By Shannon M. Davis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Change in public higher education does not take place in a sea of tranquility. Nearly every member of the UA community is affected by the recent funding cuts and the consequent shifting of priorities. Paul S. Sypherd, senior vice president for Academic Affairs and provost for the University of Arizona, says he has become a lightning rod in this storm of academic change.
Sypherd said he was the one who recommended the elimination of the UA's Journalism Department to President Manuel Pacheco. He's also the one who has been challenged by the Arizona Board of Regents to explain why the number of tenured faculty teaching in the classroom isn't higher. He also gets to explain why classes students need to take are full.
Sypherd prefers to call himself a coach and a cheerleader rather than an administrator or lightning rod. He acknowledges the importance of the business aspect of running any university, but admittedly would rather talk with people about the business than make sure the paperwork is in order. He's eager to tell you that his favorite part of the job is talking to regents, legislators and moms and dads about the UA's business.
He has an idea on anything you ask him about. He'll talk from a historical perspective about the dramatic changes being experienced in public higher education. He'll also tell you how those in his business have sometimes failed in their delivery of education, a university's basic unit of service.
Sypherd has spent 30 years in academia as a faculty member, head researcher, and as a department head. He came to the UA in January of 1993 to replace Dr. Jack Cole as provost. He received his bachelor's of science from Arizona State University, his master's from the UA and his Ph.D. from Yale with his speciality being molecular genetics.
Like many academics, he says that he got into campus administration by accident. He calls his move back to the UA one of the best he's ever made. He's elated about the dramatic changes at the UA over the past 15 to 20 years. He said he likes being a part of a leading public university, and in a Sept. 8 interview with the Wildcat, discussed higher education and the UA.
Wildcat: What's your vision for the UA and how does the conflict between budget cutbacks and the need to improve undergraduate education fit into this vision?
Paul Sypherd: There was a dramatic turn in public higher education in the early 1980s due to the end of the cold war and massive debt in the world. The educational world changed because our budgets were reduced. Here at the UA it was particularly dramatic. From 1989 to the present, the UA's state budget is down between $40 to $50 million. Our faculty is down by 150 since 1989-1990.
The faculty is devoting more time to the classroom and at the same time contracts and grants continue to go up in an international setting. I can only conclude from that, that our faculty is working very, very hard and now we are calling upon them to do more with less and they are responding in a fabulous way.
Our challenge is how to maintain a university of excellence. Our job is not just to process students although that is the view of many out there in the political scene. We want graduates whose lives have been changed and who are prepared for a lifetime of change, for a lifetime of learning, of self-direction, of knowing themselves, preparing themselves and adapting to a changing world. That's why we want a faculty who discover knowledge at the same time they are imparting it.
WC: What is the status of the core curriculum?
PS: The concept of core curriculum is very controversial. We have recruited faculty based on their expertise, not on general knowledge of the world. Now we are asking them to think about their field in a broader context because we now want to educate across the barriers of departments and colleges. Interdisciplinary models give us a model on how to do that.
The content of the courses needs to be determined by the faculty, not by the administration. The principles of a given course need to be determined and only faculty can lay those principles out. . At the same time of debate and refinement of principles, there will be pilot courses in the spring of 1996. We're piloting because we want to know the reactions of faculty because they'll be teaching in teams. We also want to know what the student reaction will be to this sort of integrated approach. I frankly think that students will like this integrated approach.
WC: Is the Commission on Communications and Information an integrated approach which includes journalism?
PS: One of the reasons the Commission was appointed was because I don't have a vision for this field of communication and where it should go.
There's a revolution taking place. People who understand and are a part of that revolution need to tell us how we prepare students to be a part of the information revolution.
WC: In hindsight, what would you have done differently with the Journalism Department process?
PS: I was the lightning rod and I understood I was at the nexus of suggestions that were being made. But I was also there for another reason and that is an understanding, and the president says this very well. He says that we cannot continue to be all things to all people for all times ... Part of my mission and vision is to reduce the UA to things that it does exceedingly well, and that it fits within the framework of the taxpayers' view of the job of a university. In that regard, journalism got sucked into that vortex, just as statistics, physical education and nuclear engineering. The university is going to continue this. We have no option as long as we're going to get static budgets or reduced budgets. The alternative is to let everyone drop to some low level of mediocrity.
WC: What is the vision for the Integrated Instructional Facility (IFF)?
PS: It was conceived of in parallel, but not dependent upon the core curriculum. What we need is better instructional space that is more conducive to a learning atmosphere and new ways of teaching. As we change emphasis from professor and student to teaching and learning, we need to redesign and re-configure stations at which this learning takes place. We need to use multimedia in the classroom, use visual presentations, and change configurations like not having chairs bolted down and small break-out rooms to discuss issues.
We know so much now about what takes place in the mind of a learner and we have incorporated so little of that into higher education that we have really, in a sense, failed our mission as being educators.
A lot of what we have to do now involves faculty becoming students again so that they can learn what is known about learning. The Integrated Instructional Facility is a structure that is about learning.
WC: Where will the IIF be and when?
PS: It needs to be centrally located. . The president's cabinet has concurred, with some caveats, to site it on the Mall. One of the most exciting aspects of this building is that it is to be built underground in front of the library. The design has to come back to the president's cabinet to be approved and ultimately will go to the regents or one of their committees.
WC: What's the time-line for the IIF?
PS: The ground-breaking could probably occur in the spring of 1996 and it's probably an 18- to 20-month process. We might be able to be ready for the 1998 freshman class.
WC: What is the UA's relationship to New Campus?
PS: It is murky. The concept is that we should spawn and shepherd New Campus into existence but not with UA budgetary resources. The president has insisted all along that New Campus must have its own separate budget. I don't know if there will be a 1996 or 1997 class. . Some regents want to examine here (Tucson) or ASU East in Chandler. We have to see what the demands really are.
WC: Is tenure still a viable concept?
PS: Tenure is a very old concept and a very hot button. At the heart of tenure, I see several things. First and foremost is academic freedom. The ability and even the demand that we as faculty question, challenge, invent and even communicate. Some believe those freedoms are guaranteed by the constitution and the courts. . I believe the notion that the courts will protect academic freedom is incorrect. I believe that once that freedom starts to fall off the wagon it'll fall off everywhere. So as soon as there is an inroad made against that fundamental and vital element of tenure, it will be eroded and soon disappear.
The second important element about tenure is an economic one. Many of us went into the professor business at salaries lower because of the long-term commitment the university has to me as a thinking, knowledge-seeking person. Part of the economic exchange for a lower salary is freedom and a long-term commitment.
Thirdly, is a kind of core commitment. . What would this university look like if we were all hired on three-year contracts? We need a core of faculty that are committed for the long term and that carry our traditions and commitments over changes of presidencies, changes of governors, and changes of government and changes of political and social thinking.
Those in the faculty who say it is outmoded do so from the safety of tenure. I don't put a lot of stock in people who say it's outmoded.
I think one thing that upsets and concerns the public as expressed by the regents and the Legislature is this idea that it's a lifetime job no matter how badly you do it. We certainly need to re-examine that. One of the things we faculty have done less well than any other profession is police our own ranks. ... I believe violations are not extensive at the UA and I, therefore, think it's manageable if we have a process for review and a consequence for failure to perform or for poor performance.
WC: What would your advice be to a son or daughter that you sent to the UA?
PS: I would say to them that you need to shed your views of what you're going to extract from the university and be prepared for what the university has to offer you. You need, most of all, to be ready to change . ready to change your belief system, what you think you know and don't know, what you're prepared to engage in as a lifetime occupation and, finally and maybe most importantly, is to get (your mind) ready for a lifetime of change and learning. Don't think that five years from now you're going to walk out knowing everything and that's all you need to know for the rest of your life.
The last thing I would say is don't just view this as a place where you're going to learn how to use a computer or wield a paintbrush or compose poetry. View this as a place where you're going to acquire a sensitivity, compassion, passion, and an understanding of how other cultures operate and how they don't have to be regarded as foreign and how your culture can make a connection with them. I happen to believe, as an evolutionist, that we really are one family and when we acquire these ideas that we're just different from those other people, we set up these boundaries that make certain that we remain in different parts of the globe even if we're just in different parts of Tucson.
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