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The Rising Demands on Higher Education

Ronald E. Pitt

Higher education is under extraordinary pressure to respond to growing demands from a variety of constituencies . Accreditation standards are higher than they were ten years ago. Assessment of student learning did not exist when most of the current slate of faculty was hired. The public expects institutions to be able to justify substantial tuition increases. Student achievement in this country is decried from all quarters, and higher education is held responsible. Technology is changing the modes of interaction among all groups on and off campus, creating pressure not to be on the wrong side of the digital divide. At comprehensive institutions across the country, scholarly expectations have risen, displacing the notion that research is the sole domain of research institutions.

Faculty feel these pressures more acutely than any other group. Along with teaching, service, and scholarship, faculty now have many other professional concerns, each of which is a crucial priority that requires attention and time.

Administrators have to be concerned about this. It is our job to construct as positive an environment for teaching and learning as we can and to help protect the freedom that drew many of us to higher education in the first place. That means clarifying and managing expectations, setting priorities, eliminating frustrations and barriers that distract faculty from the work only they can do, and developing resources and support systems that make academic life not just tolerable but affirming and rewarding.

One part of the strategy has been to establish programs that allow faculty to converse, discuss, and share ideas. At Rhode Island College, there exist a number of such programs that faculty have enthusiastically taken part in, including the January workshop sponsored by the Writing Board; the Academic Technology Day sponsored by the Academic Technology Advisory Committee, the teaching/research forum called Engaging Conversations, the Promising Practices conference sponsored by the Dialogue on Diversity Committee, and the weeklong workshop in online learning taught last summer by Dr. Susan Patterson. Participation in faculty-development events, and faculty feedback about them, indicate that faculty want and enjoy a dialogue about what they do here.

What has been lacking at RIC is a formal structure to support our faculty-development efforts. Over the last several years, a number of groups raised the idea of a Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL). Plan 2010 included a plank to explore the concept of an FCTL; the new draft plan, Vision 2015, includes a mandate to establish one. The Mission and Goals Committee worked for well over a year, meeting with faculty, investigating teaching and learning centers on other campuses, and writing a proposal, all of which culminated in a Davis Educational Foundation proposal for an FCTL here at RIC. We have now received word that the Davis trustees agreed to fund our center with a three-year, $187,000 dollar grant. With Davis funding, the path is now clear toward the establishment of an FCTL at Rhode Island College.

There are many people to thank for this huge success. Working backward in time, I would name the ad hoc group of faculty and administrators who met with the Davis trustees and provided direct input and review of the proposal, the skillful writing of Ms. Lisa Smolski in the Office of Research and Grants Administration, the work of the Mission and Goals Committee last year to research and formally propose the idea, the groups who developed and sustained faculty-development programs on campus over many years, and the faculty at large who have turned out by the hundreds to engage with their colleagues on issues of teaching and learning.

The FCTL will bring programs and people together. Rather than have every existing program act as a stand-alone effort, the FCTL will draw together campus resources for faculty development and co-ordinate a range of events. More importantly, the FCTL will respond to faculty needs by bringing together people who seek to engage in dialogue about issues and topics from within their discipline, and from without.

Restarting Issues in Teaching and Learning is an effort to support faculty development through digital dialogue. As with all faculty-development participation, we honor and value the contributors to ITL for the service they provide to our community of learners. I want to encourage all full- and part-time faculty to take advantage of this forum. The engagement of faculty with colleagues is not just a nicety; it is absolutely essential to the vitality and growth of the institution and is a way in which faculty can continue to learn and grow and be sustained in the face of the increasing demands on their time, effort, and attention.

Page last updated: January 12, 2010