September 1, 2014

Academics & Student Life

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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.

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