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InnerAction launches monthly "Departmental Profile"

January 7, 2003

You've been around the campus a year or two. So, quickly now, answer the following questions: What's the difference in academic affairs and student affairs? What does the Arts and Heritage Development Council do? What's the difference between the Business Office and the Office of Finance and Administration? Don't know?
January 7, 2003

You've been around the campus a year or two. So, quickly now, answer the following questions: What's the difference in academic affairs and student affairs? What does the Arts and Heritage Development Council do? What's the difference between the Business Office and the Office of Finance and Administration? Don't know?

Many people don't. So this month, "InnerAction" will begin profiling the numerous departments and administrative offices on the Austin Peay campus. The goal: to enhance understanding about the role various groups play in fulfilling the mission of the University.

We begin with a critically important department: Academic Affairs. The spokesperson whose answers are quoted here is Dr. Bruce Speck, vice president of academic affairs.

InnerAction: What is the role or function of the Academic Affairs Office?

Dr. Speck:
The major function of academic affairs is to ensure we have academic integrity in our programs. That means that we offer the courses we say we offer, that the courses we offer are the courses we need to offer and that the people who teach the courses are equipped to teach those courses.

Maintaining academic integrity requires that we interface with TBR, so when there are administrative issues to be taken care ofapproval of programs, changes in programs, mandateswe help make sure we can meet those mandates.

Beyond that, we interface with student affairs to make sure students have due process when a class isn't working for them. We also work with student affairs on the SACS initiative.

So in one sense, there are things we do: hire faculty, chairs and deans. (Actually we make recommendations to the president and she makes the decisions.) But retention isn't simply an issue of the classroom. It's related to everything students do on campus. If students have great professors and lousy food, or nothing to do on campus, or no organizations they can get involved with, it can affect retention.

But the main thing we do is maintain academic integrity.

How many people staff the department?

Five. Myself, Dr. Joe Filippo, assistant vice president for academic affairs, Dr. Houston Davis, assistant vice president for academic affairs (though he actually works half-time with the president and half-time with me), Tammy Delvendahl, executive aide, and Bert Brisson, secretary.

Dr. Filippo and I share the tasks related to academic affairs. Tenure and promotion issues. Dossiers. He's the person I turn to about policies and procedures, workload policies, enrichment programs.

He was our liaison for general education programs with TBR, serving on the ad-hoc committee that developed the initial proposal.

When students have grievances, he takes care of those. And this year he's teaching.

If we were to drop by this office on a typical day, what might we observe?

If you dropped in during fall, you'd see people coming in and out of the office. Students who may have gone through channelsor may not havelooking for resolution of a problem. People coming in to talk about issues in their department. People who want to talk about personnel issues.

You'd see lots of meetings. Cabinet meetings every month. Half-day deans' council meetings every Wednesday. You'll see people attending meetings individually and with the Faculty Senate, the executive committee.

Then there are the ceremonial things we do, like meeting with visitors. And there are activities in the evening as well as during the day. So there's a lot of movement, a constant swirl of activity.

There's also a huge amount of paperwork. I take a folder of papers home at night to read and sign.

What does the department need most to better fulfill its mission?

Time. There's not a lot of time to sit and think creatively, to ask where are we headed? We need to do more with faculty development. More training. Faculty doesn't like the word, but most people have no training in leadership. And chairs in particular need that. There are rules, regulations, laws, tenure and promotion problems. So we need more development for people in leadership roles.

We also need more training in being an effective teacher. Simply experiencing teaching doesn't make you a good teacher. You can have experience but still need to hone your skills.

We all have model teachers we responded to, but we need to ask ourselves if that style works for everybody. Most people who teach were pretty brainy. So it's frustrating when they encounter students who aren't engaged. They don't know what to do. We need to continually provide faculty with information on being more effective as faculty.

We don't have a lot of mechanisms for evaluating faculty. Most faculty don't think student evaluations are worth much. What does that leave us with? We don't want people in our classrooms. We don't want the chair in there. So there are all kinds of impediments to evaluation.

With all these issues, it's hard to find the time to ask, "How can we move ahead? What new programs do we need?" We're focused on the next committee, the next grade appeal. And we have 37 new positions to fill, which is an immense amount of work.

We have to find time to make ourselves more effective, more efficient, more integrated in terms of liberal arts. There's resistance to that. Questions like "How can you talk about my discipline? You don't have credentials in that. You're not an authority." But I don't need to be an authority to talk about how a subject fits in a broader framework.

What happens is that disciplines tend to perpetuate themselves, they develop a hardness. "This is what we believe." We say we're liberal thinkers, but if you question evolution, you're insane. But isn't that a scholar's job? To question theories?

What would people find most surprising about your department if they could spend time in it?

How busy everybody is. There's nobody who's not busy all the time. There's just such a huge amount of work and everyone contributes to getting it done.

People outside the academy also probably don't understand how many hands have to touch something before it's implemented. If you're in business, a CEO, you just say, "We're going to do this." In the academy, you take it to this body and that body, this council and that council, the TBR. Participatory governance is a good thing, but it can impede you in subtle ways from moving forward.

How has academic affairs changed over the last 10 years?

I can't address questions about what the University was like before, because I wasn't here. But in this administration, as I understand it, we're trying to communicate the facts. Nothing is hidden. I can show you my budget. I can talk to you about the reasons for my decisionsexcept when they relate to sensitive personnel issues. I can tell you everything. We want people to know the issues. We're trying to use processes, not circumvent them. I give reams of information at the Deans' Council, at the President's Cabinet meetings.

There's another thing that may be changing slightly, and it has been an adjustment for this campus. The administration has a significant role in terms of governance. We want to work with faculty and staff, and we want to integrate those loci of authority. But, ultimately, we have to move ahead and make a decision in the best interest of the University as a whole. That's important to understand. We have to do the best thing for everybody. That's our philosophy.

What's the most challenging part of serving in academic affairs?

Limited resources. The state simply has not funded us at the appropriate level. So there are things we cannot do. People get more and more work, and they begin to think there's no end to it. They get burned out. People work hard to recruit and then they learn we can't hire an individual because of salary. The decisions we have to make are difficult, even heart-breaking at times. But they must be made.

What are the plans and goals held for the Office of Academic Affairs in the near future?

Faculty development is one of our main goals. In the next five years, we will probably hire enough people to replace approximately one-third of our existing faculty, so we need to provide a supportive environment for new faculty so they will become integrated in APSU culture. In addition, we want to retain new hires, and we want all faculty to grow in their abilities as faculty members. We are particularly interested in developing a vibrant conversation about effective teaching and making teaching what has been called "community property" of the entire faculty. Reflecting on and continuing to improve our teaching is the most important goal in academic affairs and is essential for the success of a university with a liberal arts designation.