A Turning Point For Higher Education

By: Stephanie Adomavicius
Director of Communications and Events, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

A crisis can be defined as “an unstable or crucial time in which a decisive change is impending” (Merriam-Webster). In this case, companies and organizations, as well as political and government figures, are encouraged to be as prepared as possible by having a trained spokesperson appointed, a communications plan ready to roll out and a detailed course of action. A crisis can also be described as a turning point for better or worse. It can be a defining moment for an organization where its leaders take control of the situation and shine, thus allowing positive, unplanned awareness to be spread, or conversely, it can be the downfall of a brand name. Yet, no matter how prepared and groomed an organization may be, sometimes it is difficult to anticipate the worst case scenario.

As a communications professional, I’ve been watching the coronavirus pandemic play out with a watchful eye, remembering all the important lessons that were instilled in me during my graduate courses; the importance of having a crisis communications plan, the impact of being transparent and accountable and the power of knowing your audience. While every crisis can be a learning opportunity for what not to do, this health crisis has brought certain issues to the forefront and has cast them center stage while the world is watching; one of which is higher education and topics of teaching and learning. Although it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, only seeing the “what could have been” for the spring semester and focusing on all the challenges everyone is experiencing while social distancing, I for one choose not to go down that path and see this as a turning point for higher education.

The ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative calls upon participants in the Reading Group and the Incubator to create an innovative and connected culture at Fordham, equipped to reimagine the Ignatian University for the 21st Century, and it aims to prepare faculty, staff, students, and community members for “a world in flux.” A world in flux….this statement has never been as applicable and as relevant as it is today. Now more than ever those in higher education – administrators, faculty and students – need to approach each challenge as an opportunity, each task with an innovative eye and each question with an inquisitive and creative mindset. In this case, we all have become true participants of the ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative.

Furthermore, this health crisis has thrown the laggards and those slow to adapt new methodologies into the deep end of the technology and innovation pool. Is it a scary feeling? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? Of course and this is okay. However, as we are several weeks into this virtual setting, some faculty, administrators and students are starting to catch their breath, and are finding different ways to keep themselves afloat, as they are juggling new responsibilities in different locations around the world. It can then be argued that each member of the Fordham community is operating his/her own authentic Incubator/maker lab space, conceptualizing ideas revolving around the accessibility and the operation of technology, novel ideas on how to study, learn new material, and complete assignments, and even groundbreaking ways to complete processes and deadlines within departments that may have been paper-based. We are all learning from each other and adjusting, which is a beautiful thing, and the answers to many complex and important questions will soon reveal and uncover themselves down the line. In my opinion, some questions include:

  • How will the issue of tuition be addressed as the unemployment rate remains high?
  • How has the college experience shifted?
  • Will students want to stay closer to home?
  • How do we define a classroom?
  • Will all classes have a greater online component going forward?
  • How can we further assist students with disabilities and make things more accessible in an online format?
  • How will degree requirements need to be adjusted for undergraduate and graduate programs, and do older requirements even apply moving forward in this new world?
  • How will admission requirements adjust for incoming students?
  • How will international student enrollment differ?

We all hold the answers to some of these questions, and as the Fordham community continues to grow together during this turbulent time, sharing feedback and being there for one another, we are all making a difference and are altering the course of higher education one block at a time; the ultimate goal of the ReIMAGINE Higher Education Initiative.

In conclusion, putting both my communications and higher education leader hat on, watching the Fordham community come together and rise to the challenge during this health crisis has been a humbling and inspiring presentation filled with empathy, trust and kindness. While this is no doubt an emotionally grueling and unprecedented time in our personal and professional lives, we need to count our blessings and embrace the resilient, supportive community that Fordham is comprised of. Although some believe this new normal will forever change the way the world interacts and operates, I think it will make us more appreciative and grateful for the people and resources that we have, while simultaneously molding each of us to think big and be bold. This is our turning point in higher education. Let’s embrace our moment and welcome it.

Stay well and be safe!

Tradition, Progress, and Passion

By: David Swinarski, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

I joined the Fordham faculty nine years ago, and I am continually reminded of how fortunate I am to be a part of this team of passionate educators.

There is a cliché that professors only care about their research and do not care about their teaching. That cliché is definitely not true at Fordham. Here, I work alongside colleagues who genuinely care about their students. I am proud of the amazing work they do, and it energizes me to give my all, too.

Tradition plays a large role in both the guiding philosophy of universities and our day-to-day operations. It would be easy to view an initiative like Reimagining Higher Education as a threat to tradition. But I think it’s helpful if we can avoid dwelling on the conflict between tradition and progress. When you care about students as much as we do, it is natural to want them to get the best education possible, and therefore to continually ask what is working, and what is not. On the one hand, who is flourishing at our university as we currently operate, and what traditions support their success and should be cherished? While on the other hand, who is struggling, whom have we excluded altogether, and in what ways do our traditions create unintentional barriers to our students’ success? 

I believe that we have something amazingly valuable to offer students. I would not be a faculty member if I did not feel this way. Yet, I also want that gift to be available to all, and the crisis of affordability and the persistent issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education challenge me to question many assumptions that I previously took for granted. I find comfort in an odd way in Cathy Davidson’s book, The New Education, which convincingly argues that many of the problems U.S. contemporary universities face, arise because our universities were designed with other issues in mind. This gives me hope that when we bring all of these issues into view, we can redesign our practices in a way that both continues the very best of what we have to offer, while addressing these very real needs.

The Brainstorming Phase

By: Anne Fernald, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Special Advisor to the Provost for Faculty Development

The Incubator Group of the ReImagining Higher Education Grant meets every week. We are 25 people–undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, and community members: a very diverse group, united in our enthusiasm for making change. 

For our first few weeks, we have been getting to know each other through a series of brainstorming exercises. Every week, we begin with a reading: taking turns, participants bring in a short text that inspires their thinking and we listen and doodle in our composition notebooks. This helps us leave our day behind and enter the space ready to think creatively together.

At our first brainstorming session, following an activity that the Provost led with the Deans earlier this year, we divided into four groups and brainstormed daunting problems likely to be facing higher education, New York City, our county, and our world in the coming decade. We talked about climate change, college accessibility, and the role of the liberal arts in a changing workplace among many other issues. These were daunting problems indeed! 

But they became the fodder for the following week’s activity where we played a kind of grant proposal SNAP!–where we randomly matched daunting problems with modes for solving them. The top twenty daunting problems on one deck of cards and twenty different modes universities have for addressing problems on the other (for example, research project, conference, performance, or podcast). Some combinations were ridiculous–others surprisingly apt. After a few rounds at random, each group came up with four promising approaches to solving four daunting problems. That led us to a list of twenty-one (21!–one group is made up of overachievers!). 

Then, we took the top ten of these the following week and dove a bit more deeply into the process of beginning to develop a project, dividing into groups and taking ten minutes to develop an approach and then traveling around, listening, learning, and refining our approaches.

Amidst all this collective work, we have also been mindful to take time each week to reflect and discuss what our individual goals are: why are we each here? What do we hope to learn and contribute? As we head into our next phase, where we will divide into five teams and work together on five new grant proposals for transformative change in higher education, we hope that this groundwork of goal-setting, team-building, and brainstorming will have been good preparation.

An Invitation Into A Community

By: Kendra Dunbar
Assistant Director for Equity and Inclusion
Office of the Chief Diversity Officer

How was this institution built? Who did the building? Who does it serve?  What is its purpose? What are the goals? Who else might it serve if values were re-centered in all of its praxis or policies? What is our praxis? What could our praxis be? How would that change who we are, how we function, or what impact we could have?  

For over 20 years I have been walking alongside communities, institutions, organizations, and government and NGO leadership inviting them to reconsider what is and engage what could be. In whatever form the context or country I am working requires human rights, social justice, reconciliation, equity, and/or participatory processes have been at the center of my work. Imagination, creativity, and the messiness of idea construction across sectors, job functions, departments, interests, and personal identities are primary resources and tools in that creation of another way.  

I was drawn to this project because it is an invitation into a community – a community of thinkers and builders that want to ask the questions, exchange ideas, iterate concepts, policy, and praxis, and take the risk to propose new ways of being as a university community. Many of the ideas, proposals, and suggestions that surface in our time together will not lead directly to a change in policy or praxis; however opening ourselves to the creative engagement of all of the ideas, questions, proposals, and suggestions are needed in effective and equitable institutional growth. And that prospect excites me.

Inspired and Driven

By: Roxana Callejo Garcia
Associate VP, Strategic Planning and Innovation
Fordham IT

Why I’ve chosen to give my time and energy to this exciting experiment named “Reimage Higher Ed at Fordham.”

First and foremost, it’s because of the people leading the effort, Eva Badowska and Anne Fernald; two women I have come to hold in very high esteem. They are welcoming, collaborative, honest and open and most importantly, lots of fun to be around! It is my privilege and honor to work beside them. “Who” I work with is as important to me as what I work on.

Virtually all believe that education lifts us up to be our best selves at home and in our communities, yet how education is delivered can stand in the way for many who struggle to learn in traditional settings. Here’s where I want to make a difference. Maria Montessori and St Ignatius of Loyola both understood that the student should be at the center of education. Believing that each student possesses unique talents that simply need to be coaxed into existence by skilled and loving guides. These guides or teachers, facilitate the student’s emergence into an adult who understands themselves and the world around them.  This is where I fell hopelessly in love with education and became passionate about affecting change. I have not had an outlet for this passion, until now. 

Like our Reading and Incubator group participants, I’m thrilled that my deep interests intersect directly with the focus of this initiative. Once again, it is my privilege and honor to work beside so many people who are all driven to understand the challenges in front of us and to begin to hack away at opportunities for real and impactful change!

It’s Okay To Get Messy

By: Anne Fernald, Ph.D.
Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
Special Advisor to the Provost for Faculty Development

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. Nor can I remember a time when I didn’t watch teachers and leaders, wondering why they asked us to do this activity, not that one, why they seated us in a circle rather than rows. Figuring out the reason behind the lesson has assuaged my boredom in many a dull class. It’s also fired me up about talking with teachers about how to make education better.

When I was five, my mom took me down to the little art school at the end of the block for Saturday art classes. I got to wear my Osh Kosh overalls and it was ok to get messy. My teacher, Miss Cook, was beautiful, with a long red ponytail. When there was an exhibition at the end of the semester for all the students—my little school was also a very small art college—the children’s art hung in the front room of the gallery. My dinosaur was on the wall, but it was upside down! Miss Cook just smiled and said, “That’s ok honey. It’s so beautiful, it looks just as good this way.” And even though part of me knew that was a fib, I could feel her kindness down to my soul.

This project combines that fire for making teaching better, messiness, and kindness in ways that portend so much joy, so much promise for the right kind of change, how could I not throw myself into it?

Why ReImagine?

By: Eva Badowska, Ph.D.
Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Associate VP, Arts and Sciences

For me, it’s really simple: I started this initiative on reimagining higher education because I believe that higher education transforms lives. It had transformed mine. Higher education gave me freedom (of thought and self-determination), perhaps even freedom of country and belonging. And it gave me fulfillment, as I can devote my life’s work to what is meaningful to me. So, for me, it’s not about change for the sake of change or for the sake of fashion (innovation is fashionable). It is about figuring out what big transformations or small adjustments we need to make so that we can responsively and responsibly serve future generations of students in the context of a fluid, dynamic world of knowledge and work. It’s about making sure that our institutions continue to provide the opportunity of that same freedom and fulfillment to the next generation.

As an immigrant and someone who has lived her entire adult life in an adopted language, I don’t find it particularly difficult to accept that institutional and cultural structures should evolve, even quite radically. If anything, I get impatient when they irrationally fail to adjust to changing circumstances. My favorite sentence is: “I have a dream” (Martin Luther King, Jr.). As an academic dean, I often find myself being called upon to “lead change,” and I equally as often find myself failing (for each success you hear about, you can be sure I failed ten times behind the scenes). I am, therefore, very interested in how change can happen in a complex institution such as “the university.” The university as an institution has a venerable history. As an institution, the university is built to support the highest motives, including the advancement of humanity and the betterment of society. But as any institution, it tends to be slow-moving and bureaucratically entrenched. If my failures have taught me anything, it is that change cannot happen by fiat or by charisma or by pleading, and certainly not by imposition; lasting change typically grows out gradually from a movement that involves the entire community and many small acts. This is what this initiative is about: it is an effort to create a community of change-makers who share the same ethical commitment to the value of education in today’s world. It is nothing more and nothing less than that.