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Vision OHIO Action Symposium could make 2006 a 'turning point' year

ATHENS, Ohio (May 5, 2006) -- A return to the semester system, daycare for children of university employees and  students, measurement of undergraduate progress, replacement of the Graduate Studies office with a Graduate College, and increased attention to diversity were among the Vision OHIO action plans discussed last Wednesday at the first Action Symposium.

"You're in the process of making history this afternoon," President Roderick McDavis told the 140 participants as they began their work; "I think we will look back on 2006 as a turning point."

McDavis was referring to the many meetings of implementation teams that had already taken place this academic year. Goals had been specified and action plans to achieve those goals suggested since Vision OHIO planning began a year and a half ago. The purpose of this symposium was to bring together representatives of implementation teams with deans, associate and assistant deans, directors and chairs, representatives of constituent groups, curriculum chairs, undergraduate and graduate program directors, students and other interested parties to hear and discuss summaries of the implementation teams, as well as to give feedback to those teams. 

"This is the fun part," McDavis said, "the part where we actually get to develop the future of the university."

McDavis also pointed out that a strategic plan is definitely needed and that most of the university's peer institutions have them and are well along in pursuing their implementations.

Provost Kathy Krendl, who presided over the symposium, said she was pleased with the attendance, the active discussion at the tables she visited and the frank opinions expressed by the participants who had come from many sectors of the Athens campus as well as from some of the regional campuses.

Wednesday's symposium was not intended to deal with reports from all implementation teams nor to review all the action plans suggested. Teams had been instructed to submit changes that might portend major effects, represent a possibly controversial departure from past practices, and be expected to benefit from discussion among a cross section of stakeholders in attendance. Therefore, only one or two of each team's plans for action were considered at this gathering.

Symposium guests were seated eight to 10 to a round table in Walter Rotunda, where a presenter from each implementation team told the entire assembly of his or her team's  action plans that had been selected for consideration. (Four implementation teams had put forth two action plans, each of which was discussed at a separate table.) The next hour of the afternoon was reserved for table-by-table discussions about those plans, after which a reporter from each table came to the microphone to tell the assembly how his or her group had reacted to the action plan or plans discussed.

Action plans of specific implementation teams were:

Academic Calendar:  Returning to the semester system in order to achieve high quality in undergraduate and graduate programs had unanimous support from the participants discussing it at the symposium. Shawn Ostermann, chair of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, reminded the audience that the university had been forced onto quarters by the Board of Regents in 1967. A return to semesters had been seriously considered in both 1992 and 1997. He said the 1997 reasoning about staying on quarters can still be found on the university's Web site. He also said that the Undergraduate Priorities, Graduate Priorities, and Research and Creative Activities groups had mentioned academic benefits that would be derived from changing back to semesters.

Daycare:  Those at the daycare table showed high interest in providing daycare on or convenient to the campus. Quality of such care and liability issues were recognized, The group suggested a study to determine the real impact of daycare at peer universities and those of similar size in Ohio, as well as how a daycare facility improves the quality of the work environment for faculty, staff and students. 

Undergraduate Priorities:  Learning outcomes and academic advising were the two implementation team plans discussed here. The team had said that all programs and courses should have established learning outcomes. For those programs subject to periodic accreditation reviews, these learning outcomes should be consistent with accrediting association requirements, the group said. But Ben Ogles, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the table discussing this implementation team's suggestions was split. Some wanted to pay less attention to learning outcomes and put more effort into revising the university's general education requirements. Participants also emphasized the importance of an undergraduate's first year and suggested that enhancing the quality of advising would make that year better and raise retention. Other suggestions included small classes for first-year students, involvement of students to find their suggestions and use of portfolios to assess outcomes.

Graduate Priorities:  Two action plans considered were: 1) to reinstate the Graduate College in place of the present Graduate Studies Office to enforce uniform standards, policies and procedures for graduate work across the university and 2) to lower the university's general fee and subsidize student health insurance in order to improve its competitive position in attracting top graduate students. The group discussing these plans supported both. Josie Bloomfield, English Department graduate director, said that the university's peer institutions already subsidize health insurance. 

Diversity and Accessibility:  A two-part action plan discussed was to infuse diversity into the curriculum across all areas of study and establish an environment of inclusiveness on the campus and in the community, and to make all buildings and walkways handicapped accessible by 2011. Carolyn Bailey Lewis, director of the Telecommunications Center, conceded that the accessibility plans the team would like to see implemented would tax both the budget and other resources. David Descutner, dean of the University College, said that this team's emphasis from the very beginning of their meetings had been the importance of accessibility throughout the campus. He reminded the group also that not all handicaps are physical, so planning should include accommodation for students with learning disabilities as well.

Diversity and Spousal Hiring:  Ming Li, director of the School of Recreation and Sports Sciences, said that the university lacks sufficient diversity. For instance, he said that Ohio University has 55 percent women students and only 31.5 percent women faculty members. Jack Brose, dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the discussion group suggested the university could identify departments with little diversity and possibly channel funds there to make hiring of minority spouses and partners possible. 

Research and Creative Activity:  Combining the offices of Grants Accounting and Research and Sponsored Programs was suggested in order to maximize assets. In another part of this team's report about the goal of supporting growth in scholarly activity and research productivity was the suggestion that the university improve support functions to make this possible. Symposium participants discussing this plan reported past trouble with grant paperwork and accounting and suggested establishing an advisory council with representatives from all planning units to provide oversight and to facilitate the work of grants, sponsored research and grant accounting. 

Mentoring:  Mentoring should be recognized as a factor in a faculty or staff person's service and should be rewarded accordingly as other faculty, staff and students are developed through it. Mentoring results in more effective recruitment and retention. Thomas Davis, interim dean of the College of Education, said that the classified staff already has an effective method of mentoring. It is worth studying and possibly adopting in appropriate aspects, he said.

Faculty Workload:  Set realistic faculty workload goals, with the possibility of variable and differential elements, including such duties as advising. Phyllis Bernt, professor of communication systems management and chair of the Faculty Senate, said that "one size does not fit all," so individual workloads should be considered. The goal is to increase high-quality undergraduate and graduate programs by monitoring the teaching, research/creative activity and service responsibilities of faculty, reported Gary Neiman,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  dean of the College of Health and Human Services. 

Faculty and Staff Development:  Open and maintain a Faculty and Staff Development office and centralize the activities for the advancement of both faculty and staff in order to recruit and retain outstanding people. Sherrie Gradin, director of the Center for Writing Excellence, referred to the Faculty Commons being planned for Alden Library as Vision OHIO's projected area for faculty development and said the team's opinion was that it should include equipment and materials for both teaching and research.

Interdisciplinary Initiatives:  The university should establish a system for interdisciplinary appointments so that tagged and dual positions are evaluated and rewarded as consistently as those in one department or school only. A system of recognizing and rewarding interdisciplinary faculty and staff should exist and such programs should be recognized as central to the mission of the university, said Ann Fidler, dean of the Honors Tutorial College, and Drew McDaniel, interim director of the Center for International Studies. 

Institutional Effectiveness: Academic excellence indicators and measures that will corroborate the effectiveness of the university's academic programs must be devised and used, said Marjorie DeWert, director of the Center for Innovations in Technology for Learning. Mike Williford, associate provost for institutional research and enrollment planning, said that the university has many different departments and schools, and the effectiveness of each must be assessed according to national standards for the various fields represented. "Not everything that counts can be counted," he said, in that a measure that may fit one program may not be a consideration for another at all.

Facilitators presiding at the tables at which these action plans were discussed included David Ingram, professor of physics and astronomy; James Rankin, director of the Avionics Engineering Center; Bernt; Valerie Conley, assistant professor of counseling and higher education; Molly Tampke, interim vice president for advancement; Ken Sampson, associate dean for academics; Dora Wilson, professor of interdisciplinary arts; Hugh Sherman, associate professor of management systems; and Lee Cibrowski, associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services,  Bloomfield, Ostermann, Descutner, Li, Gradin, Rota and DeWert also facilitated.

Those who presented implementation teams' action plans that were discussed at the seminar tables included Michael Mumper, associate provost for graduate studies, Ingram, Bloomfield, Rankin, Bernt, Ostermann, Descutner, Li, Gradin, Conley, Rota and DeWert.

Reporters who summarized the deliberations of the various tables to the assembly as a whole at the end of the symposium were Dee Dee Riffe, assistant dean of the College of Communication; Duncan Brown, chair of the Graduate Council and associate professor of telecommunications; Charles McWeeny, dean of the College of Fine Arts;  Dennis Irwin, dean of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology; Julia Zimmerman, dean of university libraries; and Tom Scanlan, Curriculum Committee chair and associate professor of English. Ogles, Neiman, Shepherd, Lewis, Fidler, Brose, McDaniel, Williford, Sherman and Davis also acted as reporters.

Suggestions from this symposium will be turned over to the implementation teams to be considered as they make plans for their final reports.

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Media Contact: Media Specialist Jack Jeffery, (740) 597-1793 or jefferyj@ohio.edu

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