The internet and e-mail are a blessing and curse. Both improve communication and access to information; they are the de facto communication and entertainment tools of modern life.
But when personal communication and entertainment cross into professional hours, the employer can suffer. Online shopping, gaming, and chatting are fairly innocuous ways to waste time.
Other network-based activities can be more problematic for colleges and universities. For example, if faculty or staff use the university network to gamble, download music, or view child pornography, it can harm the university's reputation or possibly result in a lawsuit. Any of the scenarios cost time and money. At the same time, higher ed operates with a sense of freedom unmatched in the corporate and K-12 arenas.
Objectionable content to the corporate or K-12 world can be considered academic research.
The business world has tapped into software solutions to help curb online behavior and catch those who fail to abide by policy. The Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College (Mass.) says 90 percent of employers observe electronic behavior. Virtual oversight can go several steps further. More than three-quarters of employers watch web surfing. "About one-third of large commercial enterprises monitor [or sift through] staff e-mail," says Craig Carpenter, senior director of corporate marketing with Mirapoint, an IT security company.
Higher ed has been slow to embrace high-tech surveillance tools. Monte Robertson, president and CEO of Software Security Solutions, surveyed the company's higher education customers and found that none scanned e-mail for content. Carpenter hypothesizes that higher ed is reluctant to deploy surveillance software because it smacks of censorship. Academic freedom is a right in the university environment, explains James Hammond, vice president of Information Technology at Winthrop University (S.C.).
Content that is objectionable in the corporate or K-12 environment can be considered academic research. For example, a faculty member may view child pornography websites to conduct research for a psychology or sociology course.
"Higher ed cannot draw too many lines in the sand because it encroaches on academic freedom," continues Hammond. Academic freedom can become a rallying cry for monitoring foes. The University of Southern Mississippi endured a firestorm when its president directed a lawyer to monitor some faculty e-mails during an internal investigation.
The ideal solution balances academic freedom and protection. Most colleges and universities do require faculty and staff to agree to policies about e-mail use. The typical policy specifies that the employee does not own e-mails and permits the employer to read e-mails.
At this point, however, few universities enforce these policies with monitoring software, says Carpenter. Is higher ed flirting with danger by not using surveillance solutions? "Absolutely," opines Carpenter. But the tide could turn as universities wrangle with compliance issues.
One reason behind the near-universal business use of surveillance technology is the need for regulatory compliance. Similarly, universities could begin to adopt technology to boost compliance. FERPA (Family Education Rights Protection Act) will influence universities, predicts Carpenter. "Universities have not gotten their arms around FERPA and need to develop an understanding of its requirements," he says.
Initially passed in 1974, FERPA protects the privacy of student information such as health records and grades. Surveillance technology could be used to identify FERPA breaches. Winthrop currently complies with FERPA through policies that describe how to handle and release sensitive information. In addition, software "flags" alert users to sensitive information and tell any employee how to view the information.
Similarly, the post-9/11 SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) requires all colleges and universities receiving government funding to monitor foreign students' e-mail communications and transmit student information to the Department of Homeland Security. Surveillance programs could help colleges comply with SEVIS by tracking and organizing online communication and activities, says Chronicle Solutions Chief Operating Officer Sophie Pibouin.
But sweeping changes and a draconian monitoring system may not fly at most colleges and universities. Instead, higher ed may be best served by adapting surveillance solutions and developing policies to meet their unique needs rather than simply mirroring corporate practices.
Colleges and universities do have a number of options for monitoring e-mail and internet use. In fact, some may already own options. A number of higher ed customers, for example, rely on Mirapoint's Email Server and Edge Security Appliance for protection against spam, viruses, worms, and hacker attacks. Those features comprise 95 percent of the product's functionality. The other 5 percent? E-mail surveillance. But few higher ed users opt to turn on the surveillance functionality.
One plus of the surveillance system is that it can be used on an as-needed basis. Winthrop University relies on Mirapoint's Email Server and Email Security Gateway for multiple purposes, including monitoring ingoing and outgoing mail for spam and viruses. University policy defines e-mail as private except in the case of an ongoing legal or internal policy investigation.
At Winthrop, if campus police present a valid request or an employee is suspected of violating policy, the university maintains the right to wiretap a mailbox. For example, if a full-time faculty member begins teaching at another university without securing appropriate approval, the university could launch an investigation and tap the employee's inbox. The university might turn on surveillance functionality if a faculty or staff member is engaged in activities that conflict with the university's mission.
"We monitor for investigative purposes only."- James Hammond, Winthrop University
In addition to e-mail monitoring, the system can create rules to scan for specific objectionable words or block attachments or certain addresses. "We don't monitor e-mail as a preventative measure, nor do we regulate objectionable words or contents. We monitor for investigative purposes only," says Hammond. The combination of policy and technology is a good fit for the university's needs.
Another software option is Chronicle Solutions' netReplay system. The company recently launched the network content recorder. The system plugs onto the network behind the firewall and can record all user digital communication, including e-mail, web pages, and chat messages. The netReplay system can also categorize communication to streamline network monitoring. For example, the system administrator can define policies and set the device to send an alert if a user accesses a child pornography site.
Some systems, such as Mirapoint's Email Server and Edge Security Appliance, wrap monitoring functionality into a larger package. Security, mail hardware, software, and support cost approximately $1.25 monthly for each user at a site with 10,000 users. Others, like netReplay, represent a new system. Its costs include the price of the appliance, a fee per user monitored, and an annual maintenance fee. Chronicle Solutions, a provider of network monitoring solutions, says it extends a significant higher education discount.
Employee surveillance can be a touchy subject. Poorly defined and communicated policies could have a negative impact on employee relations or lead a to a media fiasco. One need only recall the recent Hewlett-Packard corporate scandal to imagine the media and public relations nightmare that can occur in the wake of a poorly conceived surveillance program.
And like any technology, surveillance systems are not perfect. It is possible to increase the odds of a successful deployment. Insiders offer the following advice about optimizing a monitoring system:
Make sure surveillance tools are available. "Understand the local monitoring policy, or in the absence of a policy, make one," says Hammond.
Don't take faculty and staff by surprise, says Pibouin. The university needs to clearly define and communicate monitoring policies. It helps to market the system as a means of protecting employees and the university's reputation.
Be sure to research the system's accuracy and reliability, says Robertson. Calculate all costs, and investigate legal ramifications and requirements.
An online monitoring or surveillance policy that outlines the rights of the university is a 21st-century essential. Colleges and universities can tap into fairly new software solutions to support the policy and simplify the process of sifting through online communication if a need arises. The combination of a well-articulated policy and carefully deployed software need not impinge on academic freedom and can protect the university, staff, and students-without breaking the bank.
Will 2006 be the tipping point for the end of early admissions? This fall, a trio of elite institutions-Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Virginia-opted to end their binding early decision or nonbinding early action programs.
The University of Delaware also stopped early admissions this year, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill put the kibosh on early decision in 2002.
Elite institutions aren't the only ones with spotlights on them. Many universities offer rolling admissions options to accept applications even before the start of the senior year. Members of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling voted in October to ban programs that offer admissions decisions before the middle of September, and to stop colleges from setting application deadlines before October 15.
"This was a very under-the-radar move that ultimately I believe our members hope will help provide the kind of clarity and transparency in the admissions process that will allow people to keep it simple," says David Hawkins, director of public policy for NACAC. Still, many officers plan to stick to their current application structures.
University of Pennsylvania's President Amy Gutmann detailed her institution's stance in a Washington Post piece titled "Early Admissions Aren't the Problem." The debate over early admissions, Gutmann wrote, "is a distraction from a far more important matter: the urgent need of all but a handful of colleges and universities to improve financial aid for students from low-income and middle-income families."
But what of proof that early applicants do not typically apply for financial aid or come from low-income backgrounds? In UVa's current freshman class, for instance, of the 172 students considered to be low-income only one enrolled through early decision. "What we've found in two years is that we've had very few students enroll through the early decision process and at the low-income level," says John Blackburn, dean of admission at UVa.
Andrew Fairbanks found similar statistics through his research for The Early Admissions Game (Harvard University Press, 2003). With co-authors Christopher Avery and Richard Zeckhauser, Fairbanks sifted through databases for 14 of the country's 20 most selective IHEs. The results? At every school, the decision to apply early had a significant effect on outcome. Despite that evidence Fairbanks believes most institutions will keep early admissions to maintain enrollment yields. "I am not overly optimistic that this is going to lead to a widespread change."
-Caryn Meyers Fliegler
We talk to students about our new dorms and our new gym. Sometimes I feel like I'm doing a time-share sales pitch and all I need are balloons to complete the effect.
-Bruce J. Poch, VP and dean of admissions, Pomona College (Calif.), on college marketing.
Noel-Levitz has released a second E-Expectations report on what college-bound students are looking for when they visit college websites. Executive Consultant Stephanie Geyer says students have turned into "secret shoppers" who find out everything about a college from its website. As a result, students' first contact at many colleges is coming in the form of completed applications. All the more reason that college and university websites have to be up to snuff.
Students' top expectations for websites are: self-service tools for exploration; authentic or "real" content; and fast and easy ways to connect when they are ready.
The top four activities students want to perform on websites haven't changed from last year: complete a financial aid estimator (88%); use a tuition calculator (83%); find an admission application (81%); and request a campus visit (81%). The fifth most important activity this year is instant messaging an admissions counselor (72%), up from eighth last year. The ability to personalize a website jumped from 42 percent last year to 62 percent this year. Also of note, this year 59 percent of students would accept a call on their cell phone; only 41 percent would last year.
See the complete report at www.noel-levitz.com.
$1.4 billion-The amount the
By C.K. Gunsalus
Harvard University Press, 2006; 244 pp.; $21.95; www.hup.harvard.edu
Stepping into leadership in higher ed is a special challenge. Those new to leading departments have often proven themselves brilliant in the lecture hall or the research lab, but may find their IQs drop 20 points the minute they have to organize anything beyond a seminar, notes this author.
"It is a major transition to move from a professorship where one largely controls one's own intellectual agenda to a position in which one can be nibbled to death by administrivia: the tyranny of the in-box, telephone, drop-in visitors, e-mail," writes C.K. Gunsalus, a former associate provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and now a special counsel and faculty member there.
With chapters such as "Embrace your fate" and "Bullies," the author reveals a down-to-earth style. Gunsalus says budgets and curriculum planning are a piece of cake when compared to people management. During her years in university administration she has had to investigate myriad problems, including sexual harassment and financial improprieties. The upside of confronting such "yucky problems" is her book, which reflects her hands-on experience with reworked procedures and managerial training.
-Jean Marie Angelo
Chicago's Columbia College may help introduce the next Tina Fey or John Belushi through an innovative program that will teach the art of comedy.
The Comedy Studies Program, which begins in January, will give 16 students the chance to study and work with members of the famous Second City improvisational troupe in Chicago, which helped launch numerous comedy careers, including those of Robert Klein, Joan Rivers, Bill Murray, Amy Sedaris, and Steve Carrell.
Sheldon Patinkin, chairman of Columbia's theater department and one of Second City's founders, says the program will be more intense than Second City's own training center.
"It's involved in far more aspects of comedy than any program in the Training Center," says Patinkin. "Courses have been created specifically for this program, including a history of comedy that I'll be teaching with Anne Libera."
Patinkin says the 16-credit course is serious work, and includes sections on Writing Comic Scenes; History and Analysis of Modern Comedy; and Physical and Vocal Training for Comedy, culminating in an end-of-semester showcase.
Getting into the program is no joke either, says Patinkin. "There are several prerequisites for consideration in the program, including improv training or experience, as well as an essay and some letter of recommendation."
Patinkin says the school will offer the program in both the fall and spring semesters every year.
191,321-Number of college students who studied abroad during the 2004-2005 academic year.
-Year of Study Abroad (www.yearofstudyabroad.org).
Add personal life coaches to the list of student services some colleges are offering.
"Retention and attrition have been an issue on campuses for decades," says Cindy Skaruppa, vice president of Enrollment Management at Our Lady of the Lake University (Texas). University administrators were looking for a comprehensive solution when they contracted with InsideTrack.
The coaches don't offer academic advice; they focus on life skills such as transitioning from high school, balancing family life, and learning time management. Skaruppa firmly dismisses the idea the service is touchy-feely. "We're talking about what students bring to the table and executing a strategy," she says. The programs are based on the services usually reserved for high-powered business executives, she notes.
The applications for The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education's first annual Campus Sustainability Leadership Awards proved just how deep a commitment IHEs today are making to sustainability-in governance, academics, operations, and community outreach. The following schools, categorized by size, were announced as winners during
AASHE's annual conference in October 2006:
University of British Columbia,
UBC's sustainability strategy, with 68 targets and actions for achieving nine major goals, leaves no base uncovered. The institution recently completed the largest efficiency upgrade to ever take place on a Canadian campus. Its sustainability office is funded entirely by savings from its energy reduction programs. More than 300 academic courses deal with sustainability.
Berea College (Ky.)
The Ecovillage, a sustainability-oriented residential and learning complex, is a model for high efficiency. More than $100 million is being invested in "green" renovations across this campus. A full-time sustainability coordinator and four other related positions, as well as several dozen student positions, get the sustainability job done here.
Warren Wilson College (N.C.)
WWC's mission to educate for environmental sustainability is accomplished through academics, work, and service. Recent sustainability distinctions include the purchase of wind energy for 100 percent of its electricity consumption, LEED Gold certification for the new Orr Cottage, and recognition as the 2006 "Outstanding Conservation Farm Family" for Western North Carolina; the college garden provides organic produce for campus dining services.
Lane Community College (Ore.)
The goal: Become carbon-neutral by 2050. The college is already purchasing 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. All new facilities will be built with LEED-certified standards. Faculty interested in integrating sustainability concepts into their work can obtain institutional funding. Lane is an active participant in the City of Eugene's Sustainable Business Initiative, and it's one of the only community colleges in the nation to employ a full-time sustainability coordinator.
The association's award applications are posted online at www.aashe.org/resources/profiles/profiles.php.
51.2%- the percentage of college classrooms that are now wireless.
-The Campus Computing Project, which notes an increase from 42.7% in 2005.
A little friendly competition never hurt anyone, especially when the environment benefits. In October, New York University announced it would purchase 118 million KWh of wind power, making it the largest green power purchaser among U.S. colleges and universities, unseating the University of Pennsylvania. It also hurtles NYU's athletic conference from number 14 to number one in the EPA's green power challenge standings.
"We're a Division III school; it looks like it took the purchase of green energy to get us into Division I competition," NYU spokesman John Beckman said, when he stopped laughing. He encouraged other universities to follow suit. Actually, the standings were not part of NYU's decision, which is an effort to consolidate environmental activities into one initiative. NYU receives one- quarter of its power from a cogeneration plant on campus, while the wind power will offset the energy received from the local utility. Penn took the news in stride.
"At this point we are very comfortable with our position in the wind energy market," spokesman Mike Coleman said. "I think it's great; there are no losers with regards to this issue, only winners. Our goal was always to do our part and encourage and/or support this evolving market." For more on the EPA higher ed standings, visit www.epa.gov/greenpower/.
The mission to revamp higher education was officially launched in late September when U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings gave a speech to the National Press Club. Her much anticipated remarks covered the recommendations of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, which has been meeting throughout the year. Spellings' speech, which outlined the commission's findings, was long on catch phrases and bold ideas, but short on how-to steps.
Her call for "accessibility, affordability, and accountability" in higher education involves everything from improving high school courses and college readiness, to revamping financial aid, to developing ways to measure learning outcomes.
She boiled down the commission's recommendations to five points:
1. Hold high schools accountable.
2. Streamline the financial aid process.
3. Create a database that will be a "higher education information center."
4. Provide matching funds to colleges, universities, and states that collect data and report on learning outcomes.
5. Convene members of the accrediting community in November to help create measures that emphasize learning.
Higher education associations were guarded in their responses. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators issued a statement on the commission's proposal to cut financial aid application waiting time in half, giving students and families qualification information earlier in the spring of senior year. This offers hope for a more efficient system, "however, the lack of details provided is cause for concern," read the statement.
David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, and the only member of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education who did not sign the final report, later expressed disappointment that more was not outlined on how to link accreditation and accountability.
The national database, too, is going to be a problem, he said. Already organizations are raising privacy concerns. While the database will be used to view overall student performance, and not focus on individuals, the organizers will have to allay fears that student identities and specific course grades cannot be traced.
Ward noted that ACE and five other higher education organizations were already at work on the issues raised. "We took a proactive approach," says Ward, referring to the "gathering storm" of higher education issues. Several days before Spellings spoke to the National Press Club, the six major organizations issued a letter titled, "Addressing the Challenges Facing American Undergraduate Education," outlining work already in place to keep college affordable and improve outcomes. One key promise: to work with Congress to increase the Pell Grant.
Colleges need to get out of the business of doing high school and concentrate on higher education.
-Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, explaining that high schools
must do a better job preparing students for college.
Few top administrators are likely jealous of Lee
Bollinger these days. The president of Columbia University has seen two major free speech incidents explode at his school this fall.
In early October, students physically disrupted a speech by Jim Gilchrest, founder of the Minuteman Project, which is known for anti-immigration activities. The students stormed a stage and overturned a table at the event sponsored by the College Republicans, chanting "Minutemen, Nazis, KKK! Racists, fascists, go away!"
Bollinger hustled to issue a statement noting that the incident was being investigated. "This is not complicated," he said. "Students and faculty have rights to invite speakers to campus. Others have rights to hear them. Those who wish to protest have rights to do so. No one, however, shall have the right or the power to use the cover of protest to silence speakers."
A couple of weeks earlier, Columbia was mired in another free speech debacle when it retracted a speaking invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bollinger explained that Columbia had not been able to establish a conversation with the Iranian Embassy that would ensure Ahmadinejad's speech "would reflect the academic values" that are the hallmark of a university event.
The Ahmadinejad invitation had been made by Lisa Anderson, dean of the School of International and Public Affairs. Anderson had the right to invite speakers, Bollinger noted, adding that the event would have been in keeping with the open exchange that universities should protect.
Any recruitment campaign that generates 200,000 website hits in its first week can legitimately be dubbed successful. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, got that many hits with its "Yale Shmale" campaign, which features that slogan and a picture of President George W. Bush, a 1968 Yale alumni. Visitors to the site, www.yaleshmale.com, are advised "The smart choice is a university that's right for you." About 90,000 visitors have clicked through to the university's website, "which is pretty damn good," says Director of Communications Eleanor S. Abaya. "We've been inundated with e-mails, phone calls, and letters" from around the world, she says. People either love the ads or hate them; there is no middle ground. "We've achieved our awareness goals in spades." Abaya laughed at the idea Lakehead was trying to compare itself to Yale; still, they don't intend to expand the campaign to include other Ivy League schools.
In the seventh, and final, year of the University of California, San Diego's "Imagine What's Next" fundraising campaign, officials are looking inward for help in reaching their ambitious $1 billion goal.
Informal surveys had revealed a lack of awareness among faculty and staff about the campaign's effects on them, says Rebecca Newman, associate vice chancellor for development. While asking faculty and staff for contributions, as other institutions have done, was always the intention, until this summer they weren't targeted specifically, she adds.
With more than $900 million raised so far, "we wanted [employees to] understand and feel the tremendous community support that they have in making the institution more prominent," Newman explains. Through live kick-offs, a new website, and a brochure that informs and challenges staff to "help take us over the top," recognition and appreciation are the goals. "The pressure is not on giving-the emphasis is on learning what's happening, creating awareness, and building a sense of community," Newman says, adding that a dollar figure goal has purposely not been set.
Two new donor initiatives have been introduced:
The UCSD Faculty-Staff Undergraduate Scholarship Endowment, which supports children of employees and will receive up to $50,000 in matching funds (offered by former recreation department staffer Darcy Bingham and her husband)
The Staff Development Fund, which provides support for staff to participate in conferences and other career training opportunities
The campaign has included some more specific targets-including hospital employees, whose enterprise by nature is separate from academic areas, and emeriti staff members, who tend to have strong emotional ties to UCSD. "We have an extraordinary faculty and staff component here, and we wanted them to feel very much part of the success, by identification or actually contributing," Newman says.
Here's evidence that higher ed leaders are embracing flexibility: One in five institutions eligible for the Alfred P. Sloan Awards for Faculty Career Flexibility applied. After all, recruitment and retention of faculty, particularly women and underrepresented minorities, may depend on these programs.
The awards, which recognize research universities for supporting career flexibility for tenured and tenure-track faculty, were conducted by the American Council on Education, with support from the Families and Work Institute. Each winning institution received a $250,000 accelerator grant to continue its work.
Duke University (N.C.) will establish a Flexible Work Arrangements Policy, a Pre-Retirement Planning/Post-Retirement Work Program, and a Dual Career Recruitment/Retention Program.
Lehigh University (Pa.) will create the Integrated Faculty Career Transition Program to provide funds and support for boosting research productivity and conference attendance, as well as assisting faculty working less than full time.
University of California, Berkeley and Davis will initiate a systemwide educational campaign to promote equitable use of existing flexible career policies. Berkeley leaders will create a family-friendly tool kit for department heads, while Davis leaders will launch an advisor program for faculty who are family planning.
University of Florida will introduce a Presidential Council on Diversity and the Status of Women, a dual-career services program, and other initiatives to help establish policies, stimulate cross-campus discussions, standardize practices, and encourage flexible career choices.
University of Washington will launch "Eight by '08," a multipart program that will expand leadership development workshops, implement a pilot paid parental leave policy for faculty, create a tracking mechanism for policy use and faculty career options, create a support group for "new mom" faculty, and increase infant and toddler childcare slots available to faculty.
Also recognized, with $25,000, were Iowa State University (for its benefits-tracking system) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison (for support given to faculty who encounter critical junctures in their careers that affect their research and personal lives).
Earlier this fall a new book hit the higher education scene, and few Admissions offices have stopped buzzing about it since. The Price of Admission (Crown, 2006) alleges that America's richest and most powerful families receive unacceptable access to the country's elite colleges and universities. After lighting a fuse with the book, author Daniel Golden answers a few questions from University Business.
How were you able to get administrators to reveal such inside information?
Many current and former college and high school administrators provide information to me because they believe that college admissions should be fair and meritocratic and they're deeply troubled by preferences for children of alumni and donors and other privileged groups.
What has been the response?
Since actions speak louder than words, the greatest tribute my book has received came a week after its publication when Harvard eliminated early admissions. I'd like to think-and have reason to believe-that the timing of that announcement was a response to my book.
What would you most like administrators to take from the book?
I would like college administrators to realize that it's time for them to be more transparent about their admissions process. Colleges often try to stonewall journalists like me by pretending that they maintain a firewall between fundraising and admissions, or that legacy preference is only about tradition, not money.
For the complete Q&A, visit www.universitybusiness.com/exclusives.
Good benefits are part of any attractive employee package, but they are getting harder to provide.
Look up the word "growth" in the dictionary, and you will be hard-pressed to find a much better definition than what's happened at Roger Williams University.
Since 2001, the school-which enrolls nearly 5,000 students in 36 majors and five professional schools-has seen a 100 percent increase in applications, a 50 percent increase in enrollment, a 50 percent improvement in the graduation rate, and $58 million in new endowment funds.
All without steroids.
RWU, which hugs a stretch of water along Rhode Island's squiggly coastline, was created as a junior college in 1956. While it started out using space in various public buildings in Providence, it moved to Bristol in the 1960s as Roger Williams College, a four-year institution, and then became a full-fledged university in 1992. The university developed several programs with respectable reputations, including those in architecture, business, law, construction management, and marine science.
Yet it grappled with a perception problem. People didn't know of the school, and if they did they didn't always think much of it. In the late 1990s, the university showed an applicant acceptance rate of more than 90 percent. The graduation rate was 34 percent. Some folks referred to RWU as "Rich White Underachiever."
"I have watched Roger Williams over the years evolve from a community college with a very tenuous foothold on the educational community to become a full-fledged college, and then a university," says Chas. Freeman Jr., former U.S. ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia who now sits on RWU's Board of Overseers.
Freeman is one of many people who believe that under Roy Nirschel, the president of RWU since 2001, the university has been like a teenager growing into adulthood. Its strong points and potential have come into clearer focus. Its mission has become more fine-tuned and purposeful.
"What's happened under Nirschel is that this frankly third-rate educational establishment has moved very rapidly up the ranks," says Freeman, who also served as an assistant secretary of defense in the Clinton administration. "He's got a gift for innovation, for finding the niches that others have overlooked."
Call it a gift, a drive, or learned behavior-whatever the mechanics of Roy Nirschel's inner workings, this president is making things happen and moving up in the world of higher education. Many leaders can learn from his moves.
Nirschel crouched atop Mount Kilimanjaro, face raw from the wind and cold, mouth covered by material protecting skin from frigid air. He had climbed workplace ladders and faced challenges before, but this was among his most hard-won triumphs.
He posed for a picture adjacent to a sign etched with yellow lettering marking the top of the African continent. As the camera snapped, Nirschel held "Little Roger," a small cutout of the mascot of Roger Williams University. The moment embodied what Nirschel wanted for RWU, its faculty, its staff, and its students: to reach new heights with a wide view of the world.
The Kilimanjaro crest was just 11 months ago and Nirschel has now been president of Roger Williams for nearly six years. (As for Little Roger, he's made trips to such high-profile destinations as the White House since his Kilimanjaro climb.)
In his time at RWU, Nirschel has managed to change the essence of the school, the way it is perceived by others, and its outlook on the world. He has overseen so many initiatives that the university seems just back from a much-needed vacation-focused, energized, invigorated.
A number of qualities make Nirschel an up-and-comer in higher education. Here are insights into just a few.
Nirschel has a way with people. Just follow him around campus and this quality surfaces quickly. Students sometimes look bewildered when they receive a smile and a "hello" from the president (it's like he knows them or something).
Nirschel credits this trait in part to having grown up in a working class family-Dad was a firefighter, Mom was a homemaker-in Stamford, Conn. He feels comfortable around all kinds of individuals and appreciates the value of their work.
Nirschel also has a strong internal compass. Unlike some leaders who boast the same trait but can't seem to deal with discord, he believes in collaboration. When he first joined RWU, he launched a strategic planning process and formed committees to examine seven key areas of concern on campus. The committees included more than 125 individuals and were purposefully cross-pollinated, so as to remove members from their comfort zones. Someone from Admissions, for example, was assigned to look at graduation rates.
"It took many people here a little bit by surprise," says Anthony Hollingsworth, chair of the department of Foreign Languages and an associate professor of classical and Germanic languages. "He came in here bringing with him almost a business plan or a corporate feel, and he really compelled faculty to start working more with staff and administration." Hollingsworth adds, "There had definitely been a desire to break down silos, and I think that was happening, but he put a lot of impetus into it and at the same time expected results."
While still a newbie on the job, Nirschel navigated his way through what could have been a horrendous process: negotiating a contract with the university's faculty union.
"Roy's presidency began right in the middle of some very contentious faculty contract negotiations. To make matters worse, the outgoing administration had suspended faculty pay," says Kathy Micken, associate professor of Marketing at RWU. "A new president could have made himself scarce, choosing to be ensconced in the office surrounded by other administrators. Instead, Roy made a point of walking around campus, including the campus center where he was sure to encounter both faculty and students-and was sure to hear what faculty were thinking. If he did not hear, he made it a point to ask."
Nirschel helped shepherd a new faculty contract to approval by a 4-to-1 margin. While it had some controversial aspects, the contract also cleared the way for faculty gains. "It is a contract that expects results," says Hollingsworth. "It rewards people for doing good work and for publishing, and it sends a very clear message that we want our faculty to be not only pedagogically active but also in scholarship. ... If people do good research and good teaching, they can receive merit. We see that there is more pay in it, and there is more pay when people get promoted."
The relationship between faculty members and Nirschel is still strengthening. "His 'management by walking around' style continues," says Micken. "He has judiciously joined in faculty e-mail discussions, issues presidential missives on hot topics, and seeks the advice and counsel of faculty both formally and informally. As one faculty colleague e-mailed to the rest of us recently, when a topic of importance needs a good hearing, 'coffee with President Nirschel is a very attractive alternative. And the coffee in the Administration Building is very good.' "
Roger Williams University boasts myriad indicators of transformation under Nirschel. Its endowment hovers around $95 million (compared to $37 million five years ago) and the school is running an approximately $10 million surplus. The business school recently received accreditation from the International Association for Management Education (AACSB), putting it in an elite group.
Yet the university's clarification of core values and mission may well be the school's greatest recent advance. This is a process that Nirschel believes in deeply. Namely, the university's institutional values are: a love of learning as an intrinsic value; preparation for a career and future study; development of undergraduate research opportunities; service to the community; adoption of a global perspective; and nurturing of a caring and respectful community.
Nirschel ensures that decisions made on campus, whether about budgets, programs, or faculty projects, relate directly to the above values. "You set the values, you define the mission," says Nirschel. "Those values may mean something different in the business school or the law school, but if you talk to the deans and say 'love of learning, research, service, global perspective, respectful and caring environment'-those are the core values-you buy into it and how it is operationalized in your school."
Funding ties into how those values are articulated, he adds. "I say to people all the time, a lack of resources is not the biggest problem. A lack of a mission-driven, well-defined plan is the problem. You give me a terrific plan that ties into our core values, that adds value to students' experience, we'll give you the money. If you give me an idea that doesn't really resonate with the mission of the university, the odds of getting funding are in the zero to zero category."
A fall 2002 survey of faculty and staff, which asked what people outside of RWU said to them about the institution, indicated that RWU wasn't even on many folks' radar screens. "If it was, high-profile programs such as architecture or marine biology were all people knew about, except for perhaps the beautiful waterfront campus," says Micken, who was involved with the survey.
"If we asked the same question today," she says, "my guess is that the responses would be much different."
That's largely because Nirschel believes in making one's strengths known. One of the president's most notable accomplishments has been engineering a shift in public perception of Roger Williams.
When Nirschel first joined RWU's administration, he involved campus and community constituencies in creating a branding campaign, complete with a slogan, "Learning to Bridge the World." The university purchased billboard space for ads, not necessarily in Rhode Island but beyond. In the campaign's second year, a freshman approached Nirschel on campus. The new student remarked on the university's visibility, noting that he had seen a billboard down in Florida. "The one near Orlando, near Sea World?" Nirschel asked. "Yeah, great billboard," the student said.
"If you give me an idea that doesn't really resonate with the mission of the university, the odds of getting funding are in the zero to zero category."
But there wasn't a billboard in Florida. "People were saying they saw us in places where we weren't," Nirschel says. "Some people say billboards are tacky, advertising's tacky. I don't agree. We don't do billboards now, but people saw us everywhere. People would see a billboard in Westchester County (N.Y.), and a week later they would open U.S. News & World Report and think we were everywhere."
An ad campaign and public relations push mean little, however, without good stories to tell. Since taking on his role, Nirschel has set about helping RWU build its brag book.
This past spring alone, the university gathered a thick stack of news clips. RWU broke ground on a new marine science center, the Luther Blount Shellfish Hatchery and Oyster Restoration Center. First Lady Laura Bush spoke at graduation. And three young women who had witnessed horrors growing up in Afghanistan graduated from Roger Williams, thanks to the Initiative to Educate Afghan Women, a scholarship program founded by Paula Nirschel, the president's wife. (The initiative provides Afghan women with four-year scholarships to RWU and other U.S. colleges and universities, bringing the students together at events and supporting them as they return to their home country to create lasting change.)
"We've got great projects going on," says President Nirschel, "and we're telling people the story."
International relations and a global perspective lie high on Nirschel's list of priorities. His work is "projecting us far beyond the campus and region, so that we'll improve qualitatively by being connected both locally and globally, which matches the 'Learning to Bridge the World' identity that he's created," says Stephen White, dean of RWU's School of Architecture, Art, and Historic Preservation.
Exhibit A of that global mindset: The Center for Macro Projects and Diplomacy, created in 2003. Working with Nirschel, White and RWU Overseer and MIT Professor Frank Davidson (who helped develop the English Channel Tunnel) created the center to produce broad proposals to meet challenges around the world.
Rather than just ponder issues like a think tank, the center acts as a "do tank," as Nirschel likes to say. It teams researchers, policy experts, and academics from various disciplines to create real proposals. For example, the center has overseen development of a strategy for the infrastructure of an independent Palestinian state. High-ranking United Nations officials, engineers, architects, and international relations experts, among others, have joined in planning Palestinian ports, an offshore island, and linkages between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The center has secured $250,000 for feasibility studies.
"The president has been centrally involved in that," says White. "We work out the agenda for the work together. He really sees it as one of the key elements of the globalization of the university."
Study abroad and admissions of international students have also blossomed under Nirschel's guidance. In 2005, 39 percent of juniors at RWU participated in study-abroad programs. Five years ago, students had five sites to choose from. Now there are 39, including RWU campuses in Florence and Ho Chi Minh City. The newest destinations include Jordan, India, Costa Rica, South Africa, Germany, and Argentina.
In April, sophomores with 3.0 GPAs or higher got invited to hear Wolfgang Vorwerk, the consul general of Germany in Boston, speak; had their passport pictures taken free of charge; and completed passport forms. Eighteen-year-old Hilary Wehner had never had her own passport until that day. "I feel like he's trying to get us to be more international," she says of Nirschel. Indeed, the event was his idea.
In 2004, the Roger Williams University College Republicans attempted to make a point about race-based preferences by advertising a "Whites Only" scholarship. The move, while intended somewhat as a joke, brought tensions to the surface. Nirschel issued a statement on the university's commitment to diversity and to free, but civil, speech. "He did more than admonish the students," says Micken. "He used the incident to initiate a program of 'civil discourse.' "
Through the initiative, a variety of speakers have been brought to RWU's campus, from Salman Rushdie to Professor David Wilkins of Harvard Law School to the civil rights attorney Morris Dees. A new journal, Reason & Respect: A Journal of Civil Discourse, has been established as well. "This initiative really compels people to think and to speak with some reason and some respect, so that their arguments are made in a kind of manner that does not make people uncomfortable, and that we create an environment on campus that allows people to think and speak in a variety of ways," says Robert Engvall, an associate professor of Justice Studies who co-edits Reason & Respect.
"It is a vindication of the name of the school," notes Freeman, adding that Roger Williams stood for tolerance of differences and civil discourse.
Freeman actually first met Nirschel when he was asked to speak on campus about the invasion of Iraq. Freeman believed the U.S. government was taking the country into an ambush in Iraq, yet he spoke to a largely Republican RWU student body. "[Nirschel] always seems to recognize the need to cause people to reflect about their own beliefs," Freeman says. "I think that is the mark of a great educator."