Notes From This Year’s First Provost Forum

Laurie Quinn met with faculty on August 20 for her first Provost’s Forum. Here are her notes from that meeting. (Not for distribution without permission)

I have sent you a three-question email survey. The questions are: (1) What aspect of the institution are you most proud of as a Champlain faculty member? (2) What do you recommend as my top priority? (3) President Laackman wants your ideas and suggestions for his inauguration address in October. In the spirit of “Dreaming Big,” please share what you, in your role as a faculty member, hope to hear in that speech.

A Provost is a proud member of two key groups within a college. First, your group: faculty and those focused on teaching and learning. Second, senior leadership/the Cabinet. This role is effective only with both of these memberships in play and top of mind. My charge is to represent both of those groups to one another, and to ensure that academic priorities are substantively the college’s priorities.

Some early impressions/observations/questions, and emerging priorities.

  • You’re hardworking.
  • You take justified pride in distinguished areas.
  • You might have some blurred boundaries for roles, including faculty roles, that come with rapid change and growth; I think defining roles for faculty and for Deans is progressing, but still needs our attention.
  • I have questions about our teaching and learning infrastructure: are we stable in our human capital? Are we diversified enough in our knowledge of Champlain? Do we have the technology and infrastructure to enable greatness in teaching and learning, and to reward it?
  • I’m not sure we are yet taking advantage of all the organizational talent that exists here. I will tell you that student life, enrollment management, HR and OD, finance, and other key areas are managed and led at a level of experience and quality that makes us institutionally a strong place. I view it as a key part of my role to make those strategic connections among all the component parts of Champlain, and to do it as a Chief Academic Officer, using that term very intentionally to echo my comments about the two teams on which I serve. My other observation is that fellow members of the leadership team are ready and willing to hear from me as their colleague and as Champlain’s Provost what they may still need to learn about the teaching and learning realm that is our purview and is the heart of any college. My Cabinet colleagues know that; our President knows that.
  • I have huge regard for the college’s many accomplishments, but I will offer some constructive feedback that has to do with what colleges face at this historical moment. I think maybe Champlain is a little too comfortable about its “specialness,” not because it isn’t special, but because of what we are up against. Colleges are closing; we see it already. Public faith in higher education is slipping. Some colleges have fiscal models that are radically misaligned to reality. Way too many students have debt and no degree.
  • And by the way, the traditional undergrad version of higher ed with a college campus and a group of 18-22 year olds is the minority configuration, even though we still act far too often like it’s the center of the universe.
  • There’s a big storm out there, and I will insist that we as a community keep a watchful eye, respond wisely and well, and be ready so that Champlain comes through shining. I came here because I believe we can do that, but we can’t do that without understanding the environment of higher education.

What do I hope for from you as a faculty/what do I believe?

  • I take very seriously my responsibility to represent you at the leadership and Board levels. I also promise you that, through processes we agree on, I will ask you how best to do that work of representation.
  • I believe that teaching is an ethical enterprise, that an engaged and brilliant faculty will have the power to shape individuals, families, communities, industries, and countries. I hope you know that already; I hope that’s why you’re here.
  • I ask you to be intellectually curious, and to model bravely the persistence, radical connection-making among ideas, and humility of people who value the life of the mind as well as the world of activity. We can literally demonstrate every day in this work that thinking, questioning, and wondering are necessary to living life well. That is a huge privilege, and not to be squandered. Let’s help each other remember that.
  • Let’s be more than civil in this community; let’s be kind. Within honest communities and intellectual fierceness, kindness does have a place.
  • I ask you to remember the dignity of your work and the privilege of an academic community that isn’t shut down by open discussion. As we discuss tough issues like what constitutes fair compensation, what do governance and transparency really look like, and how will we set direction without endless time and money, it’s too easy to lose our way. I promise you that I will respect those issues and their seriousness but I refuse to lose my sense of humor; I refuse forget that these are still first-world problems; I think we should all act like grown-ups; and I know that we can find an openly acknowledged version of a common truth that feels fair and is genuine.

I love working here already; I am sincerely humbled to be in company with a faculty as talented as Champlain’s, and I would love to hear your questions and comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *