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Nov. 17, 2014

Presidents convey importance in connections

Trustees emphasize need for instructional funding

By Jaclyn Seymour

Russ Mitchell, Claire van Ummersen, Michael Schwartz and Ronald BerkmanThe sounds of laughter, the faint murmurs of whispers of side conversations filled the Drinko Auditorium in the Music and Communication building from the audience members anxiously awaiting for the clock to strike 4 p.m. when Cleveland State University continued the celebrations for the 50th anniversary by bringing the current and past presidents together for a series of panel discussions Thursday, Nov. 13.

In the President Panel, “Views of Public Higher Education in the 21st Century,” former Presidents Claire Van Ummersen, Michael Schwartz and current Cleveland State President Ronald M. Berkman spoke on their views of education at the higher institutional level and their experience of being president at the high level. The panel was moderated by WKYC Channel 3 anchor Russ Mitchell.

In opening remarks, Ummersen spoke on her thoughts about higher education level in the Congressional aspect, particularly the Senate. To sum up her opening statement, she said progress must continue to move forward.

“As we move forward, we must preserve our values and continue to serve our students and our community wisely and well,” Ummersen said.
Schwartz’s opening statement began with saying how difficult it is to look forward in time, but he said how it does help to look back.

His opening statement focused on the balance of how the moral focus is still present in higher educational institutions — driven by enlightenment ideals dedicated to growth and change — and are more defined now.

“The point of view of the transmission purpose — the teaching purpose of the university aimed at undergraduate students — the purposes are now more finely written, more finely defined,” Schwartz said. “Undergraduate education is seen largely involved with first finding a productive place in the economy – not a bad idea – but also with learning how to learn by inquiring from the points of view of many different disciplines.”

Berkman focused his opening statement on the present, the excitement, the importance and the redefinition.

“I think it’s a really critical time for public education to put a stake in the ground to say – as both of my colleagues have alluded – that we understand and we appreciate that it is a changing landscape,” Berkman said. “And it is a landscape that calls for us, as Dr. Van Ummersen said, to, as best we can, get ahead of this paradigm curve.”

He concluded by saying the time of redefinition in higher institutions is a healthy redefinition and is an opportunity to find difference paths that will allow students to find the connection through the challenges they face during college and after they graduate.

The word “connection” was the buzz word of the day, and the most common among the three presidents.
Berkman, Schwartz and Ummersen all agreed on the importance of connections and partnerships with side companies to help make the affordability of college more accessible.

“Those partnerships allow you to get a better program for your own students at less cost,” Ummersen said. “That’s very important now. Much more important than it was when I was here, what 15 years ago, then it is now. It is critical to form these partnerships, and I think that the partnerships enrich the programming that you are able to offer in both places.”

When the questions were turned to the audience, the idea of electronic education came to the forefront. However, none of the three presidents on stage felt that higher education is heading in this direction in entirety, instead a hybrid of the classroom and computer.

“They [students] also need to be sitting on the bench with a professor on one end and the student on the other,” Ummersen said. “That is important. And for students that don’t have much preparation, it’s absolutely essential.”

When asked on each of the presidents’ advice to students or faculty aiming to become a president of a higher institution, each president said the most important characteristic is to know how to listen, however, when the talk of experience a future educational president must receive, Ummersen disagreed with Schwartz and Berkman with the background they must come from.

Schwartz and Berkman talked about the importance of being in the classroom and about being from the academic aspect of the experience, but Ummersen said there has been a shift in where higher institution presidents have come from.

“You still have a preponderance of presidents coming through the academic side of the house, if you will,” Ummersen explained. “But not as many as it used to be.”

The number of presidents that came from the academic side of institutions was at 90 percent, now that magic number is around 60 percent, according to Ummersen. More presidents are coming from the student affairs side of institutions.

“I think we are going to see much more diversity in the presidency itself,” Ummersen said. “Now that doesn’t mean that they don’t need to learn a lot when they get there, and the smart ones do. They make sure they learn about the academic side of the house [college]. They have a lot more of a learning curve than those coming out of the academics do. The presidency is changing.”

Schwartz concluded his thoughts by giving advice to everyone.

“Keep top of mind all the time,” Schwartz said. “Why you’re here, whose interests are being served by everything you do all day, every day. It’s not about the presidency. You can’t walk into a room thinking you’re the smartest person there because you’re doomed, because you’re not. Almost never is that the case. Why are you there? What’s our purpose? That’ll serve you well.”

The second panel for the day was the Board of Trustees Panel, “Governance Challenges of the Future for Public Universities,” moderated by WEWS Channel 5 news anchor Leon Bibb.

This panel spoke on the evolving roles of trustees in public, higher educational institutions, as well as the funding challenges faced by trustees and their lobbying for more money for instructional support that has fell. According to past chairmen Timothy Cosgrove, this needs to be a priority to bring funding back up. According to current Board chairman Robert H. Rawson, Jr., the funding for instructional support has fallen from 40 percent to 28 percent.