Q&A with Sims Kline

Photo courtesy Stetson University

Photo courtesy Stetson University

Sims Kline is a research librarian at Stetson’s DeLand campus. He began working at Stetson in 1976 and has now reported to three Stetson University Presidents and six Provosts.

What do you think of the newest strategic map draft?

Well I recall the previous strategic planning process that Doug Lee administered, and I thought he administered it pretty well. Some people criticized it because often there were not financial resources to carry out the strategic planning that he did, but that’s a different issue in my opinion. He used a management by objectives method which generated very detailed plans. Now this strategic planning effort is quite different. It has I think drawn on more wider input from different parts of the university, the stakeholders, alumni, current students, faculty, staff, administrators. The president [has] really done, I think, a pretty thorough job of getting people to contribute to the plan. As a result, the strategic map that was produced two or three years ago was an excellent summary and you could see the major points on one page. We hadn’t been able to do that quite so efficiently before.

So I liked the map that we had. Frankly I was a little surprised we were doing a new map. But apparently what has happened is this map has been significantly revised and I guess it’s because it’s because some of the objectives that were in the previous map may have been reached. But I think this strategic map clearly is for the next five years, and so it has some new elements. I haven’t studied it thoroughly so I couldn’t really talk in depth about it. So I think the strategic map as it’s being developed now is going to be as useful as the previous one, that is as a way efficiently to keep a focus on what our objectives are.

Do you think this map addresses the areas where Stetson needs improvement?

I think that if you were to cite a problem that you thought was a problem at Stetson, I’ll bet you that there’s a block on here that addresses it. It might not address it in the sort of advocacy way that you might want to frame the issue. But what they’ve tried to do is to find a place where those problems that can certainly be identified and need to be worked on, where it belongs.

During your time at Stetson, you’ve worked under three university presidents and multiple provosts. What are some notable characteristics about our current administration in comparison with previous administrations? 

When [President Libby] was hired. the Board of Trustees–I believe from what she said and what others said–were very clear to her that we needed to survive and not only to survive, but to thrive. We needed to increase our enrollment. Now, there were debates about “What is the ideal size for Stetson?” Well, 2,100 students undergraduate was not the ideal size because some of those classes at the 300 and 400 levels in the Arts & Sciences [College] had eight, nine or ten students. And we had the capacity to have more students, maybe not in the dormitories, but that’s another issue. But the point is that all the economic indicators, all the economic analyses ever done on the university from 1960 on said the same thing: “You need to increase enrollment.” So this president had that charge and she has run with it. And in doing so, it’s a calculated risk because you’re out in the marketplace that’s hyper-competitive, schools like Stetson, some of them are struggling just to maintain their enrollments. It’s not just PR, the fact is Stetson is against the grain with enrollment growth. We’re doing extraordinary things with enrollment growth. Now there’s a challenge, because there’s the concern about student quality, the student to faculty ratio, the technical issue of the housing of students.

Getting back to Dr. Libby, I attended a number of meetings where she talked about herself after she was hired and even while she was being interviewed, and same thing for the Provost because we had a number of Provost candidates. I observed these academic leaders, and with the perspective that at one time I used to go to meetings with the administrators, the vice presidents, the deans, the president. I did that for 20 years as library director, so I knew something about how to assess these people and how they operate, their style. And right away, I felt there were three things about [President Libby and Provost Paul]: They understood higher education very well; they were quick studies; and they were very decisive. And so those were attributes that served them well and they came here because they had a lot to learn and to catch up on and figure out what to do next.

They were not hired to come in and just keep things going like they were. That’s not why they were hired. Everybody said to all of these presidential candidates that we interviewed, “We need a Provost here, please. We need to reestablish the office of the chief academic officer for planning for getting the university together on common ground academically, to have a vision for academic development and growth and faculty support and curricular reform.” All of these things are very very important, and you can’t really do it unless you have a full-time academic officer.

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen since Dr. Libby and this new administration arrived?

Facilities enhancement and facilities management, athletic enhancement and enrollment growth. Those three, super-big, super-expensive and super-important. And here’s why: Dr. Libby said, “This campus, when I came here, it’s a beautiful campus,” but she said, “It’s a little shabby around the edges.” And she was right because we didn’t have enough money. The streets and grounds people were struggling to keep up with things, there was no funding to do what they wanted to do. Dr. Libby changed that dramatically. At first there was some push back. “You’re taking down some of the trees in the quad. What’s going on, man?” You know? But they didn’t understand how serious this was and how committed they were to this. Today this campus looks better than it ever has looked. There’s no question about it. Alums say this repeatedly. Staff members may quibble with the choice of a plant here or a shrub there, but that to me is shortsighted. When you ask people from New York and Connecticut or anywhere, to come to a university and spend so much money every year for their kids when they can spend far less, they want to know why and what’s the difference here. We, you can talk about faculty quality, but that’s intangible. But they can damn sure see the facilities and they can see that the university cares about itself.

In my opinion, nothing will have more of an impact on Stetson than the enrollment growth because what it does is it changes all the financial equations. It also creates some real challenges for educating these students and helping them get through which is why we have a major division in this university called Student Success. I mean we’ve always had tutoring, but this is quite radically different. But the enrollment still has its challenges, and some faculty are still dubious about whether the academic quality suffers because of it.

The athletics [expansion] was a totally calculated risk. The decision to go with this Pioneer League football was a calculated risk on the part of the president and the Board of Trustees. It’s a multi-million dollar commitment and some people are concerned that we weren’t able to raise as much money on the front end as we had hoped. What I would say about that it’s always going to be debatable whether or not we should have a football team, but what I’ve observed is it provides to many students a major boost in school spirit that we have not had. I think it’s part of the equation for enrollment growth and retention.

How do you feel about Stetson’s future?

I’m optimistic about it. The reason is I see that although certain risks have been taken, I think the university has gotten to take initiatives that will ensure its financial future, ensure it’s academic quality and ensure ultimately the intellectual life of the place. If we can do those things, we will succeed. And I do see signs that Stetson’s distinctiveness, it’s uniqueness among places that students can go in Florida and in the southeast, that is becoming better known by people outside of our Volusia County area. I think we’re becoming better known for reasons that are good. We do things here a little differently in a more intense way. And so I’m optimistic because of those issues. I don’t think I’m being naive about that.

What will be Stetson’s biggest challenge to overcome in the future?

I’m mindful of the fact that the cost of a Stetson education is becoming increasingly burdensome because I hear and see it from students. I know so many students who are on work study and also working outside the campus just to have enough money to put gasoline in their cars. People ride by the university and think, “Oh, that’s a pretty wealthy place.” But that’s not true. There are exceptions of some people who are well-funded and we’re happy for them. But most students are struggling with more than one job. And so that concerns me.

What will be Stetson’s biggest asset while navigating the future?

That’s an easy question. It’s so obvious to me. It might be too obvious. When I think about Stetson, I think of two things particularly: Quality of the faculty and the quality of the students. These have to go hand-in-hand. They are related one to another. My respect for the Stetson faculty is very high, it always has been. But what I see today is in the last two years this university has been recruiting more faculty than we ever have except for one other period many years ago during Doug Lee’s administration. I don’t know what the numbers are, but I’m thinking that this is greater.

Some of the faculty will tell you, “Well Sims, most of those faculty hires and positions that have been open and not funded for two or three years.” Well that’s true, some of them are visiting professors, they’re not all tenure track. But still the numbers are very big. If you were to take a look at the names of the faculty members who started fall 2011, 2012 and 2013, it would be a remarkable list as to the scope and background and specialties and capabilities of these new faculty members. It’s extraordinary. But they’re joining a group of already pretty extraordinary faculty members. So I think of faculty as a top asset, but also I think it’s students. If we don’t have good students at all, the faculty are pretty much irrelevant. What are they going to do? You have to have somebody to teach–that’s obvious. But they key thing for faculty is the quality of the student body. Are they really interested in learning, or are they just here to go through and get a degree and go find a job? Do they have any intrinsic interest in the subjects they’re studying? One hopes that you find a discipline that you’re really intrinsically interested in, that you really get excited about. It’s not being a nerd, it’s just having maturity of interests of intellectual challenges. So what I have seen over the years are very extraordinary students.

Letter from the Editor

By Eleanor Roy, Editor-in-Chief

 

It’s time to talk about our future.

Stetson underwent incredible changes in the last few years, both in a physical sense, and in its overall direction as an institution of higher education. We can expect to see more changes with the implementation of a finalized strategic map, which is designed to take Stetson to the next level of academic innovation and national recognition.

This special edition of The Reporter explores how the university plans to approach the future, with some specifics about changes to the undergraduate program and the DeLand campus.

We put together this special edition because these changes affect more than the new students who will visit campus on Hatter Saturday; They affect all Hatters, from future students to alumni, faculty members and staffers. Stetson’s future is interwoven with our own, and it’s impossible to discuss major changes at your alma mater without acknowledging the implications they could have on your own life.

A long-time Stetson staffer told me that the value of your college degree isn’t determined by what your college was like during your time as a student, but rather if it is successful now. A $200,000 degree isn’t worth much if the college it came from ultimately fails, which is why we should all be vested in creating the strongest path for Stetson’s future.

Five years ago, Stetson wasn’t on a strong path because it simply wasn’t reaching its potential. We needed changes, some bigger than others, and Stetson would not have been successful in the long run if we didn’t address the direction of our institution. The new administration and Board of Trustees decided to create both short and long-term goals as shown in the strategic map and planning process, which required a few changes like increased undergraduate enrollment, landscape overhauls, building demolitions and the creation of more athletic programs.

I think this is when we lost sight of the bigger picture as a student body. These changes didn’t alter the value of your Stetson degree. They didn’t take away from what your learned in the classrooms of Elizabeth Hall or your fraternity’s chapter room, and it’s shortsighted to think otherwise. Realistically, I think these were small changes in comparison to what the university would have to do in order to reach its full potential. But the administration thought that it was necessary to make Stetson more successful in the long run.

Were they the right changes to make? Some people would tell you the changes have already paid off while others would tell you they were founded in absurdity. The truth probably lies somewhere in between, but nobody really knows what the future holds. We can speculate, but the next five years of Stetson’s future are crucial in determining its long-term success.

That’s what this special edition is all about: The motivations behind potential changes, and where are we heading as a university. We have a unique opportunity to discuss Stetson’s future as it welcomes future Hatters to campus this Saturday, and it’s something The Reporter hasn’t done before.

We used a multi-dimensional approach for this special edition to address implications of the strategic map draft in different areas of the university including academics, athletics and student life. Throughout the issue, you’ll find commentary from multiple faculty members, staffers and students. Their perspectives were incredibly valuable for this project, and our whole staff is grateful for their eagerness to contribute.

This is my last print edition of The Reporter as Editor-in-Chief, and I’m excited that this issue is filled with multiple perspectives about Stetson’s future. It’s possible that we did nothing to contribute to people’s understanding of Stetson’s strategic planning or our goals for the next five years. But at the very least, we tackled this project in as many ways that we could, and I wouldn’t have it any other way for my last issue.

The State of the University

How Stetson stacks up to internal and national statistics

Please click on an image to view these graphs at a larger size.

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Academics & Student Life

Academics

The strategic map features many goals encompassing academic and student life changes on campus. There are two sections of the strategic map that directly address academics and student life: “strengthen excellence and innovation in learning,” and “empower lifelong success and significance.”

Growing incoming class sizes also triggered a need for more faculty. While this came at a time when some faculty positions opened due to retirements, it still appears to be an unprecedented amount of new faculty hires. For example, the College of Arts and Sciences plans to hire 17 new full-time faculty members for the 2014-2015 academic year. This followed the addition of 25 full-time faculty members in fall 2012 to the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business Administration and the School of Music.

President Wendy Libby said addressing academics in a strategic plan is crucial. “How could you not have that on a plan? That’s what we’re all about,” she said. “But it also relates to more and more interdisciplinary work. We have to make sure that faculty remember that when they’re teaching our students that requires not just narrow and deep, it requires broad. We’ve been very successful in that, but we’re hiring new faculty now specifically for their abilities to teach in more than one area.”

Fostering interdisciplinary learning experiences appears to be a top goal in the newest map draft. Dr. Karen Ryan, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, described the importance of academic collaboration and it’s role in the draft.

“It’s got to be interdisciplinary in terms of the academic program where programs interconnect and strengthen each other,” Ryan said. “It’s got to be about community engagement, and it’s got to be about a lived education so that the education that students are getting on campus connects to the wider world.”

Some faculty members voiced concerns about compromising academic integrity through such rapid enrollment growth. However, internal data assessments conducted since enrollment increases show that incoming students are still academically strong, according to Dr. Raymond Barclay, former associate vice president for Analytics and Decision Support in the Office of Institutional Research.

“My view is  that the institute is enhanced by every measure of academic quality coming through the door,” Barclay said. He added that geographic diversity in future incoming classes would help strengthen the university’s overall math and science skills.

“We are in an environment, which over the last 5 to 10 years, has softened the math departments of incoming students,” he said in reference to the central Florida region. “Because we aren’t as diverse in our recruitment pools as we could be, our quality is fine, but I’d say we don’t have a diversity in our pool as it pertains to academics competencies that would allow us to recruit stronger students from stronger mathematics and AP or IB background.”

To combat this, Vice President of Enrollment Management Joel Bauman said that Admissions is focusing on increasing enrollment of geographically diverse students through strategic targeting.

“We have increased marketing, recruiting and travel to targeted out of state areas as well as the number and quality of on campus events to allow for more visits,” Bauman said in an email. “The athletic expansion has also increased our visibility in out of state markets.​”

Barclay added that another reason for faculty concern about declining academic integrity among incoming students could be that there are simply more students. While there may have only been two students out of a class of 10 who needed additional assistance from faculty five years ago, as class sizes increase, so does the proportionate number of students who need faculty assistance.

“We have more demand on the faculty, so there’s an aggregate increase which makes it feel like [students’ academic integrity] has decreased,” he said. “There’s more people putting demands on the faculty then there were five years ago. So it feels like a decrease in quality when in fact there’s been an increase in demand on the faculty in those programs.”

Dr. Joel Davis, Associate Professor of English, noted that demands on faculty should be addressed when making plans for Stetson’s academic future. “I think we need to rethink our teaching load and make sure that we’re supporting faculty so that we can give students the kind of attention their work deserves, [and] the kind of attention that is deserved with the kind of homework you’re getting in your courses,” he said.

Photo by Shadee Rios

Photo by Shadee Rios

Student life

Student life is partially addressed in the “empowering lifelong success and significance” category, and more specifically the specific goal of strengthening “development of the whole person.”

According to President Libby, “The third goal comes from two directions. One is the development of the student here on campus as a whole person. But it’s also in reaching out to our alums and making sure that they understand that we’re here for them for the balance of their lives,” she said.

Kevin Winchell, assistant director of Community Engagement, said he liked the newest strategic map draft because it skillfully blended the university’s core values into the learning experience.

“As a staff member, an alumnus, and a very active member of the DeLand community, I feel strongly that Stetson greatly benefits from doubling-down on its commitment to its values – particularly through experiential, community-engaged learning,” Winchell said.

He added that he believes the strategic map enhances the post graduate experience. “In this way, not only are our students learning more, but they are doing so in a way that increases their competitiveness for graduate school and career opportunities, as well as helps solve some of the greatest challenges facing our communities such as poverty, homelessness, health care and education,” he said. “I’m very excited about the strategic map’s emphasis on experiential, community-engaged learning.”

Ryan Hassen, a junior Social Sciences major and president of Stetson’s Interfraternity Council, said he does not feel the university currently supports student personal development or their ideas about student involvement in the reconstruction of Stetson.

“One thing that I have a lot of dissonance with is it seems like the school instead of asking students or actually really listening to students on things,” Hassen said. “They are more or less just dragging students along for the ride as opposed to working with them in a collaborative environment.”

Hassen said his involvement in Greek life has impacted his views on the school’s values. “Through Greek Life, I’ve seen that just in the way that the school treats Greeks–not honoring their house father selections in a lot of ways. Personal growth, one of the University’s values, stems from the acceptance and going through the responsibilities that you have. Not allowing students to take care of themselves and their school, I think that the school is contradicting their value in that way.” Hassen did not specify if the newest strategic map draft addressed his concerns with student life.

Specific issues that the map will address will depend on the outcome of the next few weeks. The Reporter will provide updates about the new strategic map online.

The Administration Perspective

Stetson administrators discussed their feelings about Stetson’s future. While stressing that it is not yet finalized, they also discussed some of the strengths and weaknesses of the newest strategic map draft.

Rosalie Carpenter, Dean of Students

Photo courtesy Stetson Today

Photo courtesy Stetson Today

Thoughts about Stetson’s future: Since Dr. Libby arrived, our pace of change has been unprecedented. It is unbelievable what she has already done and the standards she has set for this university for many years to come. I think in two years we will continue to expand our reputation nationally and internationally, and I think we will continue to be a values-driven institution and I am proud of that fact. We always make decisions on what is in alignment with our values, not what is cheaper. I think career development and exploration will continue to become a focus and that life after graduation will continue to be an emphasis in a different way, and I think that is something we will see in years to come. In five years I hope we will complete our capital campaign for a goal of a $150 million endowment and be able to add buildings like a new union building, an admissions welcome center, a new resident hall, an academic building and maybe another house to fraternity row and close the circle. I think by then our enrollment will be steady at a little north of 3,000, as well as hiring more faculty and staff to accommodate for the increase in size. Our standards are high and we hope the students know that, and also know that we have their best interest at heart. The students need these improvements and deserve them, and it nice to see us on the precipice of reaching our full potential. It is really rewarding.

Strength of the map: I appreciate the diversity of the topical areas of the [campus life and student success map] in terms of academics, values, life after Stetson, and professional goal fulfillment. I appreciate that the map talks about life not only at Stetson but after graduation. I think one of the biggest things that students will get from the map that they might not even realize is the box about eliminating administrative barriers. We know how hard it is to plan an event on this campus. You have to get permission from so many different departments. It is too many hoops to jump through and it is something we are definitely working on to change.

Things that are missing from the map: The whole mission is about fostering an integrative learning environment as well as supporting students to lead a life of significance. What may be missing in here is how we are going to make that integrative with the faculty and the students as well as alumni. What is not really mentioned is how we can partner with faculty and alumni to create that integrative learning environment. I think it will happen naturally, but if I had to say something was missing it would be an intentional connection of faculty and alumni to really stimulate the learning environment we want to foster.

Stetson’s strengths: I think the faculty and staff really do care about the students. People who work here do it because they want to be part of a community. We have a culture of care that is genuine and sincere that you really don’t get at a bigger state school. I also think we take student opinion well, we take the time to meet with students and listen to them very well. If students want an organization we say “Okay, let’s get it done.” We have a culture of “yes” here where as many other schools have a culture of “no.”

Stetson’s challenges: I do not think things geographically make sense. Our curriculum doesn’t have a lot of flexibility for students to dabble in many other academic areas. Our computer infrastructure in terms of different logins for different things makes things unnecessarily difficult. I think some of the pedagogy as far as using learning technologies could really be amplified. That is why students love being a part of Rolling George so much: it is the hands-on opportunity for students to do what they love to do. We need to create more of that in the classrooms, it is moving in that direction right now, but I think we could do more things like that. I also do not believe our residential facilities, our union, as well as our Hollis Center are large enough to accommodate student size. I think we need to do more as far as when the union expands what we are going to offer here. I do not think there are enough times for students to eat and we definitely need to expand dining options. As well as creating more fun things for students to do on campus whether it is a movie theatre or a bowling alley that may be included in our union to help maximize the student experience on campus.

Dr. Karen Ryan, Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences

Photo courtesy Stetson Today

Photo courtesy Stetson Today

Strengths of the map:  To me, as Dean of the academic program of a college, the idea of really infusing everything we do with academic rigor is key. I think a theme that runs throughout the various boxes you see is interdisciplinarity. When we begin to envision the future, it’s not about students taking courses in a particular department, a particular discipline or a major in that discipline. It’s really about this holistic education that we have to offer. So it’s got to be interdisciplinary in terms of the academic program where programs interconnect and strengthen each other; it’s got to be about community engagement; and it’s got to be about a lived education so that the education that students are getting on campus connects to the wider world.

University weaknesses addressed by the map: [IT infrastructure] turns out to be a really important logistical obstacle that we have to smooth out. It has to be highly operational because everything else it turns out, really does kind of turn on that. If we’re going to really internationalize the university effectively, then we need to be able to put our students virtually into classrooms in other countries so that they can participate in what’s going on in other countries and we can bring in speakers from all over the world to our classes. I wouldn’t say that it’s a weakness but it does need to be improved.

Things that are missing from the map: The map is a very high-level project. Faculty can look at it, and I’m sure students can look at it and say, “Where am I? I don’t see me there?” But in fact, I don’t think we’re supposed to see our individual disciplines or even schools there. I’ve certainly looked at it and said, ‘Where’s the college?” But I think it’s at a metalevel, and it really has a vision for the entire institution that isn’t broken down that way. Now when we start operationalizing it, then we’ll start talking about, “How do we make this happen in our unit,” whatever that unit is, whether it’s the college, the history department or a course within the history department. But I think it’s capacious enough now to really encompass pretty much all aspects of a Stetson education.

What’s the Stetson difference? The student-to-faculty ratio is really, really key to what we do. Being able to have a true discussion-based, conversation-based course experience is really key to what we do. We say that we educate our students to think critically, to communicate, to write. Well, you can do that much better in a classroom in which there are 20 students than a classroom where you have 200. The ability to communicate, to defend a point of view, to argue, to articulate what you think about an issue is something that you develop here in a way that is very difficult in much larger courses.

Dr. Lua Hancock, Assistant Provost for Student Success

Photo courtesy Stetson University

Photo courtesy Stetson University

Thoughts about Stetson’s future: I think there’s already been good movement. For example, there’s been an ability to hire some new faculty and a lot of those faculty are coming in with very forward, interdisciplinary interests. They have done a lot of work across disciplinary fields and they’ve done a lot of community engaged work, which is, I think, what a lot of students and faculty are drawn to about Stetson: the academic mission and the rigor that’s specifically focused on the core of the value statements for social responsibility. And I think the university is just living more into that mission. So what I think is exciting about the strategic map is it fits the mission and vision that Stetson has always had, but it’s a map to move it forward into action.

Strengths of the map:  One thing that turned out is really cool that very few people mention is if you look at the map, the center square right in the middle of the map is something about the holistic development of the student. And everyone’s been commenting how it’s kind of cool that it ended up right in the middle of the map and everything else is kind of around it, and I like that as well. That wasn’t intentional, but it kind of turned out to be really neat to have what we believe is true–which is that the student is at the core–so it kind of turned out really neat.

Things that are missing from the map: I think that the consultants go through a process with the community where it’s shared with groups of students and shared with faculty, it’s shared with staff, and then it’s drafted kind of over and over again. So by the end, I think it does a really good job of balancing the business side of some things that we need to do, as well as the chief educational purpose that we have. So I think it’s a really good, holistic map.