Recently, the President decided to shift the reporting status of University Life to the Provost. The move did not reflect a sense of huge problems to be solved. Rather it reflected a desire to improve further what is already a fairly constructive coordination of academic and co-curricular efforts in dealing with students. For my part I welcome the opportunity to promote this coordination, again not with a sense of huge impending changes in direction but with a belief that, particularly in a constricted budgetary climate, we need as much integration of activities as possible.
It turns out that this kind of collaboration is one key way to make clear where some of the strengths of a University like Mason lie: not only in strong academic programs and student-faculty interaction, but also in a broader learning environment and opportunities for maturation.
We’re already been working closely—by we, I mean both the academic and the University Life side—on retention programs and on shared stakes in activities like the living/learning communities in the dorms. I think a coordinated approach can pay off further in providing opportunities for faculty to interact with students in a wider variety of settings, and I hope we can encourage some ambitious and imaginative proposals to this end. Orientation is another shared interest, and the chance now to coordinate further with the enrollment management operation is obviously timely and fruitful.
I am intrigued by the joint challenge of commuting students, who often come to class but do not take much advantage either of more elaborate contacts with faculty or the various University Life programs. Here again is a need that invites wide attention, another example of shared responsibility toward ultimately a common goal of encouraging learning and promoting at least some level of community attachment.
Graduate student life offers another opportunity where we’ve made some gains in providing a community environment beyond the classroom, but where more can be done.
Job placement and internships, or more broadly, experiential learning, constitute another area where both academic programs and University Life professionals have a key role. Here’s a case where coordination has probably not been adequate in the past but where recent directions have already encouraged a new level of mutual conversation.
Distance learning provides yet another new horizon. We’re working toward making sure our distance offerings promote meaningful learning, but weaving in some appropriate support from University Life, in this new but growing venue, constitutes an important additional opportunity.
The key word is, in fact, student success. I made our commitment to student success a key element of brief remarks I offered at our fall convocation: I think it’s easy for students to forget that this is our goal, even as we also challenge and evaluate students. Having both the academic and the University Life staffs joined in pursuit of this goal, and in mutual conversations about how best to promote it, offers a vital platform for the future. Both groups have key insights and professional strengths to contribute.