Deans and Directors—Report to Court!
As is often the case the first month of fall semester has just flown by and I am left gasping for air. In short, what a rush! I have to admit I very much enjoy this time of year with returning students, changing seasons and a slight nip in the evening air and I hope your re-entry has been or will be just as pleasant. I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect a little on this year’s Deans and Directors forum and begin a dialogue on how we might grow and/or improve this event for members into the future. Indeed I promised to deliver what I am terming my “Report to Court” during this year’s event in San Diego.
As in previous years the goal was to have Deans and Directors interact with a view to sharing best practice examples of how they interact with industry to better prepare and place our students. The event was not as well attended as in previous years due, I understand, to a number of Special Interest Group (SIG) sessions convening at the same time. That said, we still managed to muster 75 attendees representing a range of two and four year schools from the United States, Europe, South East Asia and the Pacific region. We were also joined on the day by a strong delegation of industry specialists from our long-term sponsor Marriot. While their goal was to tease out the “good, the bad and the uglier” side of academic/industry relations, we for the most part focused on the positive and, to be honest, that’s easy to do when you work so closely together.
There was a lot of discussion and mutual reinforcement on curriculum development. There was also quite a bit of discussion regarding a number of priority recruitment issues for industry including global engagement, international study abroad experience, second language fluency and soft skills competency. If I heard correctly, today’s recruiters are prioritizing many of these issues for new hires. The issue of second language instruction generated quite a lot of debate. While industry representatives stressed the importance of students being fluent with a second language, there was clearly a difference in approach between United States (US) based schools and non US schools (European and South East Asian) as regards the approach and what is required of students. While most US schools do mandate a certain degree of second language instruction in their curricula there was a feeling that there was not the same degree of priority or rigor as required by many international schools in terms of introducing second language as a sequentially progressive four year graduation requirement. Where required by most US schools it was usually in the freshman or sophomore year with little if any development and/or retention through to actual graduation. On a very positive note quite a few schools spoke to a mandated pre-graduation requirement for international study abroad experience and a number actually spoke to coupling this up with the students’ second language specialization. A variety of for credit study abroad options were listed including alternative spring breaks, semester exchange programs with international partners, intensive short stay programs, home stay programs and even study abroad campus operations by certain schools and colleges. Clearly there is a lot going on in the sphere of international education.
Folks also raised the issue of channeling industry effort through advisory boards and councils. There was an interesting debate on how best to compile and leverage such boards? Whether for curriculum development purposes or for fundraising and mentoring of students. While a number of schools expressed that they saw no value in establishing advisory boards, the overwhelming opinion in the room was that they were beneficial for all parties to the debate: programs, faculty, students and industry. A number of industry representatives shared their very positive experience of being on such boards and having a voice at the table that was all about developing and placing tomorrow’s industry leaders. Members also spoke about the value gained from their various internship programs, the excellent opportunities provided to faculty for professional development with industry partners and a number of research opportunities that faculty had benefited from as a consequence of industry support. Indeed one attendee shared his opinion that as academics we don’t do enough to leverage industry support in this key regard!
As in previous years, time was limited and very quickly ran out. That said, debate continued over lunch and those who attended enjoyed a very healthy exchange over many of the issues raised. I did have the opportunity to speak with many of the attendees over the course of the next few days and while the feedback received was overwhelmingly positive I could not help feeling that there was more that could/should have been done to provide real value to members at this event. Of course we can never be all things to all people, but I attended a number of meetings over the course of our visit that led me to believe that there are two very primary audiences that typically attend this event and that their needs and/or interests can be very different. I am speaking here of the two and four year college systems and the age old teaching/research debate and the difference in priorities that govern decision making in each system. The real challenge is to find a balance that appeals to and enriches both audiences. The question then is how do we find this balance? I really don’t have an answer to this question other than to suggest that when approached in advance of next year’s event that each of you reach out and share your opinion on a valuable and enriching agenda. We each face challenge on a day-to day basis whether as a consequence of budgetary cuts and resource constraints, faculty turnover, curriculum change and constraints, industry relations and student development and placement. There are clearly exemplars of best practice and this is the one best forum to share these examples. So please do engage in an advance sense such that we all depart Orlando with a real “feel good” about this fantastic networking opportunity.
Until next year!