Faculty and staff at the Zanesville and Eastern campuses were encouraged to “get into the conversation” by Executive Vice President and Provost Pam Benoit when she visited both campuses on Oct. 29. Benoit met with faculty, staff and students as part of a fall tour to connect with regional campuses.
Benoit asked people to share what they value about the university, what accomplishments they are most proud of and what concerns they have. Amid the discussions, the topic of shared governance gave Benoit an opportunity to raise awareness about the blog she recently initiated: Shared Governance @ OHIO.
“I’ve learned there’s a concern about shared governance, but there’s not a lot of agreement about what shared governance means,” she said. The blog is part of a university-wide conversation on the topic and Benoit emphasized its importance, adding that it’s her hope to come “to agreement on some principles about shared governance.”
“The blog doesn’t serve its purpose if you don’t share,” Benoit told the group, noting that over 500 visits were logged on the first day. “Don’t just visit the blog, post something.”
She also invited attendees to become followers to her Twitter account, .
“I never thought I’d do something like that,” she said about her regular updates in the limited-character format of Twitter. She also joked about being competitive, saying “I’m engaged in a battle with Gordon Gee who has lots of followers. I’d like to have more than him, so get on there.”
Communication was a hot topic in the conversations at both campuses, including the need for more dialogue with departments between the Athens and regional campuses and a desire for more frequent communication on initiatives like Quarters to Semesters and restructuring.
“This is a two-way street,” Benoit said, referring to a comment about academic departments more closely communicating. “I can try to encourage that, but I can tell you the most important way to do that is for faculty to initiate and build relationships with their colleagues across campuses.” Discussions included ways to better use technology as well as face-to-face possibilities for facilitating those relationships. “We have to think about ways to allow some more strategic interactions,” she added.
Benoit’s visit stretched into a very full day. The morning was spent at Zanesville and included a tour of campus, a meeting with students and a meeting with faculty and staff. The afternoon included the same sequence of events on the Eastern campus.
Benoit has now visited four of the regional campuses -- Eastern, Lancaster, Southern and Zanesville -- and met at an off-site retreat with faculty and staff from Chillicothe. At each visit she has delivered the message that she will return.
“When I’m thinking about where Ohio University is going strategically, I’m always thinking about the regional campuses, as well,” Benoit told Eastern faculty and staff. “It’s really important to try to understand what the identity and culture is at every institution…every regional campus.”
Asked about restructuring, Benoit said she has learned from experience there are several detailed considerations that need to go into the decision about whether to restructure the regional campuses, as proposed earlier this year.
“I think a lot of questions have been asked in that report,” she said, referring to the report of the regional campus task force that was presented in May. “But not a lot of answers were given.”
“I’m not interested in restructuring for the sake of restructuring. The reason for restructure is there is some positive outcome,” she said. “I don’t have an agenda. What I want is ... the best thing for us to do.”
The regional campuses have been asked to provide more detailed information about several facets of the possible effects of a restructure. Benoit emphasized the need for a decision to be made quickly.
“A lot of things depend on (whether we are) reorganizing,” she explained. “Other decision points are waiting on this decision.”
Throughout the day interesting facts and points of pride were abundant. For instance, Benoit learned that Zanesville has a “library cat.” The cat hangs around the library and was referred to as “perhaps the most famous individual on campus.”
Benoit also had a close encounter with the subject of Mark Waters’ research -- 30 snakes. Waters, an associate professor at Eastern, gave the provost an “up close and personal” experience during the campus tour.
But the overwhelming tone of the day was pride in the way the campuses serve their students and the communities in which they are located.
“In a small community... I’m identified as Ohio University-Zanesville,” said Chris Shaw, public relations coordinator for the campus. “It goes to church with you; it goes to the grocery store with you. And I’m very proud of that.”
“I’m proud of our students,” another Zanesville employee said. “We have some fantastic students here. They have a lot of responsibilities outside of school and they juggle them all.”
Others were proud of the close-knit environment and can-do spirit on the campuses.
“A couple of years ago we had to make some major cuts,” said David Castle, assistant professor of history on the Eastern campus. “We’ve learned to work harder and do more,” he added, suggesting that perhaps others could learn from Eastern’s experience.
Eastern’s Associate Dean Mike McTeague offered that the campus, being small and nimble, would gladly be willing to serve as a place to try out initiatives before they are implemented on a larger scale.
Many on both campuses spoke of their experiences as adult students who benefited from the access provided by regional campuses and the ways in which they have carried forward the same student-centered focus that they experienced in order to serve their current students.
“We provide access to people who would never go to Athens, would never leave home,” one Zanesville employee explained.
“Ohio University transforms lives,” she said. “A lot of that happens at the regional campuses. I think that’s an incredibly important role in the regional campus mission.”