Papazian hopes to broaden SCSU’s community engagement
On February 1 Mary Papazian became president of the Southern Connecticut State University, the largest of the four Connecticut State University (CSU) member institutions. A California native, Papazian is a UCLA graduate who most recently served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Lehman College in the Bronx, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system. Papazian comes to Southern following the controversial June 2010 Â“retirementÂ” of Cheryl Norton, the universityÂ’s first female president. Norton was replaced by interim President Stanley Battle. Norton was popular on campus and in the community and her departure caused shockwaves throughout Southern and the state college system, which helped new Gov. Dannel Malloy reorganize the CSU system. The state has spent $260 million for new and renovated buildings on the SCSU campus. As Papazian takes over Southern continues to grow, with a new building to serve the business school near completion.
The importance of SCSU and the CSU system has grown significantly tramadol generic the past decade. What is the next level and how do you take it there?
What we will not be is a sleepy, quiet institution resting on its laurels. We have an obligation to the state and the region to take up the challenge. We have to prepare students to be the 21st-century workforce. It doesnÂ’t mean educating them in a 20th-century modality; it means educating them for a 21st-century environment. It is a far more complex environment Â— competitive, global, high tech Â— but it requires fundamental learning skills and knowledge that comes out of the core of a liberal arts education.
What are the quality of Southern students today when they first arrive?
Our commitment is to the quality of student who leaves us. Our students come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances ÂÂ— but when they graduate they have to be able to compete. First itÂ’s understanding what is it we expect students to know when they graduate, what competencies. What we want to see in the area of quantitative skills, critical thinking, various literacies, written, oral and some knowledge of a discipline that they can apply and some sense of a moral code as well.
How do you achieve that?
The faculty has done a tremendous job in the last six or seven years working on a general education program. Students have to have knowledge that is both deep and wide. TheyÂ’ve developed what I think is a cutting-edge program, competency-based, a tiered approach and weÂ’re phasing in the first tier this year. It gives students a chance to learn certain core skills and knowledge and than to build on that in subsequent years,
There is a new movement to objectify how well colleges prepare students. Of course they are tested when they go out into the world, but what is the test for the college on how well it does?
We have to be accountable. Higher ed for a long time did not see itself as accountable. In a broad statement we thought that what we do is important and good and everyone should know that. On some level that is true, but everyoneÂ’s accountable. You donÂ’tÂ’ really know if youÂ’re effective until your students are out five years Â— that is when you can see if they are constructive and contributing. ÂI do want to hear back from people who take our interns or hire our graduates and say how well are they doing and are we providing what they need.
In years past Southern was here in New Haven but not terribly visible. The previous administration did a good job of getting out and engaging the school with the larger community. Where do you go now?
There was the old idea of the academy, the ivory tower on the hill, as something separated from the community. WeÂ’re not in that world anymore. [That] my predecessors began to move out into the community is a wonderful initiative; my goal is to build on it in a meaningful way.
To create very low walls, where there is no boundary between us and the community, where we go out to the community but also we bring the community to us and they see us as a resource.
Take the small-business community: We have a school of business. We have faculty with expertise, students who need projects, we have centers and institutes where we can bring expertise to bear.Â Our faculty is doing research. There is no reason that research isnÂ’t appropriate and helpful for a [local] business. We want a genuine partnership where we are moving out and in all the time. It has to be part of our curriculum. In many of our schools [at SCSU] we want to develop community advisory boards. We want the voice of the community at the table, to tell us what they need and how things are going. We have to create space where that takes place and more of our deans are starting advisory boards and reaching out.
Public education is probably the hottest-button issue in Connecticut, and many question how well teachers are prepared. Since Southern is responsible for training such a large number of ConnecticutÂ’s teachers, I guess I should ask you.
Education is the key to success you canÂ’t have economic growth if you donÂ’t have a strong education [system]. We have a strong valium no prescription with the local schools. We started last year a professional development program for teachers to come back [to SCSU]. I donÂ’t think blaming anyone is helpful. We have to create opportunities to provide support, the latest thinking, the methodologies. We have a role as part of the solution. We have to respect teaching as a profession. My mother was a teacher for 30 years. I understand how hard the job is and it is not always a job [well] rewarded and respected. The question is do we have the supports in place and are we clear about the expectations and are we providing opportunity for professional development.
You have college-age and elementary school-age daughters, so you are battling what some people call the culture war. How do you win that battle on campus?
As to the culture of the students, the students [who] come here already are good kids or they wouldnÂ’t be here. The fact they are here shows they understand the role of education in their lives. If you ask them, many say they want to go to graduate school, they have the drive to be successful. We have to be sure they understand what that means. That means setting standards, having rigor in our programs, it also means working with the larger community outside the classroom. [We must address] how we get people cheap ambien become leaders, to be ambitious, to be aspirational. Southern needs to be an aspirational institution. We need to be thinking without any limits to what we can accomplish and we need to be strong in the graduate area, the research area.
Graduate programs do help create the standards for the school. Where do you think Southern is in that regard?
We have some strengths, and we have some work to do. Most of our graduate programs are in professional areas. Those in the arts and sciences are for the most part linked to education but not exclusively. We just approved a new masterÂ’s in applied physics [program]. The target audience are students going to work in a high-tech environment. We want to be building programs that are niche-based and serve the needs of the business community. We have very good programs in the health sciences; weÂ’re strong [there] but I think we can do even more. In our business school we have terrific leadership there with our new dean [Ellen D. Durnin]. We are looking to set the school up to ASB buy valium.
The new business-school building will open soon?
I call it half a business building. What we have will provide modern office space, a little bit of conference space. We need to build out the other side Â— the business resource center, the labs, the classroom.
Southern has done a lot of building in the past few yearsÂ…
[Interjects] Just beginning.
When you were interviewing for this job what were you told about future expansion plans considering the stateÂ’s budgetary issues?
We can either look short-term or long-term. We have obstacles we have to navigate around. I think [the United States] is going to continue to grow. There is too much talent here and too much of a need in business for creativity. Creativity comes out of the American experience. Strained budgets are the nature of higher education. I grew up in California, I worked in Michigan and New York Â—Â so whatÂ’s new here? We have to be smart and run our operations side like a business. I come out of the humanities, and they tend to get nervous when you think business and higher ed. I say relax Â—Â we are an academic institution first and foremost, we are not a business. A businessÂ’ job is to make money; our job is educate students and to advance learning. But like any organization we have business functions and they should be efficient,Â functional and should be customer service-oriented.
WeÂ’ve talked to professors who say, Â‘Please donÂ’t call my students Â“customers.Â”Â’
Our students in the classroom are students, but our students at the food service are customers. The student in the food service is not pontificating about philosophy. The student in the classroom is not a customer, we have to understand the difference between the business functions and the academic side. If we get that right that we can honor the mission of higher ed.
What from your background as student, professor and administrator can you draw upon to make your administration succeed?
[Laughs] I have a great personality for it. IÂ’m not easily knocked down.
Is that your Armenian background?
I think it must be; weÂ’re survivors at heart. If something is in the best interest of the university and it is the right thing to do, IÂ’m not wedded to a particular way to solve a problem. IÂ’m wedded to an outcome. We want to be a vibrant, dynamic institution, forward thinking. We want to be interacting as a resource to our community and be committed to access and excellence. Access is our mission as a public institution. We need to be affordable, but we also have to be committed to excellence. I do not want to be head of a mediocre institution.
Those two goals can conflict. Some people in Connecticut complain that itÂ’s gotten harder to get into UConn, for example, and SCSU too has raised admission standards. Would you like to see this institution become more elite?
We have to be careful about using the word Â‘elite.Â’ We have to be committed to excellence. If weÂ’re not, we wonÂ’t be able to have the private industry that we want [in Connecticut]. IÂ’m going to let UConn speak for UConn. But IÂ’ve been in states, in California and Michigan, where the public university system are flagships of excellence [among] institutions [of higher learning]. UConn has an appropriate and strong role to play in bringing that role to play, it canÂ’t be held only in the private [colleges]. That also means we have role to play. There will always be an access point. The new system of higher education that we are part of now with the community colleges makes that possible in a more varied way.
WhatÂ’s an example?
The new transfer and articulation policy is a really positive step. There is now a structure in place that doesnÂ’t necessarily start at a four-year school, but to come through the community colleges, complete an associateÂ’s degree and move right into our upper division programs. All the programs and for all the majors we are going to meetings over the next 18 months with various groups to work out what the curriculum should be. There will be a core curriculum whether it is here or there and that will be transferable.
One thing your predecessor cared about was sports on campus, and Southern has had some very good teams including a Division II championship womenÂ’s basketball team. As a former student at UCLA no doubt basketball is part of the core curriculum. But where are you on sports generally?
I believe in a rich environment that is academic but also extracurricular. That may be athletic, but it also may mean arts and music. Sports are important as a sense of competition, it helps to create a pride in the institution. Learning to be competitive and resilient is an important skill. Our student athletes are truly student athletes. They are successful role models, they do community service. I love all sports. I did play basketball, but I love the arts, too.
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