KSC rethinks academics

USNH Board Chair Timothy Riley: “The USNH Board of Trustees approved the investment of $5 million in Keene to support their efforts to better align the college with their mission and focus on quality.”


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History could be made in the next few months as a newly established committee at Keene State College reevaluates the belief that a triangle is the strongest shape. For 38 years, the academic structure of KSC has been supported by three schools, held up by their own accord of majors and minors. This might all change by the next academic year.

Right now, of the five administrators in the four academic dean positions at KSC, one is set to retire, and three others are in interim positions. Dean of the Mason Library Celia Rabinowitz has the only permanent position.

KSC Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs William Seigh said that flexibility offers the best opportunity for change. He explained that that is the reason for creating the Committee on Alignment of Vision and Structure (CAVS), which will  evaluate our current structure of the three schools (a School of Arts and Humanities, one of Sciences and Social Sciences and another of Professional and Graduate Studies). The committee will propose at least three academic models that may differ from KSC’s current structure.

KSC first-year student Sonya Marx said she thinks a more interdisciplinary approach could help students.

“I think everybody should be forced to take classes that don’t relate to their major,” she said. “It creates an individual with better thinking skills and a wide array of knowledge.”

Marx said that she might major in English, but that she also likes anthropology.

“You should take different classes so you get a more liberal arts education,” she said.

Earlier this month, the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) approved KSC’s motion to start this potential transition. TIffany Eddy, who assists with USNH’s media inquiries, provided a quote in an email from USNH Board Chair Timothy Riley regarding the potential changes at KSC. Riley stated , “The USNH Board of Trustees approved the investment of $5 million in Keene to support their efforts to better align the college with their mission and focus on quality.”

Provost Seigh said, “There is an amazing vision at our campus and it seemed like a perfect time to ask the question, ‘Are we delivering this message in the best way?’”

Seigh said he understands answering this question is not easy, as he himself said he has no personal specific opinion. He said the committee will likely be comprised of  an elected faculty member from each school, a representative of the College Senate and an academic affairs staff member. Seigh said the committee will also be asked to communicate with others such as Student Assembly and the KSC Adjunct Association.

Seigh said it is important to note that he is not on the committee. “The upper administration [including KSC President Anne Huot]  is not on this committee….because we want this to be an exploration done by faculty and staff,” he said.

Seigh said as of now, there are no definites outside of the committee’s deadline to come up with potentially three alternative models, which is Dec. 19 of this year. He said there is a possibility in the spring semester of 2017 to see some of the changes, however nothing is set in stone.

“As soon as school starts in the spring, we [may] go about making one of these models a reality if they (the committee) present a model we want to move forward [with],” he said. However, Seigh said it’s all unknown for now. He also said now is not the time to ask about the effects this will have on faculty or staff.

KSC Professor of Journalism Mark Timney said in order for KSC to succeed with any potential system, “we have to address the needs of our students, and if we do that, we will become a powerhouse.” He said in order to become that “powerhouse,” KSC has to stay true to what we are as a liberal arts college, thus producing students who can comprehend and create effectively.

Samantha Moore /Art Director

Samantha Moore /Art Director

“Right now, we have too many administrators and too many faculty who want to make us a mini Harvard [or] mini Yale. We’ll never be that – we can’t be that, and that’s the fear I’m having with this upcoming committee,” he said. “We rarely set obtainable goals, and when we do, we implement them in such a way that they don’t really pertain to the goals or to the needs of students.”

He said regardless of this, he does think KSC is a good school. “Compared to most schools, we’re doing a great job, but we can do better if we just thought about this more carefully,” he said. Timney said he acknowledged the difficulty in doing so. “I wouldn’t ever want to be an administrator in that situation. It’s tough enough being faculty,” he said.

Timney said he is concerned about jobs. “I do think jobs are on the line here, and I’m not an expert on…higher education planning and how the business of the college works, but I don’t know how they can save the money they want to save without jobs being cut,” he said.  “Regardless of what happens, jobs are probably on the line.”

KSC economics Professor and past Keene State College Education Association (KSCEA) Union President Patrick Dolenc said he’s not concerned about his job. He said that as far as he’s concerned, KSC hasn’t declared retrenchment, meaning the school hasn’t decided to have major employee cutbacks across the board.

“No one has declared [retrenchment] yet. If that were to happen, it would take us down a road that we’ve never been down….You can’t fire tenured (a permanent post of employment) faculty….the contract is pretty clear that the administration can’t just say, ‘Oh, we don’t need you anymore, clean out your office and collect your last check,” he said.

In an email to confirm this, KSC education Professor and current KSCEA President Shirley McLoughlin stated she hasn’t heard news of retrenchment either.

What students need to know about a potential restructuring:

  1. It could save money and lower tuition.
  2. It could offer a broader educational experience.
  3. It could encourage relationships with the outside community.
  4. It could create layoffs for staff or faculty.

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Dolenc said KSC needs to be clear about the future, as well as sticking “to our shared governance.” He described shared governance as collective thought from the College Senate, students, staff, administration and faculty. “It is as you might expect, majority faculty representation, but on many other campuses, they have a faculty senate and no voice for students or staff at that level,” he said.

Dolenc said he believes that President Huot respects this ideology. “I’m at this point, taking her for her word, that she’s committed to transparency and shared governance. If these things were not the case, I would be very disturbed,” he said. He later said, “Decisions made behind closed doors, that’s not who Keene State has been historically, and that’s a really dangerous path to head down.”

He said he agrees that now is the time to act in potentially restructuring the school. “I do think it’s a timing issue, that if we didn’t have all these interims right now, I don’t think we’d have this conversation,” he said.

Provost Seigh said when he was interviewed for the provost position, he presented this idea of restructuring to the College Senate, explaining that the current system KSC has now “was done out of expediency and tradition more than pedagogical (educational) strategy.”

Seigh said he’s sure there was thought put into the current three-school structure, but “I don’t think it was a visionary plan.”

KSC’s three-school structure was put in place nearly 40 years ago.. In 1977, when KSC faculty unionizing was at its prime, another plan was undergoing movement. According to KSC’s alumni magazine, Keene State Today, in 1977, faculty members voted 62 (in favor) to 60 to unionize. Simultaneously, another action was put into place. The magazine reads, “On February 24, 1978 – a date referred to as “Black Friday” – the board of trustees abolished department chairs and restructured the college into three divisions headed by Deans. This surprise move, viewed by the faculty as punitive in nature, led to a decisive pro-union vote on January 25, 1979.”

KSC Dean of Sciences and Social Sciences Gordon Leversee stated in an email that when that happened, it was decided that each academic department was meant to be equal “in terms of numbers of faculty,”  and to have “some sense of academic logic.”

He stated, however, that from his perspective, the three-school system is a bit confusing for students who graduate from two separate majors. “…in this day of students graduating with two or more majors and a minor, typically from different schools, students seem to me sometimes puzzled about having to decide what school they want to sit with,” he stated. “ I get the sense that the idea of school identity may have been more important to past administrators than it was to students or even most faculty.”

Leversee stated he thinks this potential move to a different structure “is a good idea and probably long overdue.” Leversee confirmed he is set to retire at the end of this academic year.

KSC junior Olivia Morris is a double major in communication and management . “So I’m in two separate schools,” she said. She said it’s not too difficult trying to balance the two majors.

“A lot of things we learn are reflected in in the other major,” she said. When asked about which school she’ll sit for at graduation, Morris said she has no idea. “Communication is easier and I like it more, but management is probably more of where I’ll end up in the job field,” she said. She said she liked the idea of a more interdisciplinary education, meaning classes of different backgrounds would be covered throughout a student’s college career. “That would be cool,” she said, “With communications, you’re so structured; it’s communications and philosophy. There’s not a lot of room for stretching.”

One school that just made a move for more interdisciplinary efforts is Plymouth State University (PSU). The university underwent changes earlier this year which restructured their previous model of 24 undergraduate academic programs, a graduate studies program, and three colleges.

The new model is comprised of seven academic clusters that focus on interdisciplinary relationships. Within these clusters “students not only will receive a baccalaureate (bachelor) degree, but also can earn certificates in specific areas within one or more clusters, which include health & human enrichment, justice & security and exploration & discovery,” according to an article written by Michael Cousineau in New Hampshire’s The Union Leader.

PSU President Don Birx said the remodeling of their structure has been a work in progress.

“It’s a staged process. It’s got several phases over the course of the next three years, so we’ve kind of planned it out to take our time,” he said. However, he said the 24 undergraduate academic programs have already been grouped into the seven clusters.

He said he’s been thinking about using the cluster approach for more than 20 years. He explained how it adds depth to an educational institution.

“It’s not so much the taking away of something, it’s that you’re putting something that allows you to look across disciplines…” He also said, “Clusters are a good way to bring focus and really allow you to booster and focus on building the academic programs in a way with limited resources. The world we live in is that way, particularly in New Hampshire.”

When asked about the laying off of 78 people, (most of whom were staff members according to an article from Inside Higher Ed by Rick Seltzer), he did confirm that it was more due to budgetary issues than the restructuring efforts.

“The hardest part of it is if we had not made these changes for where we’re going to build clusters, we would have still had to grapple with these issues,” he said.

Birx said they started developing this approach in the summer of 2015. He said he has personally found that people have been optimistic in response to the restructuring.

“Our results with students and parents and outside community members has been pretty positive,” he said.

PSU biology Professor and Department Chair Christopher Chabot said since it’s just in the beginning stages, it’s difficult to say how the move to cluster systems has been. He said there haven’t been any substantial impacts made to the biology department.

Chabot said he respects the idea of interdisciplinary education. “There’s a lot of merit to the interdisciplinary approach; we can learn a lot from each other across disciplines,” he said.

Chabot said however, he does have some worries. “I am concerned that the president has talked about getting rid of departments, and there are quite a few departments, very strong departments, [that] have done a great job in terms of their student success and learning, and we feel like there’s a lot of efficiencies there,” he said. “So our concern is that we will lose that – these efficiencies and our students’ success of learning.”

However, Chabot said he believes President Birx will grant more control as things get further underway.

“We hope that a structure will be put in place such that disciplines will still be in control of their own curriculum, budgeting, space and scheduling.”

In an earlier article in The Equinox, “Budget cut leaves setbacks on campus,” written by Senior Reporter Jacob Barrett and published on September 21, it was disclosed there has been a 15 percent reduction in budget across the KSC campus. Barrett wrote the reasons “…include low enrollment in the 2015-2016 academic year, coupled with low figures in the college’s reserve fund to help supplement for the lack of revenue.”

KSC President Anne Huot was available for questions over the phone with Director of Strategic Communications and Community Relations Kelly Ricaurte also on the line. When asked about whether budget plays into this potential restructuring, Huot said, “The driver for the committee is alignment of the educational missions with the structure of academic affairs.” She said if for example, hypothetically the school did select a potential plan that saved money, that money would be spent primarily for the needs of the students. “An important goal of our strategic plan is to make sure that we are aligning our revenue and our expenses in our highest priority, which is your education,” she said.

Huot echoed what Provost Seigh said, explaining that this approach to potentially restructure the school’s academic affairs is about providing the best education for students. She said that it’s not about there being a problem with what KSC has for a current structure, but “it’s a question of, ‘Is it structured in a way that best supports your education?’ and we’re asking the question because we have the opportunity to ask the question,” she said.

Huot said with KSC and PSU being different school systems, it’s difficult to compare them. “What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another and we’re approaching this question because our strategic plan calls for making sure we’re delivering an outstanding educational experience that builds on our history and the strengths of the college,” she said. “We’re not looking at what Plymouth did and nor are they necessarily looking at what we’re doing.”

KSC junior Olivia Morris said she thought what PSU  did was interesting with their interdisciplinary cluster approach. “I do think that’s cool, but I worry that it’s too broad. In my specific majors, I’m learning about different kinds of variety within each subject,” she said.

Provost Seigh said that while he doesn’t know much about Plymouth State’s recent restructuring actions, he doesn’t see their cluster path one set for Keene State.  “What they’re (Plymouth State) doing didn’t enter into my request of the [College] Senate at all, but I do know that our identity as a residential liberal arts college, our belief in the importance of the in-depth study that can happen in a major matters here, and…[with] my limited knowledge of the cluster system, I don’t know how major driven the cluster system is,” he said.

Seigh said he wouldn’t be surprised if the current system was altered in the future. “I think whatever the committee does, the committee does, but I would be surprised if the committee came back in a way that didn’t support our belief in in-depth study and majors,” he said. Seigh said as of now, the possibilities are endless. “There are hundreds of models in this country,” he said, “What’s best for us?”

Members of the committee were not disclosed after attempts to get information from Seigh’s Senior Administrative Assistant Donna Ward.

Dorothy England can be contacted at dengland@kscequinox.com

*Correction made 10/28/16 – Sub-headline: “$5 million approved for newly established committee to evaluate three-school system” changed to “USNH Board Chair Timothy Riley: “The USNH Board of Trustees approved the investment of $5 million in Keene to support their efforts to better align the college with their mission and focus on quality.” (Misleading wording)*

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