WMU News

Provost details academic planning for Faculty Senate

October 15, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University is the kind of institution that is likely to dominate the nation's higher education landscape in the future-one that emphasizes both teaching and research, Provost Timothy Light told the Faculty Senate Oct. 1.

WMU is among those institutions that "are already rising to prominence," he said. They are ones that "insist on the need to be both strong teaching institutions and strong research institutions." Universities that stress one over the other are fading in number.

Light spoke at the beginning of his third year as the University's chief academic officer, adding that WMU "is even more a place to be in love with" than he first realized. "And the people I have come to know here are even more precious as friends."

He also expressed his gratitude to serve as provost and for the chance to work with President Floyd.

"His vast good will and supportiveness, his energy, his vision, his great experience with, and deep knowledge of, universities, and his infectious optimism have made these past two months a real joy, one that promises to continue long into the future," he said.

The provost's remarks ranged widely over the academic enterprise, touching on such key areas as curriculum management and the planning process that President Floyd has initiated. He also pointed to the new Center for Teaching and Learning and introduced its director, Peter M. Saunders.

"The inauguration of the Center for Teaching and Learning reflects a major commitment by the University in support of teaching," Light said. "The considerable development of this effort represents the very high attention that is paid to teaching by the University and its administration."

He noted that support for this activity is double what it was two years ago. It will increase further for programming and the establishment of a half-time assistant director to be selected from the faculty.

Curriculum management

Regarding curriculum management, Light told senators that the course approval process is being simplified significantly.

Proposed courses will be scrutinized at the department and college level, Light explained, and then go to Rollin G. Douma, who has been formally identified as catalogue editor. He will examine the proposals for any potential problems.

The provost will review only a list of proposed course titles as well as proposals with which Douma has identified any issues. As soon as senate committees act, the courses are approved. The president will no longer approve course proposals.

"These simplifications place accountability where it properly should rest, in the departments and colleges," Light said. "They will assure that any ripple effects of changes are addressed before proposals reach Dr. Douma."

Program proposals, which often involve the allocation of resources, still will require the approval of the provost and the president and may involve review by the vice presidents and senior staff.

Meanwhile, Light said, the senate's executive board has agreed to review the senate's curriculum process to determine possible simplification there. A renumbering of courses by type for greater uniformity also is under consideration.

Planning process outlined

Light outlined for senators characteristics of the process to be used by a committee he will chair for planning, assessment and program review, a charge given him by President Floyd. He said the process will be open, reflect major University constituencies and have a specific timeline for completion.

"Our goal," he said, "is to work out together future potential and scenarios for a 'student-centered research university,'" he said. "In a sense, supplying instrumental definitions for that term sums up the whole task of planning."

Becoming a premier student-centered research university is a key element in the vision Floyd has set out for the University.

The planning process, Light stressed, must include "an agreed-upon description of what we are today, including recognition that we have stretched ourselves too thinly." That description must recognize WMU "as a truly multifaceted and highly variegated" university.

The process also must deal with the need "to find appropriate balances within our actual human and material resources," he said. That includes balance "between our undergraduate and graduate commitments; our Kalamazoo and regional center commitments; instruction provided by full-time faculty and instruction provided by part-time faculty; and appropriate relative emphasis on practical, professional training and credentialing on the one hand and theoretical and fundamental education on the other."

The process also must affirm and continue "the great historical strengths of WMU while embracing and becoming flexible towards changing environments around us." It also must accept that university development is "evolutionary, not revolutionary, so that we move forward through standing on the shoulders of giants rather than killing off our fathers and pretending that what we do is made of whole cloth."

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu


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