 

That post is linked here:

Thank to Dell Robinson for his excellent support of Susquehanna's search for our new Athletic Director, Sharief Hashim, and for the invitation to provide this installment.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Not Too Distant Tomorrow

Today’s news has been especially troubling, as we see demonstrations turning to riots in the wake of yet more tragic deaths of people of color at the hands of police officers.

As a nation, we had already been driven to our last nerve by the pandemic. Divisions within our country have been growing more intense as we struggle with helplessness and uncertainty. We hear irrational debates about liberty and safety being at odds with each other. COVID-19 has amplified the disparities of privilege that surround and dispirit us: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, economic opportunity, age, and ability. There is little justice in the margins and the margins are growing by the day.

Then, in this crucible of despair, we witness yet another round of senseless violent deaths steeped in racial and social division. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have joined the seemingly endless cort├Ęge of stolen black lives in America.

The cure for helplessness is action, but when that comes from a place of despair the irrational can feel righteous. We must not be overcome by the hate we wish to extinguish.

Susquehanna’s Chaplain, Scott Kershner, closes each service with this benediction:

Go out into the world in peace.
Have courage!
Hold fast to what is good.
Return no one evil for evil.
Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering.
Honor all people.

In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.” Progress has been too slow, and in recent years, it has been tragically replaced with regress. How should we move the pendulum back to its forward swing? Dr. King reminded us that, “Nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.

In a recent opinion piece, columnist, David Brooks wrote:

Right now, science and the humanities should be in lock step: science producing vaccines, with the humanities stocking leaders and citizens with the capacities of resilience, care and collaboration until they come. But, instead, the humanities are in crisis at the exact moment history is revealing how vital moral formation really is.

This is a stark reminder of how much we as a people can and need to be uplifted and inspired by the power of the liberal-arts and why a commitment to equity and inclusion is a critical foundation of a liberal education.

When I was researching Susquehanna as an applicant to be president, one of the elements that attracted me to the University was the Statement on Diversity and Inclusiveness, which was adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2007.

It includes this recognition:

As we seek to fulfill these commitments our perceptions, understandings, and expectations will often come into conflict with those of other members of the campus community. These conflicts are not to be avoided, but should be seen as opportunities for learning and growth. Our responses to such conflicts must be framed by our respect for all people and our commitment to social justice and lifelong learning.

Our new Strategic Plan includes many components aimed at strengthening inclusion on our campus and in the community. One element of that work is to review and update the statement. I have struggled to find ways to improve the document until this week.

It is time to take the next step by acknowledging that our goal is not just to help students to learn and grow, but to prepare them to take courageous, peaceful action. We must commit to steeling them to become engaged agents for the “Change they wish to see in the world.”[1]

Brooks noted that “America is a diverse country joined more by a common future than by common pasts.” That future will be inescapably shaped by those pasts. It is up to us to prepare and to be leaders capable and committed to making that future the one King outlines at the end of his Birmingham epistle:

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

[1] Mahatma Gandhi

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Learning Is a Verb

A lot has been written about higher education being forever changed in the wake of COVID-19. Much has been aimed at how this disruption will drive the final nail into the coffin of an outmoded business model, but just as much speculation has been focused on the process of teaching and learning.

Teaching and learning will inevitably change, but all of higher education will not migrate to a virtual environment. What teaching and learning during the pandemic has proved to faculty and students is that some aspects of the academic enterprise are better online, some are worse, some are fundamentally impossible, and, in some instances, it’s a tie.

Applied disciplines like the performing arts and laboratories include many tactile components. It is true that much can be learned by watching and listening to great performers, but kinesthetic learning requires engaging in the practice. Likewise, there is much to be learned from the interpretation of data for a lab report, but developing “lab hands” and facility using research instruments comes from doing the lab.

I have had dozens of students tell me their biggest take away from this spring was that they preferred learning together in community. I know this is true, and I believe that in many cases they learn better together too, but many of our students had their best semesters in terms of grades.

We need to honestly evaluate the successes and failures of the recent global experiment in remote education. What worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, why? Is there a pattern in the types of material, in the types of learners, in the selected modality of delivery? Do synchronous and asynchronous deliveries benefit certain subjects or certain students?

Asynchronous formats accommodate students who are sharing technology access with other family members or have turbulent schedules, but synchronous formats allow discussion and debate. These are limitations of remote learning that are exacerbated by economic disparity.

Three decades ago, one of the mantras in pedagogy was that professors needed to move from being “the sage on the stage to the guide on the side.” It was clever the first time someone said it, but it was hardly a novel idea. Socrates had made the point over 2400 years ago.

The truth is that mere content delivery shouldn’t be a class. If reading a book, watching a documentary, or following a LinkedIn Learning module will duplicate the learning outcomes of a university course, an opportunity to do more has been missed.

This has been the shortcoming of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). They are immensely efficient in reaching many students in a single course, but they have failed to revolutionize higher education because students are not actively engaged.

NYU and WCBS pioneered the MOOC concept with Sunrise Semester, which presented university lectures on early-morning television as correspondence courses beginning in 1957. Distance learning had been introduced in the previous century, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle (CLSC) began in 1878. It is the oldest continuous book club in America. Participants read the annual selections and can graduate after completing 12 titles. The critical component is extensive discussions of the readings during the Chautauqua season.

Knowledge is a set of nouns. Learning is a verb. Many of us have recently found that we are much more capable of delivering knowledge remotely than we had imagined, but we have also reaffirmed the importance of applying that knowledge. Deep learning requires reflection, analysis, and synthesis.

This is the foundation of a liberal education, putting knowledge into action. The dialectic approach of the seminar is a direct descendent of Socratic learning. This is where students learn to build and test ideas. It is the competitive advantage of a residential liberal arts college

The collection and delivery of knowledge content can be enhanced and expanded through technology. To make the best transformation of education in the coming months and years, we need to critically identify the elements of teaching and learning that can only be achieved together and focus our future in-class and synchronous efforts on those activities. 

The classroom has been flipped, let’s make the most of it.


A Year Like No Other