Following its Labor Day debut, many faculty, staff and students are responding with both praise and critiques of the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan. As the university looks toward the future, its community members are not loosening their hold on what they currently value in higher education.
The strategic plan aims to refocus and improve Trinity’s image and its education, better preparing students for entrances into a changing job market and competitive graduate programs. A committee, drawing on faculty, staff and student symposiums, as well as collaboration from trustees, has worked for the past two years to hammer out the details of the plan.
However, according to Aaron Delwiche, associate professor of communication, Trinity may be undervaluing itself when considering change for the future.
“I think there was a huge economic crisis in 2008, and in some of the rhetoric surrounding the strategic plan and the curriculum, there’s this sense that admissions numbers are dropping off and that reflects on the institution itself, but I don’t believe that,” Delwiche said. “The admissions numbers dropped off because the economy went off the cliff, and in any conversation we have about Trinity’s future, that doesn’t really make sense as a compelling argument to change for me. Having said that, I fully agree that we can’t just rest on our laurels. I think the strategic plan is an excellent attempt to try and figure out what we can do better.”
Delwiche continued to explain that there are often challenges with the idea of experiential learning, one of the main ideas presented in the strategic plan. Problems arise when factoring the vast array of internships into a student’s grade point average and when defining exactly what “experiential learning” means.
Another issue involves the categorization of current students as millennials. The strategic plan assumes that millennials have an extensive understanding of technology and therefore ceases to integrate technology courses into the curriculum.
“The single most important thing that we could be doing with our students right now is making sure that as citizens they are empowered to make technological decisions and not just yield decision-making to technocrats,” Delwiche said. “If Trinity had a real commitment to pushing students to not just use technology, but to do so in a really critically self-reflective way, I think that would differentiate us from every institution out there.”
As Trinity searches for more ways to distinguish itself from peer universities, it also works on a more community-based level by approaching the challenges of interdisciplinary education for students and faculty within a liberal arts education.
“I think there is going to be a premium on young people that are adept at crossing disciplines and being able to talk to people from different disciplinary training. That in my mind is what interdisciplinarity is all about,” said David Ribble, professor and chair of the biology department. “That is absolutely a direction we need to go in. Now, does that mean we sacrifice traditional academic disciplines in depth? Absolutely not. You have to provide depth of experience in order for people to be effective in that interdisciplinary fashion.”
Ribble believes that the faculty are also going to be drawing from other disciplines and will be forced to think in broader terms about what they do within the university and as part of the university community.
However, there are also concerns about expanding the curriculum and cross-campus communication.
“I think some people fear that we are going to have this curriculum where we have a student that takes four years of classes in everything, and they get out without knowing anything. That’s not what I am talking about,” Ribble said. “I think that goes along with ‘The Culture of Collaboration’ which I see a lot, but I think it needs to be celebrated more. That culture needs to extend beyond traditional boundaries. Every person on this campus contributes to what we are trying to accomplish around here.”
Students have also had some part in the planning process. This September, the Strategic Planning Committee presented the plan to the Association of Student Representatives and discussed the future of the university curriculum.
“If all goes as planned, the future curriculum will include more interdisciplinary courses that encourage a sharing of knowledge between the humanities and sciences,” said senior ASR senator Gabrielle Shayeb. “Furthermore, advising will be restructured to allow for augmented stability between students and advisors, as well as a greater frequency of interactions between advisor and students per month.”
According to Shayeb, ASR made many recommendations to the committee, but many student concerns were focused around having meaningful experiences that can be transferred, and valued, after college.
“During the meeting between the two entities, two professors, Dr. Erwin Cook and Dr. Nancy Mills, asked students what they wanted most out of their Trinity education,” Shayeb said. “Many students answered that they felt unprepared to enter the real world. Therefore, the committee suggested that courses that taught real life skills, such as rudimentary finance, accounting, and basic knowledge of other skills be offered for students entering the real world.”
Shayeb and Ribble expressed concerns over the vagueness of the plan, but reaffirmed that they saw it as a necessary part of the process of having it edited and supported by the rest of the Trinity community.
Members of the both the Strategic Planning Committee and ASR urge interested students to contribute to future forums to discuss the plan and bring their concerns to ASR and the committee.