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Today’s Supreme Court decision striking down affirmative action in college admissions is very disappointing, but it is not surprising. As I wrote last month, in anticipation of this day, I was a signatory from among LACRELA (Liberal Arts College Equity Leadership Alliance) presidents in an open letter voicing our opposition to this ruling and outlining strategies to improve access for all students to our institutions. You can read more about those strategies here.
For decades no student has been denied or granted admission to Susquehanna based upon their race. This is true at the majority of colleges and universities in the U.S. We do many things to recruit a talented and diverse student population to our campus. That diversity enhances the learning opportunities for all our students, and it prepares them to be better leaders in the evermore diverse communities they will call home after graduation.
At Susquehanna University, our mission is to educate students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world. A diverse student body is integral to that mission. As LACRELA’s open letter states, holistic review of applicants is critical to recruiting a well-rounded class — from racial and ethnic diversity, to gender and geographic representation, to socioeconomic diversity. We strive to create a culture on our campuses that mirrors the world our graduates are entering.
We know that the single most powerful thing a person can do to improve their economic position is to get a college degree. In order for colleges and universities to fulfill our promise of economic and social mobility, we must continue rectifying the systemic barriers that have kept so many talented students of color out of higher education. This is what we are called to do.
Although today’s Supreme Court ruling is disheartening, Susquehanna will continue the important work of expanding access to the transformative experience of a college education and ensuring that students from minoritized populations feel they belong here and thrive.
June has become a dedicated time to lift up our friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family members who are members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is an opportunity to recognize the obstacles these individuals and groups have overcome, and sadly, it is also an occasion to shine a light on obstacles that remain.
Pride Month began with the Stonewall Riots that followed a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in lower Manhattan, in late June 1969. These riots were a watershed moment of advocacy that continued to be celebrated over the coming years. In 1999, President Clinton officially declared June to be Pride Month.
The past few years have been especially challenging for the LGBTQ+ community and all of us who love them, because fundamental human freedoms are being challenged around the world and in our own nation. These challenges are driven by pernicious ignorance and, sadly, hate.
We know better. As we reflect on what has been accomplished to support LGBTQ+ rights over the past decades, and as we confront efforts to reverse that progress, I encourage each of us to recommit to assuring that all members of our community can fully express their authentic selves and openly love whom they love without fear, without judgement, and without hesitation. We are who we are, and love is love.
We all deserve to express our identities freely and to celebrate the love and care of the partners of our choice fully. For many, this sadly remains a daunting proposition, and one that is being hatefully challenged in many corners of our nation today. It is my hope that we will relegate those challenges to the past.
Our LGBTQ+ neighbors who are out are invaluable role models for our community by being true to themselves and to us. Our student and faculty and staff affinity groups, like GSA, provide opportunities to celebrate and reflect, and they foster joy-filled opportunities for all members of our community to be proud of who they are. I am grateful for their example, and I am so proud of their courage and integrity. Happy Pride Month!
Lest We Forget
Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy son's sons. — Deuteronomy 4:9
Over the past few years, we have seen state officials and legislatures attempting to limit or dictate curricula and interfering with the faculty hiring and tenure process. Some of these overreaches have been in response to faculty serving as expert witnesses in court cases in which their testimony was unfavorable to the state’s position; some are battles over ideology; some are acts of political theatre; and some are attempts to whitewash history.
Each example strains or violates the principles of shared governance. In the classic higher-education governance model, faculty, who are the trained experts determine the curriculum and the standards for faculty appointment, promotion, and tenure. The administration and board have authority over budgets and their allocation, and they provide a check-and-balance review in the confirmation of tenure and promotion.
There are often dynamic tensions between the three bodies within institutional shared governance, but on the whole, this has been an important component of the ascendancy of American higher education. Public higher education has an additional complication in that boards are often, in-part, or entirely, appointed by state governors. Typically, when the shared-governance apparatus of these institutions is respected, continuity is maintained even when entire boards are repopulated with a change in state leadership.
New College in Florida is an example of a wholesale change in mission and leadership of an institution connected to a board change. Beginning today, Ohio State University will not have a president. Following commencement this past weekend, President Kristina Johnson is leaving the post, and neither a successor nor interim has been named. At present, the cabinet will report to the board’s subcommittees seemingly eliminating or shortening one of the three legs of the shared-governance tripod.
These machinations are concurrent with pending decisions of the supreme court on the future of affirmative action in college admissions and financial aid and numerous bills in state legislatures aimed at limiting or eliminating DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) services, programming, and supporting curricula.
In her opinion in the 2003 landmark decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld affirmative action in college admissions, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “We expect that 25 years from now, the use of racial preferences will no longer be necessary to further the interest approved today.”
I firmly believe Justice O’Connor thought that the playing field of higher-education admissions would have become more consistently equitable in that timeframe than has been the case, but many believe the current cases being brought by Students for Fair Admission against Harvard and UNC will lead to Grutter v. Bollinger being overturned. The extent and reach of such a decision are still unknown.
In anticipation of a change, I was a signatory from among LACRELA (Liberal Arts College Equity Leadership Alliance) presidents in an open letter outlining strategies to improve access for all students to our institutions. Shaun Harper wrote about this letter in a recent editorial in Forbes.
DEI programming on campuses works. On Friday I attended Lavender Graduation and our event for seniors in our TRiO program. Efforts to build community and a sense of belonging help students from minoritized populations that historically did not persist in higher education at rates consistent with the overall student body to achieve comparable graduation rates. These efforts don’t make it easier, but they do help students to feel that they belong here, that they are seen, and that they are loved and respected.
Part of being seen is being represented in the curriculum. This includes the literature, music, and art we teach and study. It is also our history. Our history is complex and filled with jubilation and regret. We are an exceptional nation when we address the faults of our past and commit to learning how we can avoid repeating the sins of our fathers. We become better neighbors when we understand the shaping forces that have affected those around us for good or ill, and we become better leaders when we understand the legacies our decisions have on generations who follow them.
Let us teach, speak, and write that which is true, “lest we forget.”
Community College Partnerships
Each year, 80% of students who enroll in community colleges say that their long-term goal is to complete a bachelor’s degree, but only 16% of them do, and that percentage is dropping.
This is one of the reasons Susquehanna University has been creating articulation agreements with two-year institutions across the Commonwealth and beyond. These agreements are designed to make the pathway to completion of a bachelor’s degree seamless and attainable for talented students who begin that journey at one of our two-year partners.
One of those agreements is with Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC). Their president, John J. “Ski” Sygielski was on our campus yesterday to discuss how we can collaborate to help more students achieve their goal of earning a four-year degree. It was a great visit. His passion for student success parallels that of our faculty and staff, and we will strive build a pipeline together.
The articulation agreements we have put in place include robust financial aid packages for students completing an A.A. or A.S. degree with a GPA of 3.0 or higher and additional scholarships if those students are members of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for two-year colleges.
A few years ago, out of their deep commitment to these students, our faculty voted to change our graduation requirements so students arriving with an A.A. or A.S. degree can graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Susquehanna in 2 years.
One of the most significant components of our agreements is that students attending two-year institutions can submit a “Letter of Intent,” which initiates a connect with one of our faculty members who will serve as an adviser to help the student make the best choices of coursework within their associate’s program to align with their intended baccalaureate degree at Susquehanna.
Susquehanna University has held student access and success at the core of its mission for 165 years. These partnerships will allow us to help even more students achieve their dreams of earning a bachelor’s degree, and more importantly receiving a transformative education.
Women’s Leadership Initiative
As Women’s History Month draws to a close there is much to acknowledge and celebrate.
The first women’s college in the United States, Wesleyan College was founded in Macon, Georgia in 1836. The oldest of the Seven Sisters, Mount Holyoke was founded in 1837 by Mary Lyon. She started Wheaton Female Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts in 1834. It is now Wheaton College. In the 1960s, there were over 280 women’s colleges. That number is now 26.
Most of the former women’s colleges moved to coeducation. It’s important to note that in the 1960s, there were hundreds of men’s colleges that have also coeducated. There are now 3 secular men’s colleges.
Oberlin College was founded in 1833. It became the first college to admit African-American students in 1835, and in 1837 (the same year Mount Holyoke opened), Oberlin admitted female students, becoming the first coeducational college in the nation.
Last year, 55% of undergraduate students in America were female. In the 1980s women began to outnumber men on U.S. college campuses, and by 2014, women surpassed men in this country in overall academic achievement, and yet women are paid less than men across nearly all employment sectors. Although that gap has continued to shrink, according to the Pew Center, in 2022, the differential was still 18%.
This discrepancy is one of the principal reasons Signe S. Gates ’71 and Dawn G. Mueller ’68 (the chair and vice-chair of our board of trustees) support the creation of the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Susquehanna University. This program provides leadership training, mentorship, and networking in support of all of the women enrolled at the University.
We will be hosting our annual Women’s Leadership Symposium in Washington, DC later this week. At this event, our current students will interact with alumnae in leadership roles at Healthcare Ready, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and more.
Great progress has been made toward gender equity, but we still have a long way to go. The examples and efforts of Signe and Dawn, and the support of the many alumni and friends of Susquehanna to promote these efforts provide opportunities for the next generation of SU alumnae to make gender equity in their professional lives a reality.
Higher Education Reading List
One of our wonderful trustees recently asked me to recommend a higher-education reading list. Here it is:
Newsletters and Magazines
I start each weekday with a review of these three:
Inside Higher Ed publishes a daily newsletter of current events in higher education. These include 3 or 4 feature stories and a daily list of briefs of related interest.
The Chronicle of Higher Education was for many years the most popular job-posting publication in higher education. The weekly newspaper format has been largely replaced by a daily e-newsletter with feature stories ranging from current news stories from the academy to annual higher-ed almanac reports, to opinion pieces from faculty, administrators, and pundits.
Peterson-Rudgers Scan is a daily anthology of links to higher-education related stories across the news media. It is a public service offered by the Peterson-Rudgers Group, a higher-ed communications consultancy. Each issue includes curated links to 2 to 4 stories on 3 to 5 timely issues including campus leaders responding to current events, trends in philanthropy, and impacts of national stories on our campuses.
I consult these publications frequently:
Higher Ed Deep Dive publishes in-depth examinations of current topics affecting higher education.
University Business publishes a variety of content in support of finance, administration, auxiliaries, and facilities management.
Educause Review is the publication of Educause, which is the principal organization supporting IT professional in higher education.
Trusteeship is a magazine published by the Association of Governing Boards. It focusses on the roles and best practices of boards of trustees and shared governance.
Liberal Education is a magazine published by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) focused on the relationship of liberal education and good citizenship and preparing students for lives of purpose and meaning. It also lifts up best practices in pedagogy and curricula.
These are some texts I have found especially meaningful and helpful in thinking about the collegiate enterprise.
Kimball, Bruce A.: Orators and Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education, expanded edition. New York: College Board, 1995.
Ricks, Thomas E.: First Principles: What America’s Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How It Shaped Our Country. New York: Harper Collins, 2020.
Higher Education Identity and Purpose
Delbanco, Andrew: College: What it Was, Is, and Should Be. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012.
Bok, Derek: Higher Education in America, revised edition. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013.
Daniels, Ronald J.: What Universities Owe Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.
Leadership and the Liberal Arts: Achieving the Promise of a Liberal Education, edited by J. Thomas Wren, Ronald E. Riggio, and Michael A. Genovese. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009.
Roth, Michael: Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014.
Zakaria, Fareed: In Defense of a Liberal Education. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015.
Detweiler, Richard A.: The Evidence Liberal Arts Needs: Lives of Consequence, Inquiry, and Accomplishment. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021.
Diversity. Equity, and Inclusion
Williams, Damon A.: Strategic Diversity Leadership: Activating Change and Transformation in Higher Education. Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2013.
Givens, Jarvis R.: School Clothes: A Collective Memoir of Black Student Witness. Boston: Beacon Press, 2023.
Chait, Richard P., William Ryan, and Barbara E. Taylor: Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards. Hoboken: Board Source, 2005
Bowen, William G. and Eugene Tobin: Locus of Authority: The Evolution of Faculty Roles in the Governance of Higher Education. Princeton University Press, 2015.
Demographics and Enrollment
McGee, Jon: Breakpoint: The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015.
Grawe, Nathan: Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.
____________: Agile College: How Institutions Successfully Navigate Demographic Changes. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.
Townsley, Michael K.: Small College Guide to Financial Health: Weather Turbulent Times. Washington, DC: NACUBO, 2009.
Soliday, Joanne and Rick Mann: Surviving to Thriving: A Planning Framework for Leaders of Private Colleges and Universities. Whitsett, NC: Credo, 2013.