November 7, 2008
Arkansas State University-Jonesboro

This fall in Northeast Arkansas has been spectacular! Irene and I have a perfectly proportioned Pin Oak tree in our backyard that is in full color and dazzling in its beauty. This time of year reminds me not only of the inevitable change in seasons, but also of the cyclical nature of life. Yesterday, our grandson Duke Shackelford, who just turned two, arrived from Arlington, Virginia, for his first visit to Arkansas. He is just beginning to make sentences, and of course we think he is a prodigy, especially when he reads numbers, and can sing the alphabet song and the National Anthem! On the other hand, we and our siblings are now challenged with arranging suitable care for our aging parents. Ireneís mom, Anna Greta Johansson, is 96 and recently had to be coaxed to sell her home and move into an assisted living facility in Nora, Sweden. My parents, Frank and Ruth Potts, are 93 and 89 respectively, residents of Northwest Alabama, and both in ill health. We are planning short visits to see and assist with all three before the end of this month.

I have two topics I want to address in this issue of First Friday: the proposed shared governance amendments and developments in our distance learning activities.

Shared Governance
As I mentioned in the September 5, 2008, edition of First Friday, for several months earlier this year a drafting group worked at my request to provide suggestions for streamlining our complicated shared governance structure. This group was essentially the same as had suggested amendments to the Faculty Handbook in 2007 that resulted in amendments adopted by the Board of Trustees on June 1 of that year. Due to my unintentional omission, the group did not include a Staff Senate representative. Nevertheless, the group came up with a solid proposal to leave existing shared governance committees in place, except for combining the bifurcated committees on committees known as the Academic Governance Oversight Committee (AGOC) and the Institutional Governance Oversight Committee (IGOC) into a new committee to be named the Shared Governance Oversight Committee (SGOC). In the opinion of most, the use of these two current committees, the AGOC and the IGOC, contributes often to confusion as to which committee has jurisdiction of policy issues considered in the shared governance process. In the existing structure the staff had no representatives on the eight-member AGOC and three representatives on the 10-member IGOC. In the new structure as originally proposed, staff would have four members on the 14-person SGOC. See the Initial Report of Drafting Committee.

Initial review of the drafting group proposal by campus constituency groups resulted in several objections from the Staff Senate primarily relating to the number of staff representatives on the proposed SGOC given their relative numbers on campus. As a consequence of these objections, a number of changes to the drafting groupís original proposal were negotiated. First, staff and faculty representatives on the SGOC were equalized at five from each group -- the presidents of the Staff and Faculty Senates and four appointed members from each group. Next, a provision was inserted to assure that at least one staff member and one faculty member would be elected officers of the SGOC each year. Finally, it was provided that ". . . those with the most direct interest in an issue affecting their constituency should have the most input regarding that issue, [and] the SGOC will defer to the majority view of the members of that group when reviewing or acting on issues primarily affecting that group . . ."

The revised proposal was again submitted to all constituency groups and has received approval from the Faculty Senate, Student Government Association, Graduate Student Council, Chairs Council, Academic Deans Council, the Academic Governance Oversight Committee, and the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Research. The Staff Senate has voted not to support the revised proposal. Thus, I am faced with a decision of whether to forward the proposal with my recommendation through the president of the ASU System to the Board of Trustees for action, or whether to defer to the continued objections of the Staff Senate.

I have reluctantly and with much deliberation and discussion with Staff Senate representatives decided that I should forward the revised proposal to the president of the ASU System and the Board of Trustees with my affirmative recommendation for adoption. My reasons for this decision are as follows:

  • The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, our regional accrediting body, expects our campus to have a functioning shared governance system and that was reiterated to us in a recent focused visit where shared governance was a specific issue examined.

  • The current structure is cumbersome, time consuming and confusing to all involved. The implementation of this proposal will make shared governance work better on our campus.

  • The interests of the staff are better represented and protected in the revised version than in the current structure.

  • It is not fair to the other constituency groups who support this revision to allow one group to block these incremental improvements to the shared governance structure.

  • Other improvements and concerns of the Staff Senate can be considered at a later date. Our shared governance system is always a work in progress, and refinements can be made as we gain experience with the system and structure in place at any given time.

The lodestar for success in shared governance is that all participants in the process, including the administration, work in good faith to adhere to the spirit and intent of this meaningful way for all internal stakeholders to have a voice on policy issues affecting the university. I appreciate everyoneís input into this important issue.

Distance Learning
As you will recall, one of our task forces last year considered the state of distance learning offerings from our campus and recommended we expand this delivery mode.

In March of this year, our campus was given the opportunity to partner with a private company in Dallas, Higher Education Holdings, to offer some programs via a model developed by that company and then being used successfully by Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, to deliver graduate education courses. We evaluated the situation thoroughly and made a campus decision that it offered us a unique opportunity to ramp up quickly our distance learning offerings with a high quality delivery platform, while at the same time minimizing ASU upfront costs and maximizing the potential to increase our student enrollment. Further, we believed that this offered a great value for students, especially those place-bound by their jobs. Accessibility and affordability are expected by the public. This program would clearly meet those expectations. We further concluded that if we did not seize this opportunity, most likely another university would partner with HEH to offer similar programs in Arkansas to ASUís detriment.

On March 27 a delegation of seven from our campus, accompanied by ASU System President Wyatt and Trustee Milligan, visited with five Higher Education Holdings representatives in Dallas to learn more about the opportunity. Following that trip, ASU submitted a list of 64 questions to HEH about the model proposed, and all were answered in writing. Subsequently, another delegation from ASU visited Lamar University on April 14 to examine in depth the Lamar/HEH partnership and Lamar's use of the HEH model to deliver teacher education graduate courses to Texas teachers. Following that visit, and consultation with and within the College of Education, ASU and HEH signed a contract providing for ASU to offer academic programs through the electronically-distributed learning system created by HEH. Under the contract, ASU is responsible for obtaining necessary regulatory approvals for this mode of delivery, developing the curriculum, evaluating students according to its own standards, and the fiscal management of the program. HEH, under the agreement, provides the electronic distribution system, conducts sales and marketing of the programs, and, subject to ASU approval, provides academic coaches to assist ASU faculty in supporting students in the programs.

This proposed delivery method and partnership have been reviewed by our Board of Trustees members, Governor Mike Beebe, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, the Arkansas Department of Education, and a visiting team from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. All have supported our moving forward with this initiative and several have congratulated ASU for "getting there first" in the State of Arkansas with this new approach to delivering programs in a more economical and convenient method for Arkansas students.

The first program to be offered by ASU under this new arrangement is the MSE in Educational Theory and Practice. More than 100 students are already enrolled in this program, and faculty in the Department of Educational Leadership, Curriculum and Special Education in the College of Education are busy converting courses to this distance learning format right now. See the Academic Partnerships Web site. Nevertheless, questions have been raised by faculty members within and without the department about whether the appropriate internal committee approvals were obtained before this program was offered, whether it merits graduate credit, whether the delivery system allows for enough interaction between the professor and the students, and the wisdom of the university entering into a partnership of this nature with a private entity. In order to address these issues in an academically sound manner, Dr. Dan Howard and I have met with two groups of faculty, including members of the department, during the past week to discuss these concerns in depth. We are committed to offering high quality academic programs with integrity and expanding our distance learning offerings. We believe that the faculty concerns with this partnership and program can be addressed adequately. This will take better communication, some changes in procedures on our part, and time for evaluation of learning outcomes. We also must obtain appropriate curricular change approvals. We request your patience and understanding as we work through these issues.

I personally want to thank all those on our campus who have worked so hard, and continue to do so, to mount this new distance learning initiative. Those include faculty in the Department who are working to convert the courses to a distance learning format; Drs. Beineke, Maness and Holifield of the College of Education; Dr. Dan Howard, who has been the primary interface with HEH; and Henry Torres and Mark Hoeting, who have been very helpful with the technological aspects of this initiative. Also, we are grateful to HEH for allowing us to work with its personnel on this important initiative. Lastly, I would like to thank the faculty members who have raised their concerns about this program, and for their frank discussions with Dr. Howard and me about this delivery format and its implications.

Thanks for all you do to support our University and its students. I hope that all of you enjoy a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday.


Robert L. Potts

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