In their fifth week running, the Committee on Alignment of Vision and Structure has been working diligently to figure out which academic model will best suit Keene State College’s student body. In an earlier article in The Equinox, it was written that the committee has been tasked with coming up with at most three potential different academic models for the college.
Right now, KSC has a three school system (a School of Arts and Humanities, one of Sciences and Social Sciences and another of Professional and Graduate Studies), with over 40 academic programs spread across these schools.
Currently, the committee is being asked to look at KSC specifically as a liberal arts and residential college and evaluate how that coincides with the mission and learning outcomes of the college.
If the committee finds any areas that are in need of improvement, they will take note, as well as look at the strengths of the college.
The members of the committee include a chair, an elected faculty member from each school, two academic affairs staff members, a student affairs and enrollment management staff member, a Keene State College Education Association (KSCEA) representative, a College Senate representative, a dean representative and an operating staff member. There is no student representative.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs William Seigh said after asking KSC Student Body President Laura Graham and then two other students who sit on the College Senate board if they would want to be represented, the answer was a no.
Seigh said with Graham, he shared the first two charges of the committee, which entail primarily encouraging a campus conversation about the current system in place to find what works and what doesn’t, and secondly, encouraging the college to think creatively about “ways to better align our structure and vision.”
Seigh said of speaking to Graham, “I asked Laura what she thought about student representation on the committee and her thoughts at that time were [that] this sounds like it’s going to be a hugely time consuming committee and she was confident that the committee would in fact reach out to students, that they would reach out across the campus to hear voices of students, to hear perspectives of students.”
He also explained that when he spoke with students on the College Senate board, they agreed.
Seigh continued, “We want to keep the committee small enough that it can be hugely effective.”
However, Seigh expressed that if Graham or the Senate student representatives had wanted there to be a student representative, “then certainly we would have made room for that.”
Student Body President Laura Graham confirmed the conversation with Provost Seigh in an email.
“I do not think that it is a problem that there isn’t a student representative on the committee. When they formed the committee, the students on Senate made sure that they had some kind of communication with students,” she stated. “They have already come to a [Student] Assembly meeting to ask for ideas and comments about it which was great.”
Graham stated in the email, she feels like student voices are heard on campus. “The student voice could be heard more frequently, but I don’t think it is necessary because a student voice is already well incorporated because they are in frequent communication with Student Assembly,” she stated.
Graham continued that she feels confident in the committee reaching out to students and hearing them. “I do think students should be involved in any changes that may occur and the committee has been doing a great job in ensuring that student voices are important,” she stated.
Provost Seigh agreed that student voices should be heard. “We certainly want to include students and their insights,” he said. Seigh said one of the biggest things he’s noticed in regards to students is that many of them, in his opinion, don’t see KSC as a three school system, but more as one school as a whole.
“Students see this as one college and I think that’s a really healthy vision,” he said, “…but even that, I’m not trying to project a goal for this committee except that they come up with a model or models that they believe answer the question (of what is the best model for KSC).”
KSC senior Kyle Hastbacka said for him, he sees Keene State as a college held by it’s own accord, but also said he feels individualized in his school of Sciences and Social Sciences. “I mean when you tell people where you’re going to school, you say Keene State College, not Keene State Arts and Humanities,” he said.
Hastbacka said he does feel like the school he’s part of is vastly different from the other two.
“There are different structures, expectations and majors,” he said.
However, he said he likes taking the ISP classes because he learns different information that may not be included within his majors, political science and criminal justice. “I was able to double dip a lot of my classes,” he said.
Seigh recalled being a college student himself.
“I certainly remember from my college experiences where I feel I’ve made a difference at the college, where I felt [like] part of the college beyond my course work and I think for students to come and share their voices creates an opportunity to really be part of making the college stronger,” he said.
Seigh acknowledged that what the committee is charged with doing is difficult work, however, he likened it to what is asked of students.
“I also feel that as faculty and staff, what we ask our students to do is to hear and understand difficult questions and pursue the answers and we encourage our students not to shy away from tough questions, but to in fact, face the tough questions,” he said.
Concerns from faculty and staff
Some of these tough questions were brought on by concerns mentioned at meetings held by the committee for faculty members on campus.
Staff members of The Equinox were only able to attend a few of the meetings, but at one of these meetings, specifically for members of the Arts and Humanities department, some attendees felt there was no issue within their department, using this to then ask the question, why fix something that isn’t broken?
Others addressed there being an issue of not feeling entirely supported by their deans, saying advocacy wasn’t always equally spread and would need to be looked into. Some attendees expressed concern about there being less programs and people in the future.
Provost Seigh said when people do come to him concerned, he listens. He said, “I have had people come to me with real concerns about what this means and in these cases, these have been really excellent private conversations where I do everything I can to genuinely hear the concerns that are being voiced and to confirm that what I’m asking is an open question: Is there a better way to structure our institution and if so, what is it?”
However, nothing is definite for now as the committee is still in the process of figuring out which plan is best for KSC.
An inside look at the committee’s current work
Chair of the Committee and History Professor Gregory Knouff was available for an interview with The Equinox. Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte was also present. Knouff said where the committee is at right now is researching both KSC and other colleges to look at their academic models.
“We’re gathering information from comparative colleges to look at their institutions and their COPLAC (Council of Public LIberal Arts Colleges), not to say theirs are better or worse than ours, but we just want to see what other institutions that are similar to us do,” he said.
Knouff said the potential of looking at our surrounding New Hampshire schools such as Plymouth State University (PSU) and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) is also likely.
He said the only goal the committee has in mind is to provide the highest standard of learning for KSC students possible. He said that finances do not play any role for them as a committee.
“It’s not our job to implement any program, we’re just suggesting models” he said. Again, he stressed the importance of others coming to meetings so that they as a committee can have the most informed mindsets going forward.
“I have no preconceived notions about what should happen, I’m genuinely curious,” he said.
Knouff said the committee has been having meetings since Nov. 7.
He said they have also been meeting with different groups on campus to address individual concerns within these individual areas.
“We’re reaching out to groups within academic affairs and we’re asking very general questions to hear what people think. What are the strengths of the organization, what’s positive about it and secondly are there any areas of improvement and then how does that particular group of people, are there any concerns that they have, that they want us to hear?”
He said in regards to reaching out to students, the committee reached out to KSC’s Student Assembly and the members were e-mailed questions that they have time over break to answer.
In addition, Knouff said in the spring semester, there will be open discussions available for students to partake in. In a later email, he stated, “We haven’t set the dates yet for the open meetings in the spring semester, but they will most likely be on Friday afternoons in late January and early February.”
More updates will follow as they become available.
Dorothy England can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org