Dec. 3, 2007
By Linda Lockhart
Late November is a time for traditional events -- well-established ones, such as Thanksgiving, and for Ohio University's regional campuses, an annual faculty conference.
Now in its eighth year, the conference is held at a different campus each year to bring faculty from the five regional campuses together for two days of workshops, dialogue and idea sharing. This year's event, at Ohio University-Southern Thursday and Friday, was highlighted by a visit from Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut, who addressed the role of regional campuses in the new University System of Ohio.
"The conference was started to create a sense of community, to foster an exchange of ideas between and among the campuses," said Bill Willan, associate vice president for outreach. "It began as a faculty development opportunity, and it is continued because faculty find it very valuable."
About 80 of the regional campuses' 200 faculty members attended workshops on engaging students in research, grants and other topics. Discipline-centered meetings, a promotion and tenure session and an opportunity for new faculty to meet with the executive dean for regional campuses also were part of the itinerary.
Focused discussions on academic program development, finance, faculty relationships with departments, and auxiliary and student services raised questions and provided input on what regional campuses of the future should be. Information from these discussions will be included in data considered by the university's regional campus study group, which was convened in August to look at the future direction of its regional campuses and has taken on greater urgency under the USO.
"It's been very open and an invitation to think, to act, to be listened to and to listen to others," said Mary Finney, visiting assistant professor in the College of Business who is working with the regional campuses on introduction of regional campus business programs. Finney attended the conference for the first time. "It's been very helpful with a lot of opportunities to have one-on-one conversations and open and focused dialogue on where we are.
"I felt like there was a sense of the core issues that are important at this moment and a feeling that we are really appreciated and valued," she added.
Willan said one of the advantages of the conference is that faculty have an opportunity to share with colleagues and see other campuses.
"They are part of a system; they have common challenges," Willan said. "(At the conference), they gain ideas to meet those challenges. They get to speak with the dean about questions and concerns and hear the commitment of the regional deans to support their needs."
Faculty also value being able to discuss specific research and teaching interests with colleagues. For some faculty members, who may be the only ones on their campuses working in a specific field, it can be a rare opportunity. Many attendees return to the conference each year, Willan said, and encourage new faculty to join them.
"I keep coming back because it's stimulating intellectually to speak to faculty from other disciplines, from other campuses, and to dialogue with them," said Maggie Goetz, a nursing faculty member on the Zanesville campus who has attended all eight conferences. "I find it invaluable.
"What a wonderful opportunity to have the chancellor come and speak to the regional campus faculty and to put a face to that," she added.
As featured speaker at the conference, Fingerhut joined attendees on Thursday evening for dinner at the Ashland (Ky.) Plaza. Prior to his address, he mingled with the group for individual introductions and conversations. His message was focused on the role of regional campus in the USO -- a message of growth and expanded service. (See related story.)
"This is the moment for seizing opportunities," Finney said after hearing the chancellor speak. "I walked away with a distinct feeling that we are part of turning things around (in the state)."
Executive Dean of Regional Campuses Dan Evans, who spoke to the faculty members Thursday and led them through an interactive survey about the most important issues they face, said it was important for faculty to hear the positive message about the future of regional campuses in Ohio directly from Fingerhut. Evans shared with attendees that when USO was announced, his "vision for regional campuses was turned upside down."
"I now see so many more opportunities for (regional campuses) than I would have believed possible," he said.
Next year's conference will be held at Ohio University-Zanesville.