Public Purpose Magazine, Spring 2019
2019 Spring Public Purpose - cover

Table of Contents

Between the LinesLeadership & Listening: Learning from Presidential ColleaguesBy Jennifer Walpole

AASCU has long demonstrated its commitment to ensuring that our members—the presidents and chancellors of America’s great state colleges and universities and their teams—have the resources they need to be successful leaders. From our leadership development programs, such as the New Presidents Academy and the Millennium Leadership Initiative, to the myriad professional development opportunities we offer, including programming at our conferences, webinars and publications, we’re committed to providing the guidance and tools our members need to excel in their roles. 

We know strong leaders learn and grow by listening to other leaders. So in each issue of this magazine, we make sure to include a host of presidential voices—be it in our feature articles or in our best practices section. At the heart of this publication is the presidential voice, and we always seek to share ideas, advice and wisdom from your presidential colleagues. 

In this issue, author Kenya McCullum asked former presidents of AASCU institutions to share their experiences on what leadership means to them. This article, “The Anatomy of Leadership,” starts on page 11, and is a great read for leaders in any stage of the presidency. 

We are pleased to share several commentaries by our member presidents in this issue. Walter V. Wendler, president of West Texas A&M University, discusses “Regionally Responsive Universities” beginning on page 24. And starting on page 29, you’ll find our Presidents and Practices section with columns from Winthrop University (S.C.) President Daniel F. Mahony and Paul Beran, executive director of the South Dakota Higher Education Board of Regents. 

Finally, I’d be remiss to not draw your attention to a critical commentary on diversity in higher education, written by Katricia G. Pierson, president of Oklahoma’s East Central University. Pierson writes, “The university president … can be a touchstone for influencing an institution’s focus on diversity,” and that when we diversify our employees, we help students and the communities we serve. 

A Heart for Rural AmericaHow Higher Education Supports America’s Smaller CommunitiesBy Karen Doss Bowman

Amanda Courtois, a senior at Eastern Oregon University (EOU) based in La Grande, Ore., is passionate about wide open spaces. Hailing from small, rural Weiser, Idaho, Courtois loves being outdoors and taking advantage of the natural resources near her home. She readily shares that enthusiasm with others, but she’s also eager to learn what life is like for city dwellers. 

In September, Courtois participated in the Urban-Rural Ambassadors Institute, a collaborative between EOU and Portland State University (PSU) designed to break down the barriers between rural and urban communities to help students discover common ground. The six-credit-hour course is focused on the principles and methods of collaboration that could provide a foundation for finding creative solutions to the challenges facing vastly different regions within the state. 

China Policy in FluxFrom trade tariffs to restrictions on immigration, government policies may affect the flow of Chinese students and scholars to U.S. colleges and universities. How should AASCU institutions react?By Stephen G. Pelletier
Tariffs imposed as part of the escalating trade war between China and the United States mean that American consumers will likely pay more for goods such as Chinese-made furniture and appliances. But for colleges and universities, rising tensions between Washington and Beijing might have deeper consequences than just higher prices for dorm-room desks. The Trump administration’s evident animosity toward China could reduce the flow of Chinese students and scholars to this country. Press reports indicate that in a spring meeting at the Oval Office, Stephen Miller, an immigration hardliner and advisor to the president, argued for a complete ban on Chinese student visas, alleged to hurt elite institutions that have been critical of the administration. The proposal was rejected when the U.S. ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, opposed it by pointing to how widespread Chinese student enrollment is at institutions across the country.

The Anatomy of LeadershipBy Kenya McCullum
From the financial to the societal to the interpersonal, new university presidents have to face many challenges as they grow into their role. Whether they have come into a university setting from another career path or spent their entire working life in academia, all presidents have something to learn about being a strong leader to best serve their campus community. To help provide the guidance these new presidents need, we asked former presidents at AASCU institutions to share their experiences and offer insights on what college leadership means to them.

LIFE LESSONS: the presidency with a small ‘p’This speech is an excerpt from President Eisler’s lecture at AASCU’s 2018 Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 30. A tradition at the AASCU Annual Meeting for more than 30 years, the President-to-Presidents lecture is a signal honor bestowed by the AASCU Board of Directors on one of its colleagues.By David L. Eisler

As we share this time together, I encourage you to reflect on your own presidency. I think back to our inauguration, when we included a composition by composer Bill Douglas, “I Shall Not Live in Vain,” based on a poem by Emily Dickinson: 

If I can stop one heart from breaking, 
I shall not live in vain; 
If I can ease one life the aching, 
Or cool one pain, 
Or help one fainting robin 
Unto his nest again, 
I shall not live in vain.

My intent was to emphasize the importance of encouraging the success of every student. Little did I understand that in some of the challenges a president can encounter, sometimes the heart one saves from breaking is your own. 

2018 Excellence and Innovations Award Winners

Now in its fifth year, the Excellence and Innovation Awards honor AASCU member institutions for excellence and innovation in several major areas of campus life and leadership: regional and economic development, student success and college completion, sustainability and sustainable development, teacher education, international education, and leadership development and diversity. 

“These institutions demonstrate the commitment of America’s state colleges and universities to Deliver America’s Promise by championing innovation, prioritizing student success, and providing critical contributions to the economic and civic progress of their communities,” said AASCU President Dr. Mildred García. “We are privileged to honor programs that can serve as an inspiration to all of higher education.” 

The awards were presented Oct. 28 at the opening session of AASCU’s Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. 

The New VSABrought to you by AASCU & APLU

In a climate where state funding is declining and public trust is waning, higher education institutions have a growing need to use benchmarking data for institutional planning and accountability and to produce evidence that demonstrates the value of higher education to society and key stakeholders. In this age of big data and analytics, there is an abundant amount of higher education data that can be used to gauge national trends within the industry and amongst peers so that institutions can create and implement targeted strategic initiatives to improve student success and to meet institutional goals. 

Nationally, there are numerous metrics that demonstrate institutional effectiveness and show progress on student success—for instance, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) retention and graduation rates, IPEDS outcome measures, and the Student Achievement Measure (SAM). While there is no shortage of reporting requirements, missing from this framework are benchmarking data and standardized metrics. While IPEDS provides some data for comparison purposes, these data have limitations and the tools available for institutions to use are not utilitarian. 

Rethinking Federal Student AidBattling Stagnant Wages and Economic Inequality to Keep Higher Education AccessibleBy Barmak Nassirian

The basic framework for federal student aid programs, authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act, were devised in the Education Amendments of 1972. That year, the average hourly earnings for non-management private-sector workers in the United States peaked at $4.03—equivalent to $23.68 in 2018 inflation-adjusted dollars—a figure that has not been surpassed in the ensuing 45 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Unfortunately, continuously rising college tuition prices stand in stark contrast to this stagnant wage growth and the precarious equilibrium between household earnings and expenses. To ensure higher education remains accessible, Congress needs to reassess how federal dollars are distributed, including how these resources serve families with the most need.

Regionally Responsive UniversitiesBy Walter V. Wendler

There are 66 high schools in the Texas Panhandle. I endeavored to visit every one of them as West Texas A&M University’s (WTAMU) freshman president in the spring of 2017. The region is the size of West Virginia, sparsely populated like so much of the Great Plains; the Panhandle is home to only a few larger school districts near Amarillo and Canyon. The balance is a constellation of smaller beacons that light a thinly settled world. Too frequently, regional institutions and their metropolitan counterparts monolithically assume that students are students. Geography is of little consequence. 

Not true: not in West Texas, not anywhere. 

I initiated this six-months-into-the-job-10,000-mile-top-26-county tour of Texas to understand how a regional university should serve its people. 

Higher Education Leaders Gather at Annual Meeting
Over 280 presidents and chancellors, their spouses/partners, and other higher education leaders flocked to Washington, D.C., in October for AASCU’s Annual Meeting. This year’s theme, “Championing State Colleges and Universities: Our Role in Delivering America’s Promise,” focused on the commitment of public higher education institutions to access, opportunity, quality and affordability. With the ever-changing public perception of higher education, and the perpetual question of the value of a college degree, attendees gathered to define and advance their collective mission to deliver America’s promise of opportunity for all. 

NUMBERS GAME: Showing the Value of a Bachelor's DegreeBy Victoria Markovitz

State colleges and universities (SCUs) face a common challenge: proving the value of a bachelor's degree. 

Over 60 percent of Americans say higher education is going in the wrong direction, including almost three-quarters (73 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents and just over half (52 percent) of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents, a July 2018 Pew Research Center survey found. High tuition and students not getting the workplace skills they need were the top reasons the respondents stated for their attitudes. 

However, other studies show that SCUs provide an affordable education, and that those with bachelor’s degrees are doing better than ever before in the job market and workplace. 

In-state tuition for public four-year institutions remained the most affordable option for a four-year degree from 2017-18, according to Trends in College Pricing 2017 by the College Board. And numerous studies have shown that earning a bachelor’s degree leads to better-quality jobs, higher-paying jobs, higher levels of employment, higher confidence levels in job stability, and other benefits. 

Presidents & Practices [1]Winthrop Models Diversity Efforts for a Southern Public InstitutionBy Daniel F. Mahony

I believe organizations and their leaders have the best chance of creating lasting success when surrounded by those with diverse experiences and perspectives. Otherwise, they will be more likely to make mistakes due to the limitations that arise from receiving advice only from those with similar backgrounds. 

As a college dean and now regional university president in South Carolina, I have made it a priority to focus on recruiting diverse faculty and administrators because of the immense value they bring to the campus. Exposing our students to a wide range of faculty and staff mentors will better prepare them for life after college. Learning to live and work with people of various cultures is critical for today’s college students, and we have made that expectation an important part of the Winthrop experience. 

With that in mind, Winthrop’s strategic plan includes increasing the hiring of people of color in professional and managerial-level positions. Members of our Board of Trustees also support infusing diversity and inclusion efforts into every aspect of campus life. 

Presidents & Practices [2]Leadership Potential Not the Same as Academic PotentialBy Paul B. Beran

Leadership is one of the most difficult topics to teach. Not coincidentally, it’s also one of the most important. No matter the field, nearly every graduate will be challenged to step into a leadership role during their career, whether it be supervising employees or leading a change initiative. 

When I became chancellor at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith (UAFS) 12 years ago, I wanted to prioritize integrating leadership into the university, but I did not want to do it from the traditional academic approach. One of the faults of scholarship is that it’s an inch wide and a mile deep. The qualities and traits most cherished in leaders—strong decision-making, creativity, innovation and direct communication—aren’t always qualities rewarded in academic settings. 

One of our most sought-after scholarships at UAFS is the Chancellor’s Leadership Council (CLC) program. Each class of students enrolls in a three-hour leadership course that I teach the fall semester of their freshman year that includes a high expectation of campus involvement. 

Currents & Transitions

EndSightsAttaining a Diverse Campus Requires Intentional, Thoughtful ActionBy Katricia G. Pierson
East Central University (Okla.), like many other regional universities across the nation, has had statements about diversity and inclusion in its mission statement, priorities and values for many years. We believe we embrace all cultures, and we are open and welcoming to everyone. However, our demographics have not changed much over the years. 

We see articles in higher education media on the benefits of having a diverse faculty, staff and student body. We know that a diverse faculty and staff better prepare students for entering a diverse labor market; diverse teams have greater potential for innovation; and diverse employees are better able to recruit and retain students. The university president, as I have learned after being one for the past 18 months, can be a touchstone for influencing an institution’s focus on diversity.