Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Town halls held with candidates for Vice Provost of Undergraduate Studies

The position is currently held by Associate Professor Virginia Stallings

From Feb. 2 to Feb. 22, the University held a series of town hall meetings to allow students, faculty and staff to vet three candidates interested in the position of Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.

The position is currently held by Virginia “Lyn” Stallings, an associate professor in AU’s Department of Mathematics, according to the Undergraduate Studies website.

The VPUG position is one of the six subsections of the Office of the Provost, seated below Provost Scott Bass, the Special Assistant and the Executive Assistant and the “main units” of the office, including the deans of the six AU schools and colleges.

The VPUG is responsible for overseeing the creation and implementation of undergraduate academic programs, including the University Honors program and the General Education program, as well as determining the consequences for violations of academic integrity.

Candidate 1: Catherine Schaeff

Catherine “Cathy” Schaeff, an associate professor in the Department of Biology at AU, spoke of the importance of revamping campus mental health services at her VPUG town hall Feb. 2.

Schaeff has been teaching at the University since 1993. During this time, Schaeff has held chair and co-chair positions on many committees, including the University Student Learning and Assessment Task Force and the Faculty Senate’s Joint Senate Committee on Curriculum and Academic Affairs. Schaeff also served as the chair of the Department of Biology from 2000 to 20007.

In addition, Schaeff received the College of Arts and Science’s 2008 Associate Professor Award, and she was honored with AU’s Outstanding Administrator Award in 2005.

Shaeff talked heavily about the importance of students practicing mental health care. With increasing mental health problems among college students, including stress and anxiety, she hopes to have professors teach time management skills in class and to offer one credit skills-based courses, she said. She said some universities portray the average student to have a job, internship, on-campus involvement as well as a full academic course load, causing students to become more stressed.

“I think we have to change the context of how we think about success, so you can still be brilliant and do a lot of things -- all the things that will set you up for the next thing, and [we need to] keep thinking about how to make sure it’s sustainable and [that you] have the support you need as you need it and make it OK to get support,” Schaeff said.

Students attending the town hall questioned how she will make the University more diverse and whether she would develop course curriculum that would focus on different cultures.

As associate dean, Schaeff tried a couple classes about these topics and no one enrolled in them, she said. If more students become interested, AU can hire more faculty to teach those courses, she said.

Candidate 2: Kiho Kim

Kiho Kim, the Environmental Studies Department chair and the director of the AU Scholars program, emphasized the need for stronger faculty and student engagement and spoke about campus diversity and grading issues at his VPUG town hall Feb. 8.

Kim has been on the AU faculty since 2000. In that time, he has helped grow the Environmental Studies program into its own department, served on the Faculty Senate’s committee on academic programs, was Director of the University College Program and served as a faculty adviser to the women’s club field hockey team, among other positions.

“I’ve been here for a long time, and I’ve really embedded myself in lots of different parts of the University, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of the undergraduate education landscape,” Kim said. “[This job] is an opportunity to scale up the things that are important to me.”

As Vice Provost, Kim said that he would make an effort to encourage faculty to take on more undergraduate mentorship roles by involving them in their research and getting to know them outside of class. He personally would be more involved in living-learning communities and under-supported sports teams.

“I think that more of the faculty can be part of your lives. It’s not because they’re not interested in your lives, it’s just that sometimes it needs additional encouragement, support, and, in some cases, rewards,” Kim said. ‘“I want the faculty to think much more broadly about teaching in terms of engagement.”

At the town hall, several students asked about what Kim would do about diversity among students, faculty and coursework. He said that AU has a difficult time gaining diverse faculty because the University does not have the resources to attract them, such as tenure track positions, and that the University should do a better job reaching out to potential candidates.

To attract a more diverse student body, he said that it would be helpful to look at PELL eligibility not only on a merit basis, and to recruit more transfer students. Kim also said that more cultural studies courses and majors will not necessarily help AU’s diversity problem, as they require diverse faculty to be successful and should not be the only thing that attracts a student to AU.

“It seems not right to me to attract students of a particular socioeconomic background because of a certain major,” Kim said. “We want to attract students who are intellectually curious, not about a particular subject, but I am not completely decided about how that should work out. I see where both sides of the argument come in.”

It was stated at the town hall that grading across the departments is not done to any uniform standard and can lead to grades that are seen as either inflated or unfair. The Vice Provost is the head of academic policies, and Kim said that as Vice Provost he would have professors publish their personal grading scales and expectations to improve this issue.

“Functionally, I don’t think those number scales really mean much, because in terms of how I grade, I have some expectations about what an A student’s product looks like,” Kim said. “Even if you made it uniform, I don’t think it will fundamentally alter how faculty members grade assignments.”

Candidate 3: Jessica Waters

Jessica Waters, an associate dean of the School of Public Affairs and faculty member of the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology held her VPUG town hall on Feb. 22 where she expressed a need for transparency and improved faculty training.

Waters received her undergraduate degree from the University and continued on to receive her justice degree from the Washington College of Law, where she served as an adjunct professor before becoming part of full-time undergraduate faculty. As Associate Dean, she has worked on multiple projects to meet the needs of SPA students, including establishing a travel fund for unpaid internship opportunities.

“I have tried to say to the students throughout the process, if you have questions, if you have concerns, come see me, and I will address them directly, and every student who has come to see me, that is exactly what I have done, and that is how I would act as Vice Provost,” Waters said.

Waters strongly addressed the current expansion of the University and resource allocation in order to provide the necessary support to students, citing the Counseling Center having a waitlist as an example of a resource that needs more funding to meet the needs of the student body.

“I can tell you the things that are important to me and I can tell you the things I would advocate for,” said Waters. “I can’t promise you that I would always win, but I can tell you I would fight.”

Waters also stressed that better faculty training could solve several issues related to trigger warnings in classrooms, technology illiteracy and the incorporation of more diversity in subject matter. By doing so, she hopes to have more constructive debates in the classroom.

Other topics Waters covered included not mandating a university-wide grading policy but rather mandating each professor publish on class syllabi, improving Living Learning Communities, and supporting the new General Education program currently in development.

“Change is scary, and change is hard," she said. "The way that you navigate that is through open communication and transparency and doing what you say you’re going to do.”

Overall, Waters would continue her current style of leadership as an Associate Dean to improve the office of VPUG and the University as a whole.

“The chance to think of creative solutions to the actual problems facing students…and the chance to do some of that on a much larger scale, that excites me.”

news@theeagleonline.com


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