A Letter from Provost Randy Swearer

Randy 2013

The Remarkable Transformation of Philadelphia University
During the past five years, the Provost’s Office has closely collaborated with the faculty to facilitate positive change at the University. It is breathtaking to look back now and consider what this partnership has accomplished in such a brief time period.

We created an award-winning new transdisciplinary college and restructured all academic programs into a streamlined group of three colleges designed to foster collaboration. Working together we embedded key parallel academic functions in each college to insure efficiency, effectiveness, and to encourage institutional learning.  We identified the need to support our unique pedagogy, Nexus Learning, and, in response, developed and funded The Center for Teaching Innovation and Nexus Learning. Faculty search committees conducted international searches to hire new leaders for many of our major academic units. And we were fortunate to tap into our own wealth of talent to promote others into key leadership positions.

The faculty helped shape a new academic building that opened in the spring of 2013, designed specifically to support the Kanbar College DEC curriculum. This fall we open our prototype Nexus Learning Hubs that bring the most cutting edge support for active and collaborative pedagogies. We worked with faculty to create a comprehensive and progressive new shared governance structure that respects areas of faculty primacy, while creating conditions for deep and generative collaborations between the faculty and administration. Recently, the multi-year collaboration between the faculty and this office produced a bold, groundbreaking plan to comprehensively re-imagine our general education program.

One of the most exciting developments has been the Academic Growth Plan, which created an innovative framework, unprecedented to my knowledge in American higher education, for collectively shaping innovative new academic programs with multi-disciplinary faculty teams.

Each of the initiatives I have highlighted above is a stunning achievement, but taken together as an integrated plan they have transformed this remarkable University.

Key leverage points: areas of strategic focus for the 2014-15 Academic Year
This academic year the Provost’s Office will focus on an interconnected group of initiatives: implementing our exciting new Hallmarks (general education) program and its supporting e-portfolio framework, driving the Academic Growth Plan, continued shared governance implementation, planning the future of graduate education, supporting the University’s online education efforts, and implementing the Nexus Learning Hub facilities with rigorous assessments conducted in partnership with Steelcase.

Re-envisioning General Education
I believe that one of our most exciting academic opportunities is in the area of general studies, particularly reframing the traditional dichotomy between professional education (and its emphasis on practical reasoning) and liberal learning. Between 2011 and 2013, this office formed the Re-envisioning General Education Committee and collaborated with it to bring to campus a number of luminaries on the forefront rethinking general education. These visits generated a new dialog across the colleges about possible futures for our general education program. Last year we moved from a rich conceptual dialog across the campus to actually designing a new general education program called Hallmarks. (The term Hallmarks refers to the curricular and co-curricular evidence of student outcomes integrated into our new e-portfolio system.) The Provost’s Office guided the plan through faculty approvals for a launch this fall. The plan is in my view the most powerful and innovative general education plan I have seen.

The Academic Growth Plan
We will continue to work with the faculty on the Academic Growth Plan, a planning process that that brings together faculty and academic leadership together to share ideas, conceive new programs, and identify opportunities to improve the academic experience for students. Spring meetings anchor the timeline for new program development and provided a unique collaborative and supportive setting to incubate plans and innovate curricula across the institution. During the academic year, the new Curriculum Innovation Space and the Academic Opportunities and Oversight Committees advance, market test, and refine new program concepts developed in the summer as part of the academic growth planning process.

The Academic Growth Plan also defines a conceptual framework for the development of academic programs at the University.  Specifically, it drives the design of new program opportunities that leverage and build cross-college capabilities to create University-wide teaching and learning experiences. The goal of the framework is to create programs that crossed the boundaries of colleges, divisions, and schools to create a more academically integrated institution.

Shared Governance
We will continue working with the faculty to fully implement the shared governance structure approved in the spring of 2012. As part of this effort, we will collaborate support and help develop the new Curriculum Innovation Space (CIS) program incubator embedded in the shared governance framework. The Provost’s Office will work with the faculty to implement improvements to shared governance based on our experience during the past two academic years. We will also assist academic program development teams that created promising curricular concepts during summer academic growth planning as the teams refine the concepts in the CIS.

Graduate Education
Graduate education is a key component of our Strategic Plan. Our graduate programs have increased in number and quality during the past four years, creating a critical mass of graduate students on campus. We now need to conduct an integrative examination of graduate education at the University and the infrastructure that supports it. We began this process last year and will conclude it in the spring of 2015.

Online Education
The University has made great strides in online learning during the past few years. We will continue to expand our partnership model with support from the Vice President for Innovation and the Academic Dean of the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. We will also strengthen our capabilities across a continuum of technologically mediated learning environments, from completely online programs to hybridized courses. In support of these efforts, we will continue to provide the faculty with robust development opportunities that will focus online learning across several dimensions. Our goal is to provide both conceptual frameworks and practical knowledge to the faculty so that its members can both envision and integrate online learning into their pedagogies.

I look forward to collaborating with our faculty and academic leadership team to continue on our path toward innovation and accelerate the ascent of this remarkable institution.

Best regards,

Randy Swearer
Provost and Dean of the Faculty