In its conclusion, the report recommends that the University concentrate on the following priorities:
- Intensify efforts to become the leading student-centered research university;
- Support the faculty's pursuit of the University vision;
- Support the staff's pursuit of the University vision;
- Create a positive campus environment for the education and personal development of undergraduates.
The challenge for SU is to "create a distinctive learning community dedicated to mutual support and cooperation," the report reads. "The University will find new ways to make teaching, research, and creative activity mutually supportive rather than competing; it will anticipate and address student needs; it will create an atmosphere on campus that challenges and supports all students while it welcomes them into the learning community."
In June 1997, David Miller, the William P. Tolley Professor of the Humanities, organized a summer symposium for 22 professors in the humanities disciplines from The College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs to discuss the quality of teaching and learning from their professional perspectives. The conferees raised several concerns that the University's student-centered focus doesn't consider, Miller says, including the important role "confusion and unclarity" play in the learning process, and that assessment sometimes isn't possible until years later.
The gathering also served a cautionary reminder of what student-centered should not be: a marketing gimmick in which knowledge is seen as a "useful product, a commodity bearing upon employability" to which students, as consumers, are entitled. "Learning happens when students are actively involved in the construction of knowledge. A learner therefore is as much a producer as a consumer of the knowledge gained," Miller's symposium report reads. "Learning is a direct result of the student's efforts rather than a service or product that the student purchases."
As Miller and others note, student-centeredness is nothing newit's been part of the University since its founding, and an element of fine teaching since time immemorial. Being truly student-centered, Miller believes, means focusing on the material at hand and investigating it with the students. "It's like we're all in a soup pot and we stew in it and stew in it for 14 weeks together and do the best we can," he says. "When you focus on the material more and more complexly, you go deeper and deeper into it and see how important that material already is and always will be to human beings."
Student activist Steve Hanmer '98 immersed himself in the University's inner workings to heighten student awareness about opportunities and policies. For two years, Hanmer served as president of Undergraduates for a Better Education, a decade-old organization launched to mobilize undergraduates and point out what members perceived as problems at the University. "Our mission is to improve undergraduate education at Syracuse University by empowering students to be better consumers of their education and by emphasizing that teaching is the most important task of this University," he says. Hanmer realizes "the student as consumer" concept makes some faculty members cringe, but he points out that it's not about serving every student's whims and wants. "I see it as students being more active in their education, not being spoon-fed everything. That would be hugely negativeand I don't see it going that way," he says. "I see faculty taking more interest and recognizing more potential in undergraduates."
The environmental sciences/geology major dedicated a significant amount of time to campus activities. He served on The College of Arts and Sciences' Peer Advisory Board for incoming students and its Tenure Promotion Committee, performed community service, worked with the Student Government Association and the Board of Trustees, and scoured the Middle States Report. One of his greatest frustrations with campus life was the lack of communication among administrators, faculty, and students. Today, with a better understanding of the faculty and administration, he cites the value of everyone sharing a common goal and working together. "This administration is all about opportunities and that's great because the more students take advantage of that, the more resources the administration will provide," he says. "It's up to all of us to define on a daily basis what being a student-centered research university means."|
John Adams, professor of speech communication in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, believes everyone in the University community should think about what it means to be a student-centered research university. "People need to find their own answer," he says, "one that enables them to do what they do in light of it since it's part of a vision we're trying to make into reality."In his own interpretation, Adams removes "research" because, to him, SU is far more than just a reseach university. "It's a student-centered university where the faculty's creative work and research contributes to student learning, while at the same time contributing to the various academic interests that work addressesfrom architecture to zoology and everything in between," he says.
Adams, a member of the Middle States Report's Institutional Initiatives Committee, calls carving out a time balance between research and teaching a "dialectic conflict" that's endemic to the profession. "The way you deal with that conflict tells the story of your life as a professor. You have to weigh in every day between those experiences," Adams says. "You can't lose sight of the importance of the unbreakable connection between creative work, research, and teaching. You're constantly traveling between those territories and it doesn't mean when you're here you forget about there. You have to love it all."
When Adams steps into the classroom he believes his scholarly work should resonate as part of the classroom experience and contribute to student learning. "I see myself as not just a scholar and a teacher, but as a student. It's not difficult for me to think about being student-centered because it sets a relationship between myself and others where we have a strong identification. If you engage each other as students, you find points of identification, common interest, and ways of orienting toward each other that signify a center you're both focused on," he says. "As a teacher, it's all about learning for me. It's a constant engagement, and there's always something to learn that you can carry somewhere else and try to share and develop."