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2024 Survey of Provosts Reveals Interesting Insights on How Campuses are Dealing with AI, Diversity, Free Speech and Financial Challenges

Inside Higher Ed, together with Hanover Research, recently released its annual Survey of College and University Chief Academic Officers, providing insight into the priorities of and challenges facing higher education institutions. With 331 provosts fully or partially completing surveys (a 13% response rate), the survey covered a wide range of topics including artificial intelligence, diversity, equity, and inclusion, campus speech, the future of academic programs, and more. While the comprehensive key findings and data tables can be found in the report, below is a highlight of several major areas.

Artificial Intelligence: Artificial intelligence continues to be an evolving focus at many institutions. 92% of provosts responded that faculty and staff members asked for additional training related to the developments in generative AI. Seventy-eight percent (78%) have offered training in response to faculty concerns or questions about generative AI within the last 18 months and an additional 20% have planned training. For students, only 14% of provosts said that their institution has reviewed the curriculum to ensure that it will prepare students for AI in the workplace, though 73% plan to do so. The use and future of AI is far from settled. Although 47% of provosts are moderately concerned, 20% very concerned, and 6% extremely concerned about the risk generative AI poses to academic integrity, only 20% of institutions have published a policy or policies governing the use of AI, including in teaching and research. An additional 63% have a policy under development. However, in contrast to those concerns, 40% of provosts are moderately enthusiastic, 32% very enthusiastic, and 11% extremely enthusiastic for AI’s potential to boost their institution’s capabilities. Several institutions are using AI for virtual chat assistants and chatbots, research and data analysis, Learning Management Systems, predictive analytics to predict student performance and trends, and in other capacities. This is an area where we can expect rapid developments in the coming months.

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Strategies, Structure, and Considerations for Implementing Artificial Intelligence into Education Delivery

The rapid growth of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is creating both excitement and angst on where and how to begin safe, effective integration. While there are many ways AI can be applied, these suggestions are focused on educational delivery. For those who have begun applying and engaging student-facing AI, the vertical evolution requires structured and continuous development of institutional-level AI governance to maintain safe and ethical use. Governance structures should consider continuous growth of policies, guidelines and directives for use, approval processes, and staged training for faculty, staff, and students based on the speed of changes occurring in the market. 

Lacking or vague policies, structure, or training approaches may leave administrators, faculty, and students without the guidance needed to reap the benefits of AI use. Lacking governance structures or broad policies may unintentionally promote unsafe or unethical use of AI on the part of students, faculty, staff, and instructional designers who may not have the proper guidance to integrate. This can lead to compromised course design and program content, AI hallucinations, misinformation, and privacy breaches to proprietary university content, impacting the university and quality of education. 

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Teach-Outs for Closing Programs and Institutions

Teach-Outs for Closing Programs and Institutions
Patricia E. Salkin, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Touro University

Lately, a week hardly goes by without news of another institution announcing plans to close programs or departments, and even entire colleges and universities planning to shut down.  According to University Business, in the last four years, more than 50 public and private nonprofit colleges have either announced plans to close, have closed, or have merged with another institution. Higher Ed Dive has been tracking the number of major colleges that have closed, merged or consolidated since 2016, providing an easy-to-use map showing that Massachusetts and New York lost ten schools each (with New York losing another one this week), followed by nine in Illinois and seven in California.   U.S. News and World Report reported that between July 2004 and June 2020 close to 12,000 college campuses closed. On a smaller scale, it is unknown precisely how many schools and majors within institutions are closed due to financial challenges and low enrollments. 

For provosts/chief academic officers, the elimination of programs and the closure of a college brings added responsibilities to ensure the orderly teach-out for enrolled students so that they may achieve the degree they signed up for with as little disruption as possible.  Staying student-focused is key during this time, however, it is also important to remember the impacts on faculty and staff who will understandably be concerned about their futures as well. What follows is a checklist of items to consider for provosts who are faced with teach-outs once the decision is made to close the program or school.


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Radical Self-Care for CAOs

The foundational principle of self-care is that individuals must put themselves first before they can care for others.  However, as chief academic officer (CAO), the role is rooted in caring for all others before caring for oneself.  CAOs must be responsive to crises and are considered essential personnel.  They must be present in times of crisis and expected to provide vision and leadership in navigating them.  During the most stressful moments, they are on call at any time of the day or night.  This sentiment was evident during COVID-19, in which CAOs led efforts, organized teams, and played an integral role in addressing community needs.  CAOs face complex challenges within higher education environments and make collaborative decisions to manage them.  CAOs are required to react to some of the most horrific situations.  They must examine, experience, and address some issues that can cause vicarious trauma.

Nevertheless, the fast pace of the job, the expectations of stakeholders, and the need to foster a safe environment all come before self-care.  Often, no time is available to reflect or address emotions.  So when does self-care become apparent and needed?  CAOs need to be more focused on self-care.  After the world stabilized from the initial impact of COVID-19, the focus shifted to normalizing our environments rather than addressing the implications for human capital.  The increasing instances of traumatizing events within higher education environments are having an impact on wellness.  Nevertheless, we still need to focus on the effects of those on the front lines of addressing these issues.

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The Power of Discomfort

I begin this writing with a painful admission, especially as a higher education professional. I was raised in a community that made racists feel comfortable to share their beliefs. Thankfully, my parents were not among them—I never once heard my mother or father judge someone by their skin color or nationality—but other community members, and sadly even other family members, regularly made comments about the propensity of entire races for laziness or theft or ignorance. Raised in the rural midwest, I had limited opportunity early on to let experience conquer stereotypes. I knew, though, the labels did not describe the admittedly few non-white students who attended my elementary school. When I felt uncomfortable hearing these comments and would ask my parents why even some family members talked this way, I was told, “That’s just who they are. We can’t change them, but we love them anyway.”

I did love my family deeply. I loved them with all of their flaws as I hoped they loved me with mine, but as I furthered my education, more discomfort would follow. I would feel it when we studied historical events such as slavery, Apartheid, and the Holocaust, and I realized the horrors that humanity was capable of. I would feel it when we studied more recent injustices such as new redlining, racial profiling, and hate crimes, and I had to acknowledge that humanity hadn’t fixed itself and not everyone wanted it to.

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Authentic Leadership

I’ve spent my entire career in higher education, primarily as a faculty member and mid-level administrator. Ambitious since I left my mother’s womb, I knew I was drawn to executive level leadership.  Throughout my tenure in academia, I grew more and more convinced I would not be selected for c-suite leadership because of one thing: my honesty. My approach to working with people seemed so entirely different to all the examples I had witnessed. Top leadership most often seemed hidden, secretive, and certainly not wearing their hearts on their sleeve as I do. I feared there wasn’t a place for my style which emphasized relationship building, transparency, and authenticity.

I was steadfast in my belief that I could only be myself and I interviewed demonstrating this.  To my astonishment, one (very smart) president gave me an opportunity to live my dream of serving as a provost. One of the countless strategies and tactics I employed when I began was to send a weekly message, often with a motivational bent, to my extended team.  The messages typically came from a personal space and included quite a bit about me alongside some academic theme.  They appeared to be well received and I would often receive responses from staff sharing their opinions and insights. As the years progressed, I slowly began to send fewer of these messages. I felt I had established a very strong relationship with my team and wanted to save them from reading one more email.

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The Role of Chief Academic Officer in Community Engagement

We often think of the CAO’s role as only internal without seeing it more broadly. This is a mistake.  Faculty members are expected to go beyond teaching and research and focus on service, including service outside the institution. CAO’s should also play a role externally in engaging with the community for the betterment of their campus. As often the second highest position on the campus they need to not leave it only the President or Chancellor.

There are several reasons for this. First, the institution should be “of” the community not simply “in” it. In addition to giving students an excellent education and building a strong regional and national research expectation, colleges and universities should be making themselves resources to the communities they serve. Promoting service learning helps achieve this by students working on projects of direct value to governmental, educational, business, and nonprofit organizations. Campuses like Michigan State and The University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) have also built engagement into their RPT guidelines.  Faculty and staff should use their expertise to address community problems, helping build credibility and goodwill. The CAO is in a critical position to fund and support these efforts.

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Does General Education Meet the Needs of Today’s Students

In my long academic administration career, I was rarely warned against treading into an area of potential conflict.  But several times at different institutions, my “boss” indicated that General Education was not an area I could profitably address because it could be political dynamite.  I heeded the advice and held my tongue.  But as I watch my grandchildren prepare to go to college and I read the degree requirements of their prospective institutions, I am as perplexed as ever about the beloved Gen Ed requirements.  The unrest is even more acute today as the additional “hot potato” of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been added to the requirements at some universities. Are the concepts enshrined in Gen Ed so profound that everyone needs to understand them?   In our “What do I need to get a job?” era, should Gen Ed still be required?  In addition, does the current methodology of teaching these ideas through required courses or courses in required disciplines meet the outcome our students need?
 
At the beginning of my own days as a university student I was given a list of the university’s Gen Ed requirements.  The list named the courses to be taken to meet those requirements and a number of credits in each area that was needed.  And the advising was very essentially non-existent.  (I suspect this is the experience of most current provosts.) There was no rationale for the  specific courses and no indication how choosing any specific course would help me develop as a biology major.  There was no discussion about my career goals and, importantly, how choosing an inappropriate course might delay graduation because major program requirements might require a different course from the long list.  I am sure that advising is better today that it was in 1966, but as an interested grandparent, I cannot see that the student experience has changed much.  At best I am seeing a list of university core requirements and a list of specific program major requirements listed separately, but not the context that might explain why they were chosen, which courses aid achievement of desired careers, and which are safe backups, in case I chose to change my major from biology to business or vice versa.
 
I think the conundrum occurs because requirements are chosen without a specific career in mind.  In most cases the Gen Ed requirements were decided on by the university under direction of the faculty and with the consent of the administration.  The goal was, I believe, to give students insight into the breadth of universal knowledge as understood by the institution’s faculty, to make sure university graduates have a taste for different areas of possible interest and, perhaps, to bring students up to some minimal level of knowledge so that employers knew what to expect from university graduates.
 
The diversity of institutions and the diversity of faculty within their institutions means that the student experience has huge variation.  For example, at a university that stresses engineering, the requirements might include quantitative reasoning while at a liberal arts university they might include courses on intercultural perspectives.  I interpret this as meaning that general education is not something that can be generalized.  Professional accreditation requirements might also skew the choices a student might have .  In addition, more than one state appears to set requirements.  In Arkansas, Appendix C, Section 1 of the Division of Higher Education’s Procedures for Establishing Programs sets some requirements.  In Missouri, Statute 170.011 requires some knowledge of Missouri be included in the academic program.  In some states, such as Michigan, the requirements for state institutions to be able to accept transfer students means Gen Ed has been somewhat standardized through the Michigan Transfer Agreement.  Recent proposed legislative bills in Florida suggest the exclusion of some gender and diversity topics from Gen Ed will be made mandatory.  These decisions external to the university impede the individual institutions from making their degree requirements unique. 
 
But what happens to the student who does not follow the “traditional” path of tertiary education by attending a single institution for four to six years?  Does a student path that starts in a community college, where generality is more generally the rule, mean that the student who transfers is really at a disadvantage in acquiring the engineering or the history degree? The challenge of transferability may impact students so that for a student intent on a technical degree, the community college history course that discusses the social impacts of war to the exclusion of the technological aspects may not be accepted as part of the program at the school into which the student transfers.
 
What are the other unintended consequences of Gen Ed?  Does it impact student retention or graduation?  How many students have been put off by the mathematics requirement or the social sciences requirement?  At some institutions it is suggested that Gen Ed requirements be completed in the first two years (especially if the goal is transfer).  But a future engineer wants to do some engineering!  Many engineering programs now make sure there is a freshman engineering course, which may delay the taking of a Gen Ed course until much later in the student’s life at the institution.  Is so much emphasis on the “general” impacting the efforts toward “education” that the student decides to leave college and take a job that will never develop into a career?  Should the inability to pass a laboratory science course mean that the world loses a wonderfully creative graphic artist?
 
With all these questions, I think that now is the time to have a national conversation, perhaps hosted by ACAO or ACE, on the entire question of general education.  Perhaps Gen Ed should be eliminated as antiquated.  Perhaps graduation requirements should all be individualized.  Or perhaps providing a rationale for why all students of any age should have a general education will help us substantiate the need for higher education for all.
Michael A. Gealt is Professor Emeritus and former Executive Vice President / Provost at Central Michigan University where he served for six years prior to his retirement in 2020.  He previously served as Dean of Engineering, Mathematics and Science (and briefly Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs) at Purdue University Calumet (now Northwest) and as Dean of the College of Science at University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

Panel Discussion Explores the Impact of ChatGPT on Higher Education

On 21 February 2023, ACAO hosted a panel discussion on Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer (ChatGPT) and its potential uses (or abuses) in higher education. The goal of the panel was twofold: (1) to introduce provosts and other attendees to ChatGPT (developed by OpenAI) and similar AI language models and technologies; and (2) to discuss the opportunities and challenges of this new technology on our working, teaching, and learning environments.

Three speakers addressed attendees. First, Dr. Jing Peng from Montclair State University provided a high-level presentation on AI chatbot technology and its evolution over time. Dr. Peng’s presentation highlighted the fact that this technology is not “new,” per se, with roots that extend back decades – but its development is accelerating exponentially as it becomes “smarter” given the vast amount of data that are now available for its refinement and evolution.

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ACAO at ACE 2023

ACAO has several events for Provosts to attend while at ACE in DC this April.  If you're a provost, you won't want to miss us!

April 13th 5-7pm ACAO Provost Reception @ The City Tap House, 901 9th St NW

April 14th 7:30-9:00am ACAO Members Business Meeting, Marriott Marquis Room: Capital M4

April 14th 10:15-11:00am At the Pleasure of the President, Marriott Marquis Room: Marquis Ballroom 12-13M2

 

On Being a Working Mom and Provost

I am the mother of five children, ranging in age from 15 to 20 years oldI am also a provost and senior vice president of a large university. Being a “power mom” comes with a host of unique challenges requiring skilled navigation to ensure no one part of my life overtakes the other. It is acknowledging the ebb and flow - that sometimes my work takes precedence and other times my family, depending on the situation. 

I enjoy my job immensely and get great personal satisfaction from it. I crave intellectual stimulation and thrive on day-to-day ambiguity. I also love my children, but I realized early on in my life that to be the best mother I could be, I needed to be in an environment that allowed me to pursue my growth as a professional. This meant prioritizing my needs as an individual and making peace with “mommy guilt.” It also meant accepting and letting go of the day-to-day minutiae of my children’s lives. I was never the mom who attended sports games, played dolls, or volunteered in my childrens classrooms. But I was the mom who taught them how to do laundry, cook, clean, problem-solveand drive. I opted out of family trips to Disneyland for trips to China, Germany, and Greece. 

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The Faculty-CAO Relationship: Making it Work

Regardless of how long you served as an instructional faculty member, as the institution’s Chief Academic Officer, you are no longer part of that club. You still work with and among faculty but make no mistake: You don’t have the same relationships that you previously did. You may have served as a department head or dean and think you are used to changing interactions with faculty, but the CAO role holds a specific set of foibles.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a collegial association with your faculty; that mutual respect and commitment is more important than ever. But your interactions, communications and overall association is different and more delicate. Keep these three things in mind as you consider your own connections with faculty.

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Sharing Resources With Members

Sharing our professional experiences, especially the novel challenges faced by chief academic officers is an invaluable resource as we lead in academia. As the single national organization of and for Chief Academic Officers, ACAO endeavored in 2020 to develop and deploy a series of Town Hall Meetings. Sharing their expertise, CAO’s from a diversity of institutions participated in a series of live Town Hall meetings available at no cost.

With topics ranging from COVID-19 to The Great Resignation, seasoned professionals not only shared their expertise but welcomed questions and feedback from a community of practitioners. Recordings of the 16 discussions can be found at 

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Internal Leadership Training for Faculty and Academic Administrators Reaps Big Rewards

It is both expensive and time-consuming on many levels to launch a national search for every academic leadership position on campus.  Sometimes, of course, a national search is warranted for a Dean or for a Provost, but for other positions, such as department chairs, program directors, assistant and associate deans and associate/provosts, having a trained and ready “back bench” may be the best solution to maintain desired progress and efficiencies.  Admittedly, there are reasons to desire external candidates when changes and fresh perspectives are desired, but that is not always the case.  More often than not, leadership laments that there are no internal candidates ready to move up.

When colleges and universities want to retain their best, most creative, ambitious, and competent faculty and academic administrators, it is important for these people to sense a career path if they stay at the institution, and it is important to invest in their professional development so that they feel valued. With these two complementary goals in mind, the Touro College Academy of Leadership and Management (TCALM) was implemented five years ago in 2018.

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Practical Alternatives to Tenure: Lessons Learned for Best Practice

As chief academic officers, we are all familiar with the real and perceived concerns about traditional tenure-track faculty appointments. At many of our institutions, these concerns are enhanced by constraints in funding and tenure quotas that limit our ability to make tenure-track appointments. Statistics show the percentage of tenured and tenure-track appointments has declined across all sectors of higher education in recent years. In fact, the American Association of University Professors reports that the actual number of full-time, non-tenure-track faculty hired in 2016 exceeded the number of tenure-track faculty.

While not advocating for or against this practice, we recognize that provosts may need to make non-tenure-track (NTT) appointments to address enrollment trends and to recruit specialized faculty, particularly in new degree programs. Making such appointments may be critical to your success in ensuring the academic quality of your programs.

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Transition to the New Academic Normal

It is now over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first significantly affected the functions of higher education and the consequences of the impact cannot be under-estimated.  Many effects were budgetary, including negative enrollment growth, but probably most important to academic affairs in the long run was the changes implemented in the way we do our business as faculty and academic administration.  The pandemic resulted in rapid change, but as several authors have noted, primarily the pandemic was speeding up changes in education that were already in progress[1].  In 2020 we went from traditional “university speed” to Star Wars hyper-drive speed, but along the path we had already chosen.
 

The challenges we currently face getting back to a “normal” (thanks to vaccines and other immunity enhancers), are working with student impacts (including the challenges of new students whose instruction while in high school or community college was negatively impacted) and finding the technology mix that is appropriate.  We seem to be in a continuous transition state.  While in 2020, we were mainly responding without much time for reflection, we now need to perform assessments of the changes we made.  We need to assure that modifications that were improvements are not.  It is only through this assessment that our picture of the academy of the future will be realized.

Therefore, we will need to look at changes that were made in:

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Factors CAOs Consider to Remain in Their Positions

In June 2022, ACAO partnered with the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) to study the longevity of Provosts in their positions. The resulting study led to a research paper.

Factors Chief Academic Officers Consider in Deciding Whether to Remain in Their Positions

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ACAO @ ACE Annual Conference

ACAO Provosts presenting at the ACE Annual Conference April 13-15, 2023 in Washington, DC. 

Many CAOs attend the ACE Annual Conference and ACAO will host a session during the meeting.  If you’re a CAO in attendance you won’t want to miss the CAO meetings ACAO has planned in addition to the sessions. 

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Lawyer Provosts Increasingly Appointed as Campus Presidents

By Patricia E. Salkin, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost of the Graduate and Professional Divisions, Touro University

A little studied trend revealed in a new book, shows the exponential increase in the number of lawyers being appointed as college and university presidents.  Serving as a provost is often a pathway to the presidency for those interested, yet the data shows that most lawyer presidents did not previously serve as provosts or chief academic officers.  Although there is little published research about the backgrounds of provosts, it is fair to state that the typical provost does not possess a JD degree.  A 2010 Study of Chief Academic Officers of Independent Colleges and Universities published by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) indicated that among provosts (of chief academic officers) at four-year colleges and universities, at least 90% indicated that they held a terminal degree.  The study reported that 86% of chief academic officers at independent institutions had earned a PhD and 10% had earned an EdD. Of the remaining 4%, the survey reported the provosts possessed theology degrees, JDs (less than 1%) and MDs.

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A Communication Compact

 

            “…As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you may think.”  Campbell

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