As the chief
architect of the Universitys Academic Plan, Vice Chancellor
and Provost Deborah A. Freund wants to see that students are prepared
for the future. The purpose of the Academic Plan, Freund
says, is to make sure each student who comes to Syracuse University
is offered every opportunity to become a truly successful citizen
of the world. As lofty a goal as that may sound, the route
to academic excellence that is charted in the plan is down to earth,
well marked, and, to some degree, already well traveled at Syracuse.
Political science professor Dan Holliman, who has worked closely
with the vice chancellor, points out that the plans basic
strategy is to foster logical extensions of Syracuses successes.
It is not our intention to superimpose abstract schemes on
the curriculum, he says. We made an inventory of the
strengths that the University has already demonstrated, and then
matched the most relevant of these to the demands made of a contemporary
A study of SUs
132-year track record as an institution of higher education led
the dozens of faculty, students, and administrators who contributed
to the writing of the plan to reach consensus on a series of distinctive
strengths that have developed on the Syracuse campus. Briefly stated,
the four signature strengths highlighted in the plan
are these: an integration of theory and practice that recognizes
both as harmonious complements in the learning process;
a blending of traditional liberal arts studies with contemporary
professional studies in programs that exposes students to the world
of ideas without ignoring their career aspirations;
a commitment to offering students a rich variety of international
and culturally inclusive perspectives for the purpose of facilitating
greater range in their thinking and deeper understanding in their
human relationships; and
an emphasis on writing as a primary form of personal expression,
social articulation, and professional communication.
These strengths, which have developed separately and to different
degrees at SUs constituent schools and colleges, will serve
as models for crafting educational signature experiences
that any student coming to Syracuse can expect to have. We
have negotiated a broad consensual statement of what we believe
is required to give students a superior education, and we have described
an institutional model by which Syracuse can deliver it, Freund
says. There will be no micromanaging of the Academic Plan.
It is up to every college, school, department, and program to make
good on the educational experiences put forth by the plan, each
in a way that is organic to the particulars of its discipline.
The four signature
experiences described in the plan will not be realized in a set
of uniform required courses, nor are they meant to lead students
away from their major concentrations or resolute interests. It
is the facultys responsibility to shape the curriculum,
Holliman says. The Academic Plan offers a set of heuristic
principles, or general points of guidance, that is designed to give
a distinct and consistent character to a Syracuse education that
transcends specialization without diluting it.
is being asked to offer its students an education broad enough to
contain all four kinds of experience without any sacrifice of depth
or rigor in its individual subject matter. Accomplishing this presents
a set of distinct challenges to every branch of knowledge studied
at the University. At this early point in the implementation of
the Academic Plan, many of the best minds on the Hill are wrestling
with these and similar questions.
and Practice: Overcoming Insularity
Pamela Heintz, director of SUs Center for Public and Community
Service (CPCS), is working hard to make the Academic Plans
theory and practice component a vital force in the education of
Syracuse students. Her office, located in the Schine Student Center,
is the campus nexus of an educational process known as service
learning. CPCS matches the academic, personal, and career
interests of thousands of SU students with the needs of scores of
nonprofit and public organizations providing crucial services to
people in the Syracuse area. We have to stop thinking of higher
education as no more than an expert filling up the empty head of
a student, Heintz says. Our information tells us that
we learn best by doing, and that means following up classroom theory
with active application. In service learning we enhance coursework
by giving learning realistic dimensions. Architecture students and
their professors are working with neighbors to design a new park.
Literature students are reading stories to children who have never
been read to. Students with advanced knowledge of computing are
learning new things about computersand themselvesas
they give people their first lessons at the keyboard. As you can
see, service learning is a lot more than feel-good volunteerismthough
heaven knows I have nothing against that.
of theory and practice promoted by CPCS contains a social dimension
that is crucial to education. The contacts that students make in
service learning situations tend to lead them across the cultural
barriers of class, race, religion, and even personal taste. Were
offering students experiences that can help them overcome the serious
educational disadvantages of insularity, Heintz says.
School of Information
Studies Dean Raymond von Dran has taken an active role in marrying
theory and practice within the more traditional boundaries of his
schools curriculum. Our Community Information Technology
Institute (CITI) helps transfer new technologies to not-for-profit
institutions, he says. For one recent CITI project, students,
working for credit, created a database that links the United Ways
contributions to various charities to outcomes. As a result,
United Way can identify the programs that are benefiting the most
people, and use this information in planning future contributions,
von Dran says.
Arts and Professional Studies: Well-Rounded Citizens
When some college students talk to their families about what they
are studying, the conversation can end with a parent saying, That
all sounds very interesting. But will it help you get a job?
In other cases it can end with, That all sounds very practical.
But are you sure youre getting an education?
Plan finds ample evidence in SUs own history that liberal
arts studies and career preparation can be treated as two elements
of a single quality education, rather than competitors fighting
for the turf of the undergraduate mind. The Universitys decentralized
collegiate structure fosters this kind of relationship by allowing
students to focus on their professional aspirations, while at the
same time requiring them to exploit the rest of the Universitys
resources. The S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, which
attracts students from all over the world, is a model for this.
Approximately 75 percent of a Newhouse undergraduates courses
must be taken in schools and departments elsewhere on campus. Moreover,
a remarkable number of Newhouse students go further in ensuring
themselves a well-rounded education by completing dual concentrations.
According to Rosanna Grassi, the schools associate dean for
student affairs, In 2001, we had 1,815 undergraduates with
concentrations in Newhouse departments. Of these, 822 were dual
majors, with a majority of them taking their second concentration
in the College of Arts and Sciences.
professor Donald Carr describes a similar spirit at the College
of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), whose students, in many cases,
have chosen Syracuse over small art colleges. We want our
students to take advantageto embracethe fact that they
are at a major research university, he says. We ask
that they take introductory courses in philosophy and psychology.
We actually encourage them to take a business class. All these things
will serve them well.
professor Christopher Gray, speech communication professor Amos
Kiewe, and civil engineering professor Samuel Clemence team-teach
VPAs interdisciplinary Synergy Laboratory, a course
in which students of various majors engage in cross-disciplinary
dialogues on such phenomena as the Carrier Dome and DestiNY U.S.A.,
a multipurpose commercial development planned for Syracuse. Carr
particularly enjoys the opportunities that the course creates for
students to discover the value of other disciplines. For example,
it comes as something of a revelation to some of the visually oriented
design students when they learn from the speech communication students
that almost any design project they hope to see realized must begin
as words to communicate their intentions, he says.
and Inclusion: Personally Global
In a speech introducing the Academic Plan, Vice Chancellor Freund
told the faculty that internationalization of our curriculum
is vital in preparing our students for the future. We must infuse
international concerns throughout the curriculum in all disciplines
and programs so that students are exposed to the ideas and challenges
of the world. She went on to cite that some 20 percent of
Syracuse students (graduate and undergraduate) take at least one
semester abroad in an educational exchange program. Though this
ratio is already strong in comparison with similar universities,
Freund challenged faculty and administrators to raise the figure
to 35 percent, noting that increased financial support for students
would be a salient factor.
Division of International Programs Abroad (DIPA), the University
operates programs in Hong Kong, London, Strasbourg, Florence, and
Madrid. (The Harare, Zimbabwe, program is temporarily suspended
because of political uncertainties.) Many SU students also take
advantage of exchange programs run by other universities. This
has been a year of gathering information and having conversations
about new directions, says Jon Booth, deputy director of DIPA.
There is no question that the 9/11 tragedy was a general setback
to international education. But we are regaining momentum and moving
toward the creation of new programs and affiliations that will make
studying abroad educationally attractive for students not traditionally
inclined toward it.
may find international educational experiences that dont require
an entire semester abroad. During spring break 2003, professors
Gerald Greenberg (Russian and linguistics) and Erika Haber (Russian
literature and language) will lead a group of SU students to Russia
for Cultural St. Petersburg, a one-week trip/one-credit
course on the history and culture of the city. Future spring-break
trips to exciting destinations are planned. Other students may find
international experiences through internships at the New York offices
of multinational and foreign-held companies. Were taking
the long view on this, Booth says. Were collaborating
with each dean and each department to see what makes sense and how
we can include the underserved.
Burak, director of the Lillian and Emanuel Slutzker Center for International
Services, points out that international education involves not only
exporting students, but importing them as
well. Approximately 400 international graduate students serve
SU as teaching, graduate, and research assistants each year, influencing
students and creating a global atmosphere at SU, she says.
We have more than 2,000 international students on campus in
2002-03. They major in every academic college and school and participate
in activities all over campus.
Clarity and Self-Discovery
Writing endures as the single most important skill necessary for
academic success, and the debate over how to teach it endures as
one of the thorniest on any American campus. A big part of the problem
is that while the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard,
seems simple enough to define, writing has so many functions that
it cannot be covered in a single discipline. This is reflected in
the fact that writing is taught across at least three academic lines
at SU: the Writing Program, which offers a variety of expository
writing courses, including freshman writing; the English departments
Creative Writing Program, which offers courses in fiction and poetry
writing; and the Newhouse School, which offers courses in journalistic
writing and scriptwriting. VPAs speech communication department,
while not officially listing writing classes of its own, offers
courses in such communication techniques as persuasion and argumentation,
which are essential to many forms of writing.
chair Becky Howard explains one of the disciplinary distinctions
between the kinds of writing instruction found at SU: In communications,
one is dealing with presenting and developing knowledge that one
already has. Its the writing you do once you have things figured
out. Writing instruction in our program encompasses that, but it
includes other things as well. Writing can be an act of discovering
complexity, or a way of discovering points of view other than ones
own. Writing for us is a way of learning.
While the Writing
Program is committed to offering students experiences in the process
of writing, other opportunities for instruction on campus put greater
emphasis on the creation of a writing product. We hear from
employers within the media all the time that the single most important
skill our graduates can bring to them is the ability to write,
says David Rubin, dean of the Newhouse School. We know our
students will be doing all kinds of writing, all the time: news
stories, film scripts, speeches, press releases, pitch letters,
ad copy, memoranda, and much more. Supervisors count on young employees
who can do these things. If they cannot, they are at a distinct
disadvantage in comparison with those who can.
professor Kendall R. Phillips adds concern for yet another type
of writing experience. My own interest is in recognizing the
civic or democratic function of writing, he says. We
live in an age when democratic discourse takes place through writing
[letters to editors, postings on web sites, listservs, etc.]. So,
for me, an aspect of writing competency that should not be ignored
involves a broader sense of how to engage in democratic deliberation
and dissent through persuasive argument, often done through the
medium of writing.
As members of
the Academic Plans Signature Committee on Writing, Howard,
Rubin, and Phillips agree that new opportunities and emphases will
ensure that writing becomes, as Phillips puts it, a more central
part of our academic culture. We have extraordinary
writers and teachers of writing in so many places on campus,
Freund says. The key will be to use our strengths to make
writing a central part of our students lives by expanding
the opportunities for them to writein and out of the classroom.
Universities have a reputation for reluctance when it comes to institutional
change, and they appear all the slower in the context of an age
when corporations and even nation-states seem to restructure themselves
overnight. But the quality of the progress that Freund has seen
has made her optimistic. I know we have the talent on this
campus to reach our goal of full opportunity for all students in
all four signatures, Freund says. I also know skepticism
is a distinguishing feature of any good faculty and, not surprisingly,
there is still some will-building to be done. But I must say that
I am impressedand in some cases astonishedby the wonderful
things already being done for students through the influence of