Sunday, April 11, 2021

In Praise of Advisors

When I speak to prospective students and their families about the advantages of Susquehanna, I share the “Big Six” collegiate experiences that have the biggest impact on career engagement and general happiness according to a Gallup/Purdue study.


Three of those are: “I had at least one professor who made me excited about learning,” “I had a faculty member who cared about me as a person,” and “I had an advisor who asked about my hopes and dreams.” I believe the last of these is a guarantor of the others. Great advisors have the ability to orchestrate so much of a student’s experience. 

 

Only 3% of college graduates claim to have had all six experiences on Gallup’s list. I’m sure a good advisor was behind it. I am part of that lucky 3%, because I had a great advisor. His name was David Evans, a magnificent lyric tenor and one of the most passionate conductors I have known. In addition to being my advisor, he was my studio teacher and the director of Fredonia’s College Choir. As a result, I practically “majored in Evans.”

 

While in college, I was a paid chorister in a professional church choir in Buffalo where David was the tenor soloist. He drove me back and forth to every rehearsal and service. We pouted in early morning silence on the way there and talked the whole way home. It’s hard to think of a subject we didn’t cover: singers, repertoire, living and studying abroad, any class I was taking outside of the School of Music, the complexities of human relationships, and most importantly, the subtext of art: why what we do matters so much.

 

David died early last week. His wife called to tell me because of the relationship we had built and the friendship we sustained for 40 years. He changed my life in so many wonderful ways. I wasn’t the only one. There are scores of his students who have been able to live their dreams because he believed in us and always went the extra mile. 


His commitment made us all work harder. Sometimes, we were afraid of disappointing him, but always, we wanted to make him proud. He made sure we knew he was, and that made us want to work even harder. It created a circle of effort and reward, which is what makes a musician’s life satisfying, and…happy. Gallup was right.

 

Thank you, David for asking about my hopes and dreams and making sure they became a reality.

 


 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Slow Learning

If we have learned anything from cooking shows like Chopped or Iron Chef, it is that it takes time to develop flavors. It’s easy to throw together a meal, but to develop rich, complex flavors requires skill, care, and time. This is the hallmark of the slow food movement, which has risen up in stark contrast to the zapping of ready-made, industrial “cuisine.”

 

The same can be said of learning. Facts and fundamental techniques can be delivered quickly and en masse, but deep understanding requires time and nurturing.

 

Last month, at the President’s meeting of the Council of Independent Colleges, Robert Zemsky, one of our best experts on higher-education leadership provided a thoughtful and stimulating presentation on the contemporary challenges confronting the traditional business model of higher education.

 

During the talk he shared two ideas that I found to be in conflict with each other. They were fundamentally 1) a need to graduate students faster to get them into the workplace, and 2) the need to develop intellectual capacity over time. I think this cognitive dissonance is one of the great conundra facing our collective relationship with higher education today.

 

In his talk, Zemsky shared that years ago he had floated the idea of shifting to a three-year bachelor’s degree, including a commensurate reduction in credit hours, which would allow students to save a year of tuition and enter the workforce sooner. He noted that at our current inflection point, that idea was beginning to attract attention.

 

For so many of our students, they and their families are making remarkable sacrifices to change the student’s life trajectory. More and more, that trajectory is being defined by earnings, and far too often the focus favors starting salaries over lifetime earnings.

 

Another comment Zemsky made was that if he were an English professor, he wouldn’t teach Shakespeare until the senior year, because students need to amass a foundation of knowledge and broad understanding to adequately grapple with the complexities of the human experience that are at the heart of the Bard’s plays.

 

When a student tells me, “My degree will make it possible for me to move my mom and sisters to a better neighborhood,” I want to do everything I can to help make that happen as soon as possible. At the same time, I signed on to my role at Susquehanna to zealously advocate for our mission to educate students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.

 

I want to help that student change the lives of her mother and siblings, but I also want to empower her to become a change maker so that her immediate goals can become the lived reality of the entire next generation. That takes wisdom and courage, which require scaffolding and cultivation.

 

In 2012, universities in Hong Kong moved from a three-year baccalaureate to a four-year model, and they used the additional course time to enrich their curricula with “liberal-arts” content.

 

Scott Jaschik wrote in Inside Higher Ed, “While many observers in the United States are calling for American higher education to become more vocational in orientation, the changes here are motivated by a sense that students need more general education if they are truly to become leaders in Hong Kong and China.”

 

I had the privilege of attending a conference of higher-education leaders from around the world in Hong Kong during the summer of 2012, and the administrators of the local universities told me that their graduates had been well-prepared for their first jobs, but ill-suited to adapt in the evermore rapidly changing world of work. They recognized that the nimbleness and soft skills they were lacking could be found in abundance among graduates of American liberal-arts colleges.

 

We have an obligation to prepare students to be lifelong learners. We need to be sure that they not only know how to do things, but understand why they should or shouldn’t do them. Developing the wisdom to discern the why comes from learning in community, and it requires time.

 

Life expectancies have grown considerably, and people are retiring later. This means our graduates are about to enter careers that will last longer than those of previous generations. We must be sure we prepare them to make that time a rewarding path of self-discovery and meaning, not a life sentence.

 

As we plan for the next iteration of higher education, we need to keep in mind both the immediate needs of our students and their families to transform their lives for the better, and we need to be careful that they and we don’t settle for that alone. Our goal must remain preparing students for lives well lived. Our strategies need to include making it possible for slow learning to retain its invaluable place on our campuses.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Effective Reform for the Finances of College Students

College funding and student debt have emerged as critical topics in political and, now, policy arenas of the U.S.

 

There are few, if any, investments that have a greater impact on our nation, our economy, and our fellow citizens than providing an affordable pathway to higher education for students of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

 

Stump speeches and soundbites calling for “free college” are easy to understand and driven by the best of intentions, but they replace one set of inequities with another. Leveling the playing field for all meritorious students requires adjusting the details, not moving the goal line for all players.

 

While many developed countries have nationally subsidized higher-education systems, they are available to a much smaller percentage of their populations. Whereas, the U.S. benefits from the world’s most diverse higher-education offerings.

 

Contrary to popular belief, internal financial aid programs make many private institutions more affordable than public ones. For example, after aid, on average, students at Susquehanna pay $5,700 less per year than they would at our state flagship university, but for many that is not enough.

 

With the possible exception of the GI Bill, the Pell Grant program has been the most transformative federal investment in education in our nation’s history. These grants are available to students who are financially in the lowest 20% of the population to help them attend public or private universities. Were we to double the award, the possibility of completing a degree would be within reach.

 

Furthermore, if we added an award equal to the current Pell allotment to the next economic quintile of the U.S. population, attainment of a college degree would be within reach of all academically qualified Americans. This tactical approach—within an already proven system—provides a sustainable model that is scaled to students’ demonstrated needs.

 

Another tactical approach is needed to address what has been called the student-debt crisis. There is a crisis, but the elements that are lifted up in the banter of pundits distract the public and our leaders from the specific problems that need to be fixed.

 

Americans hold a cumulative student-loan debt of over $1.5 trillion, but it isn’t that simple. Over 40% of all student loans and half of federal student loans go to graduate students. In each of the last 10 years, American undergraduate students have borrowed less than the year before—equating to a decade-total decline of over 20%. During that same period, graduate-school borrowing has increased 7%.

 

Over one-third of all student debt is held by only 7% of borrowers, and the supermajority of them have completed a graduate degree. These are graduates well positioned to pay back the investment of their lenders.

 

On the flip side, over one-third of all borrowers hold just 5% of the total student debt, but that group is most likely to default. This is, in part, because many of them took out loans to begin degrees, but did not complete them, missing out on the earnings advantages a degree conveys. For that reason, a college graduate is far more likely to pay off a substantial student loan than someone with a small debt who did not complete a degree.

 

Moving all student loans to income-based repayment plans, including a quantifiable forgiveness program, is a smart solution. For the majority of education borrowers whose lifetime earnings are enhanced many times the amount they borrowed, the lender’s investment is rightfully repaid.

 

Perhaps more importantly, this approach protects low earners—most often those who did not complete their degrees—from being paralyzed by even small student loans, which can be forgiven after a fixed period if the borrower’s income did not meet the sustained threshold to generate repayment.

 

Expanding the Pell Grant system may not grab attention like “free college,” but feasibly it makes more sense. Pell and income-based repayment plans have proven their merits over decades. Expanding them is the most cost-effective and efficient approach to make a positive transformation of the economics of earning a college degree.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Our Journey Toward a More Perfect Union

 

2021 has already become one of the most politically complex years in U.S. history, and we are only beginning week three.

 

Although we have witnessed unprecedented stresses to modern democracy, our republic continues to weather the stormy seas of these trying times. Last week’s assault on the Capitol was a sobering reminder of how precious democracy is. The success of that democracy is held in mutual trust by we the people. That trust will flourish if, as a people, we acknowledge how our actions impact others and collectively embrace the best ideals of what our nation can be. 

We are on an incomplete journey to create a more perfect union.

 

At a discussion I attended earlier this week led by national and state political experts, one of them said, “The problem with politics at this moment is that on both sides of the aisle, the one thing that is far more important than your cause winning is the other guy’s cause losing.” 

 

There will always be differences of perspective, and there are fundamental truths of justice that must be the backbone of democracy, but effective governing is the product of perpetual compromise built on facts.

 

There remains cause for optimism: 

  • Voter turnout in the November election included one of the highest percentages of eligible voters participating, and the highest percentage of U.S. citizens ever to vote in a national election.
  • In recent months, bipartisan efforts created COVID-relief funding of unprecedented scale for workers, families, and small businesses.

Still, we must learn all we can from recent events — as object lessons to strengthen our nation and our collective relationships to it.

 

Let us strive together to become the nation of Walt Whitman’s dreams:

 

America

 

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,

All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,

Strong, ample, fair enduring, capable, rich,

Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,

A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,

Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Bulwark of Democracy

Today I sent this message to our campus community:

Dear Friends:

 

It is with a heavy heart that I join you in responding to the tragic events we have seen unfold as terrorists deluding themselves to be patriots stormed the U.S. Capitol.

 

Our nation has been far from perfect, but its promise has been built on the rule of law and a steady progression toward an evermore inclusive democracy. Our leaders and every immigrant who becomes a citizen pledge an oath to defend the constitution. Those of us who are citizens by birth should feel the same creedal commitment to those ideals.

 

Yesterday, we saw those ideals flouted by thousands of rioters who abnegated their duties as citizens of a democratic republic to uphold its constitution and to honor the will of the electorate.

 

What is especially troubling is that many of these rioters have taken malignant actions driven not merely by corrupt dogma, but a commitment to a patently false set of “facts.” As the late Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” [1] and yet we find ourselves at a crossroads where facts and reason are being brought into question everyday, and more and more of our neighbors are incapable of discerning the truth.

 

This is a moment when we need to recognize that many of the issues in front of us are not right and left, but right and wrong, and we must commit to do what is right.

 

The founding fathers, despite their many human frailties, designed a model of government that could evolve toward perpetual improvement, and they established liberal arts colleges to prepare citizen leaders who could cultivate that positive evolution. They also hoped those alumni would continue to develop the facilities to discern right from wrong within the thickening rhetorical fog of each successive generation.

 

That is what we strive for as a university community. Please join me in committing to the defense of the constitution in support of all citizens and to applying the gifts bestowed upon us as members of a scholarly community to help restore a well-informed populace in support of the ideals of a true democratic society.

 

Yours ever,

 

Jonathan Green

President

 

[1] In a column in the Washington Post, 18 January 1983.

 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Democracy Dies in Darkness

 

Democracy Dies in Darkness

 

With universal information platforms, we all become exposed (literally) to the  dangers of misinformation. A recent article in Health News Daily addressed some public-health threats associated with the vulnerability of contemporary media:

 

People who believed conspiracy theories in March were less likely to be wearing face masks in July, versus non-believers. And their intentions to refuse any future COVID vaccine intensified…distrust is extending beyond the usual "hardcore" conspiracy theory crowd, according to [Dan] Romer, who is research director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia…But to sway Americans, health authorities need their trust. And that could be a tall order, Romer said -- considering the confusing "mixed messages" that have come from government and the abundant misinformation spread via social media and certain media outlets.[1]

 

As the “information age” blossomed in the 1990s, there was a great excitement about the impending democratization of data. For centuries museums, universities, and a host of plutocratic organizations owned the storehouses of knowledge.

 

With the explosion of digitization projects, scholars and students could access an unprecedented trove of primary materials and data sets from around the globe at any time of the day from the comfort of their own homes or a terminal in their local public libraries.

 

Perhaps the most exciting elements of these new information resources was that in many cases anyone could use them. Access to these intellectual luxuries was no longer the sole domain of members of elite institutions. Even the unaffiliated soon had full membership in the treasury of learning, breaking what John Adams referred to as the “temper of mankind” that had kept knowledge exclusively in the hands of the powerful.[2]

 

Now that imbalance has been inverted — we all have too much.

 

It didn’t take long for educators to recognize a new, desperate need for training in “information literacy.” When I was a student researching some arcane subject, I might have been lucky to find five good sources over the course of weeks. Now a Google search may yield a couple of million sources in less than a second, but there still may be only five good ones. Knowing how to find the wheat among all that chaff requires real skill.

 

Forty years ago, information literacy meant being able to track it down, once you found a source, the probability of it being useful was very high compared to today’s odds, because the choices had been curated: librarians, archivists, publishers, and editors each had a chance to vet what was available. The process was far from infallible, and probably more important material was lost to the sifting process than kept, but there was some justification for our confidence that what we found had applicable meaning.

 

Some of that same vetting continues out of a hive approach. I am often surprised by the detail and sophistication of many Wikipedia pages, and the scholar version is truly valuable, as are tens of thousands of new-media sources. The challenge today is that these sources cohabitate the internet with countless unlegitimated neighbors, and there is little to differentiate them.

 

The challenges this places on scholarship are miniscule in comparison to sifting through the comparisons of valid and manipulated news, opinion, and social media.

 

On college campuses it is remarkable how many of our challenges are tied to social media. Rumors become propagated as fact, individuals post insensitive or hateful messages, and viral campaigns erupt without rhyme or reason. That scourge is all the greater in the broader community.

 

Much of our contemporary rancor and divisiveness has been bred and cultivated through misinformation. Some of that decline has been the result of a steady onslaught upon the validity of legitimate news sources by those who wish to insert alternate narratives.

 

The best practices of journalism have depended upon corroborating sources, fact checking, and rigorous editorial oversight. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in the Washington Post, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”[3] The Post’s motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” A free and open democracy depends upon a free, open, and independent press.

 

Effective citizenship requires being an informed member of society. Voting is a remarkable privilege that deserves to be exercised responsibly. Being a member of a free state is a privilege that also deserves responsible participation.

 

Our local and national news sources are struggling mightily to shape good public behavior, yet, every day, we see our neighbors flouting the recommendation of the CDC and the federal and state governments to abate the pandemic. When confronted, many of these scofflaws respond with conspiracies they have read on social media or “alternate news sites” that thrive on delegitimizing the bona fide press.

 

The democratization of information has created great opportunities, but it has also helped to obscure the truth, and in that darkness, our democracy is literally dying — 313,000 and counting.

 

As we prepare to emerge from this dark year, I hope that we begin to find a way to regain our shared possession of facts and govern ourselves in light of them.



[1]Conspiracy Theories are Helping Fuel Rejection of Masks and Vaccines,” Health Daily News, 25 September 2020.

[2] John Adams: A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765.

[3] In a column in the Washington Post, 18 January 1983.

 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

 

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

What America and the World Can Learn from Small Residential Colleges

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education published, “The 5 Biggest Lessons We’ve Learned About How Coronavirus Spreads on Campus” on 3 December. The five lessons outlined in the article are:

 

·      With precautions in place, classrooms and other formal on-campus spaces aren’t important vectors of viral spread.

·      Off-campus social gatherings are the top drivers of coronavirus at colleges.

·      Residences have been the primary on-campus place where the virus has spread.

·      Entry and surveillance testing are critical.

·      College-student outbreaks can lead to infection and deaths among vulnerable people.

 

Smaller institutions with four-year residency and robust testing and prevention protocols have fared surprisingly well. In recent conversations with presidents from peer institutions, we all acknowledged that the spread of the virus in our surrounding communities has been much worse than any outbreaks on our respective campuses.

 

There are a number of reasons for this:

 

·      We have used scientifically-based approaches to mitigation and prevention.

·      Those of us that have been able to de-densify our residence halls have been able to reduce the spread of cases when there has been an outbreak on campus.

·      Systematic testing has been invaluable for early detection and for identifying and isolating asymptomatic positive cases.

·      We have built a cultural of compliance that includes consequences for those who do not adhere to community expectations.

 

Among the scores of presidents with whom I have spoken, none reported the transmission of COVID-19 in a classroom or other formal campus space. On each of our campuses, we have set up protocols for reduced occupancy, adequate distancing, mandatory mask wearing, and increased sanitation and airflow.

 

At Susquehanna, all spaces are labeled for occupancy, doors and hallways are labeled to create one-way navigation through buildings, UV air scrubbers and hepa filters have been distributed in buildings, and we have ongoing individual and wastewater testing. We have also asked all members of our campus community to register their travel. There is a shared sense of responsibility that has prompted many of our students to exceed our guidelines.

 

Most of the cases we have had on campus can be traced to a handful of students who visited another campus for a social gathering.

 

The object lessons to be taken from our experience are:

 

·      We are dependent upon each other to stay safe.

·      Adhering to scientific guidelines works.

·      Maintaining best practices will protect us all.

·      Curtailing travel and remaining masked in the presence of all those who are not your roommates/housemates are of paramount importance.

·      A small number of non-compliant individuals can have a significant negative impact.

 

Throughout the fall semester, when students were alone off-campus, they frequently remained masked even when they were nowhere near others. I have had many people from the surrounding community praise our students for being good role models for the borough.

 

I hope they can be role models for all of us. As a nation, if we can muster the same commitment and resolve to keep each other safe that we have witnessed on our campus, the curve will flatten again as we wait for widespread inoculation. It is on all of us to keep each other safe.

 

 

Welcome!

In Praise of Advisors