Dean's Newsletter

CLASS Directions

A Newsletter for Faculty & Staff in the
College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences

Volume 10, Issue 2

As American universities in the 21st century struggle to redefine themselves in the face of increased public scrutiny and mounting student debt, Michael Crow and William Dabars in their 2015 book, Designing the New American University, issue an exciting call for research universities to refashion themselves along lines that are at once traditionally American as well as profoundly forward thinking. It’s a thorough book that outlines the intellectual context behind the way President Crow has built up Arizona State University over the past decade or so. According to Drs. Crow and Dabars, the basic principles of the new American research university are anti-elitism, diversity, student success, pragmatism, local community engagement, entrepreneurship, and interdisciplinarity. The authors want the new American university to be top-tier in academic quality (both in terms of knowledge creation and student success) but also broadly inclusive (as opposed to exclusive) in the way it admits students.  

On the face of it, these are all worthwhile goals. Moreover, with its commitments to broad access for a diverse student body, student success, and local community engagement, Cleveland State fits readily into the authors’ vision of the new American university. In addition, the quality and quantity of CSU research continues to grow in excellence. Indeed, many of our challenges are similar to those of Arizona State.  However, the primary challenge in Arizona is to educate an exploding student population by means of a relatively small number of public institutions. This is a very different context from that in Ohio, where the population of incoming students will not grow in the foreseeable future and the number of public research institutions is significant.

As to the challenge of interdisciplinarity, although we at CSU retain many of our disciplinary departments, we are committed to interdisciplinary teaching and research. In the context of our college, we have the interdisciplinary programs in Liberal Studies, Linguistics, Black Studies, Women’s (and soon to add Gender) Studies, and Chemical Dependency Counseling. We could also cite the recent grant received by Bill Kosteas for interdisciplinary research (described below). While I’m sure that there are other examples I could cite, our college could and should do more to promote interdisciplinary research (and, indeed, this is a goal in our new Strategic Plan!), but is this the only kind of research worth having? It strikes me that we cannot have cutting-edge interdisciplinary research without its being conducted by scholars who are thoroughly grounded in the methodologies of their own disciplines. And conducting research in one’s own discipline is perhaps the best way to become grounded in this way.  Thus, to completely discard disciplinary research in the name of “breaking down silos” seems rash to me. We need to cultivate both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research and creative activity.

The call to pragmatism and entrepreneurship is also welcome if these are not singled out as the exclusive criteria by which we judge what is of value in faculty research and creative activity. Yes, universities should seek to solve society’s problems. Yes, they should devise ways for us to live sustainably. Yes, researchers in select fields should try to translate their theoretical work into marketable applications in order to help universities thrive in difficult fiscal times. But to restrict all faculty research only to those projects that can be monetized seems shortsighted indeed. Intellectual curiosity and the will to create beauty are still very powerful forces for good, even if untethered from the cash nexus or even from pressing societal problems. To remove these motivations from public research universities under the banner of pragmatism would needlessly impoverish us.

In the final analysis, I admire the care that Drs. Crow and Dabars took to construct a plan of action for Arizona State that is solidly grounded in historical and philosophical analysis. Since the authors use their academic training to fashion a practical solution to a contemporary American challenge, the medium in this book is, in a way, the message. Moreover, the book further convinced me of something I had already firmly believed: urban public universities, like Cleveland State, are exceptionally well positioned to be at the cutting edge of American higher education in the years and decades ahead.

I read Crow and Dabars’ book on long flights to and from China. In early September, I spent nine days visiting three Chinese universities—Shandong University of Finance and Economics, Northeast Normal University, and Jilin University. I am grateful to Guowei Jian, who accompanied me on two of the visits. The goal behind these visits was to establish (or, in the case of Jilin, to strengthen) academic partnerships through which CLASS will soon be able to welcome new cohorts of Chinese students into our classes.  You may remember that we have already hosted a cohort of eight students from Jilin in the spring of 2015. These students, English majors all, were both exceptionally well prepared and highly motivated. My sense from speaking with both American and Chinese stakeholders is that the spring visit was an unqualified success, and we want to replicate this experience in the future. My sense from speaking with our future partners in China is that we now stand a good chance of broadening our Chinese student population—in the subject areas of Economics, Communication (especially film and broadcast), and English.  We also uncovered a great opportunity for anyone wishing to have a scholarship to study Chinese in China. If you know of a CSU student who might be interested, please have him or her contact Antonio Medina-Rivera, Chairperson of the Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures.

Finally, I want to share with you a more or less unrelated series of good news announcements that have come across my desk in the past few months. First, we have recent grant award winners. Rob Thurmer was awarded a $12,800 grant from the Ohio Arts Council for projects related to the Galleries at CSU. Mark Souther of the Center for Public History and Digital Humanities was recently awarded two new grants for his work. One was from the D.C. Preservation League ($3,300), and the other was from the Lake County Historical Society ($2,500). Finally, Bill Kosteas, together with Joanne Goodell (College of Education and Human Services) and Michael Horvath (College of Science and Health Professions) won CSU’s first Multi-College Interdisciplinary Research Program competition. The team was awarded $25,000 to conduct research on “STEM Teacher Turnover and Identity.”

For senior faculty members, an important part of their faculty duties is to contribute to the overall welfare of the profession. Some of our colleagues contribute by holding national offices in their disciplinary organizations. For example, recently Liz Lehfeldt was elected as the Vice President of the Teaching Division of the American Historical Association. In addition, Jennifer Visocky O’Grady was elected to the National Board of Directors of AIGA: The Professional Association for Design. These national offices are very difficult to achieve, and we should be all the more impressed that two of our colleagues have achieved the national stature to have been elected.

For those who were not able to join us for our fall Welcome Back Reception, I’d like to announce that Terry Pieritz, who runs the Costume Shop in our Department of Theatre and Dance, was awarded the college’s 2015 Engaged Service Award for all her contributions to that department and its students. Reading the nomination letters, I was thoroughly impressed with the sizeable contributions that Ms. Pieritz makes in that department, and I’m grateful for all the ways she has helped us create a really excellent program.

Finally, I want to recognize Patty Stoddard Dare, whose interdisciplinary program (which she shares with the College of Education) in Chemical Dependency Counseling was recently reaccredited by the Chemical Dependency Professionals Board. The accreditation is good until 2020. 

Congratulations to all these colleagues who have won impressive professional recognition in the past few months… just more evidence that Cleveland State has the personnel to make it “the new American university” for Northeast Ohio.

Best wishes,

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