For the last two weeks, the VT Global Perspectives Program (GPP) participants (@GPPVT, #gpp14) have been actively engaged in visits to selected universities in Switzerland, Italy and France. The theme for these visits was the “future of higher education: preparing for change”. Toward the end of our trip, we were joined by our GPP University of Basel colleagues at VT Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland for a global seminar.  Lively discussions and conversations ensued.

Before and during the travel part of GPP, we gather information – “facts and figures”. We talk with academic administrators, faculty and students. We tour the universities – meeting rooms, buildings and “labs”.  We compare and contrast and more. We seek answers to our questions.

Throughout, there were some ah-ha moments, some quiet reflections and musings, shared commentary and most importantly some deep dives into the “head-spinning” information and perspectives which were shared with us. More questions and lots of them with no clear answers.  This is good because this is when we are moved out of our comfort zones and well understood contexts into a space where we become more open to hearing, seeing and perhaps understanding things differently and from another’s perspective. And this is one of the intended consequences of the Global Perspectives Program – actively seeking and gaining perspective.

Learning Revolution

When asked by Bill Moyers in April 1988 “can we have a revolution in learning?”, Issac Asimov responded with “Yes, I think not only that we can but that we must.”  He went on to talk about the time when “once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries, where you can ask any question and be given answers, you can look up something you’re interested in knowing”.  Asimov was actually talking about the internet before the internet had become a reality.  And he was talking about the need for educational reform and the need for lifelong learning, learning that was individualized, a learning revolution some 35 years ago.  His message of the late 1980s is as important today as it was then.

“That’s another trouble with education as we now have it. People think of education as something that they can finish.” — Isaac Asimov
12/29/13 10:01 AM

Did we have a learning revolution in the late 20th century?  Perhaps we could say that some progress has been made but with more needed (that’s for a longer conversation). Although there are many good things happening in learning in schools and higher education, we have yet to realize the full extent and possibilities of the learning revolution.  Sir Kenneth Robinson, in arguing for the learning revolution states emphatically that what is needed is a transformation from the “dogmas of the past” and the “tyranny of common sense”.  In a 2013 TED talk, Robinson spoke eloquently about the three principles “crucial for the human mind to flourish”, creativity and the climate of possibility for education in the U.S.

Robinson and Asimov are but two of the scholars who have argued for educational reform. Although they have often focused on public school education, their messages are very compelling and therefore applicable for higher education as well.  The learning revolution can and should occur at colleges and universities in the United States and around the world.  Some examples are currently underway within the Commonwealth of Virginia including the Office of the Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success as VCU, the Technology-enhanced Learning and OnLine Strategies (TLOS) at Virginia Tech, and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative offered by the VT Graduate School.

Let’s encourage our colleagues to engage our students (undergraduate, graduate), faculty and administrators in conversations about transformation and change for universities for the 21st century and to lead the learning revolution.



Academic duty

Donald Kennedy, President Emeritus of Stanford University wrote about the responsibilities of faculty in his book entitled Academic Duty (1997).  Kennedy wrote that “academic freedom” was well known but less so “academic duty” due to the “relatively uncodified” (p. vii) understanding of faculty work. He argued that faculty work included the following duties: to teach, to mentor, to serve the university, to discover, to publish, to tell the truth, to reach beyond the walls, and to change. Today, we would likely propose that the work of faculty has expanded to include additional roles including grant writing, fundraising, public relations, global perspective, civility, and building inclusive communities to name a few.

As I reflect on these duties, I think we could agree that many of the academic duties (e.g., to teach, to discover, to publish, to serve, to mentor) are well known and accepted among the responsibilities of faculty.  The degree to which these and other duties are evident in the lives of the faculty do vary some depending upon the type of university and type of faculty position but they are what we can expect when hired as a tenure track faculty member.  But they do represent the core of faculty work.

Two of the duties deserve additional comment – “to tell the truth” and “to change”. The academic duty of “to tell the truth” has become increasingly more important especially in the context of almost daily reports of research misconduct, plagiarism, and other examples of lapses in professional and scholarly ethics in higher education.  The availability of entities such as the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and official ethics guidelines and training programs through National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) have brought greater attention to and scrutiny of scholars and their scholarly work and sometimes professional and even personal lives.  Online academic news sources especially the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, World University News regularly provide news and updates on cases of academic misconduct and of course, social media including twitter (e.g., ORI twitter) helps disseminate information.  Professional codes of conduct and ethical guidelines exist in many academic disciplines and are often incorporated into the professional development of the future faculty.

“To change” is the second academic duty to be highlighted here.  It has been said that universities are slow to change and those of us who have been in higher education for some time would likely agree.  But I would argue that universities and therefore faculty have a responsibility to change, to grow and to challenge ourselves to continue to be meaningful and relevant today and for the future.  Universities are social institutions and therefore have a responsibility to society, including a global society.  Higher education has been challenged by the technological advancements and the rapid rate of change. One need only to consider the development of the internet and the surprising speed of the transition from Web 1.0 to 2.0 and the most recent development of the MOOC and its impact upon higher education. Institutions of higher learning have yet to realize the full extent of these developments. If we are open to it, MOOCs will help us understand more about learners and learning and they can challenge us to think differently about how we provide opportunities for acquiring and disseminate knowledge.  These are but two examples about how we must engage with change and prepare the faculty (and future faculty) to change and to be changed.


Language is important

The language that we use is important especially the words and what they imply.  We know this and we can cite many different examples.  I will offer only one perspective that resulted from my readings about faculty in higher education recently.  Not surprisingly, I regularly read the Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education and other similar venues about higher education.  My comments which follow are not a criticism of these publications but should be viewed as a commentary about how we in the academy continue to use familiar words and phrases that while accurately portraying a current situation do therefore perpetuate these notions as if they are “fact” and can’t be changed in the future. Two examples follow.

The first of two phrases that I read and hear colleagues use is the “two body problem”.  These words are commonly used to describe the situation in which two individuals (e.g., spouses or partners), or at least one of these individuals, seek faculty positions in higher education.  Since the 1980s, words like spousal hire, partner accommodation, and more recently dual career hires have been used.  An underlying assumption was that this was a “challenge” or “problem”.  I agree (and have argued favorably on numerous occasions) that indeed higher education needed to become aware of and proactively address the fact that increasingly so couples desire career opportunities for each individual and therefore, often two faculty positions. This phenomenon has increased over time and has become a reality facing higher education.  And thus rather than call it “the two body problem” which immediately casts the situation negatively as a problem, perhaps we could use language that reflects a positive attitude and encourages action.  The message sent and received is very different if we change “problem” to “opportunity”.  Inside Higher Education has made positive strides forward in this arena through the featuring “dual career” couples (reflecting via photos a full range of diversity) and their opportunities to seek dual careers as evident on their website.  This sends a message that two careers are possible rather than a problem.

The second phrase and one that is relatively new is “the baby penalty“.  Dr. Mason (former Graduate Dean at UC Berkeley and current faculty member) and her colleagues have studied and authored a recent book in an attempt to answer the question of whether or not babies matter.  Their research shows that babies do matter and make a difference in the lives of female academics.  Honestly, I don’t find this surprising because I think intuitively we know that having babies and raising children does impact one’s lives and more so for females than the males.   While the data do support a “negative” impact upon the female faculty member in a traditional sense of academy, the data are also a reflection of the way higher education is currently structured and not the way that it could be.  Families and babies should not be referred to as a “penalty”.  In the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Mason stated that it is time to “… demand family policies that will at least give them a fighting chance to have both a successful career and babies.”  University leaders could use the data to insist that higher education actually make structural changes and more fully embrace families and work-life balance in our colleges and universities.  This truly is an opportunity and perhaps a mandate for change.  Let’s begin by modifying our words because language is important.


Summer Solstice, Solar Impulse and Swiss Embassy

The summer solstice occurred on the same day as the final event of the 2013 Global Perspectives Program (GPP).  Summer solstice – the longest day of the year- is a celebration of (day)light and this year in particular of solar energy and Switzerland.

On Friday June 21st, the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC once again opened its doors to host the 2013 Global Perspectives Conference on Preparing Future Academic Leaders.  The theme this year was “University and society: Meeting expectations?”.  VT GPP program and UniBasel GPP participants served as panelists and discussion leaders for the intriguing dialogue focused on the expectations of the university, society and students and raising more questions than answers about the purpose of a university, the value of an education and the future of higher education.IMG_6623




The evening before, the Swiss Ambassador Manuel Sager IMG_6579hosted a reception at the Air & Space Museum (Smithsonian) to celebrate the success of the Solar Impulse project and the plane the size of a 747 flown across the U.S using only solar energy.  The pilots, Andre and Bertrand, received 2013  Spirit Award from Charles A. and Anne Morrow Lindbergh  Foundation.

At the same time of our events were underway in Washington, a group of graduate deans were engaged in discussions of global graduate education in Germany as part of the DAAD study tour.  One of these deans (Nancy Marcus, FSU) was a participant in the 2012 graduate deans global perspectives program offered by K. DePauw.  To read more about the Germany study tour and the graduate deans program, please read the Global Perspectives blog into which these posts flow.

With inspiration and some sadness, the GPP’13 experience has ended but happily the participants have entered into the next phase – as GPP alumni.  The GPP manual and papers will be written and available electronically.  I anticipate that the conversations to continue via twitter (gppvt, #gpp13, @GPPUniBasel ), facebook (GPPVT FacebookUniBasel), LinkedIn (GPP alumni), blogs, google + and more.  Our lives have been enriched by the GPP experiences and we continue to grow as global scholars and colleagues.

Thanks all for another wonderful adventure – a quest for sure!

Global seminar at CESA

A week has passed since our adventure called global perspectives program began in Zurich.  We have traveled by plane, train, bus, tram, and foot on our wonderful journey. Our university visits have been completed with the final two completed on Monday – USI and SUPSI.

We have blogged, tweeted, and posted on FaceBook.  We have briefed, debriefed, chatted and debated on the train, over meals, in the garden and beyond.  The VT GPP’13 could talk (and some probably do) into the wee hours of the night.

And now we await the arrival of our colleagues from the University of Basel GPP’13 program.  The theme of our global seminar is “Universities and Society: Meeting expectations?”  The dialogue will undoubtedly be rich and informative.  The public version will be shared at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, DC on June 19, 2013.

Visits with University Presidents

One of the highlights of the Global Perspectives Program is the opportunity to meet and engage in active dialogue with the presidents (rectors) of selected universities:  President Prof. Dr. Andreas Fischer of the University of Zurich, Rector Prof. Dr. Antonio Loprieno of the University of Basel, President Prof. Dr. M. Alain Beretz of the University of Strasbourg and President Piero Martinoli, University of Lugano (Università della Svizzera italiana or USI).  The conversations were informative about the future of global higher education.  The individuals are quite inspiring and very accessible.


In 1985 Andreas Fischer was appointed full professor of English philology at the University of Zurich. From 2004 to 2006 he served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and from 2006 until his appointment as President of the University of Zurich in 2008 he acted as Vice President for Arts and Social Sciences.  Fischer will retire this year and his replacement is currently in progress.



Professor Loprieno has been Full Professor of Egyptology at the University of Basel since the year 2000 and was recently reappointed to an unprecedented third term as Rector. His main research areas include Near Eastern languages and Egyptian cultural history and religion. Prior to his appointment as Rector of the University of Basel, he served as Dean of Studies of the University’s Faculty of Humanities. He heads the Conference of Swiss University Rectors (CRUS).

289579cc705f91ddecd66e9ff568f3a18bb28fa1Professor Beretz graduated in Pharmacy and has been a member of the Pharmacology faculty of the University of Strasbourg since 1990. He was elected in January 2009 as the first president of the University of Strasbourg, resulting from the innovative merger of the three previous universities. He is one of three members of the Board of Directors of LERU (League of European Research Universities).



Professor Piero Martinoli is president of the University of Italian Switzerland in Lugano where he has served since September of 2006.  He studied at the ETH Zurich, where he obtained a degree in physics, and his doctorate in physics.



These individuals have graciously greeted the GPP participants and the Global Perspectives Graduate Deans programs throughout their tenure as President.  We have benefited from their expertise and willingness to spend time with us!

On the eve of departure – once again!

3619162Eight years ago in May 2006 my bags were packed and I boarded a plane to meet the 10 Virginia Tech graduate students at the Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland selected to participate in the launch of the global perspectives portion of the preparing the future professoriate program.  As it is now called, the Global Perspectives Program is offered within the Transformative Graduate Education initiative developed by the Virginia Tech Graduate School.




First GPP at VT Center for European Studies and Architecture, Riva San Vitale, 2006.


It is now May 2013 and another eve of departure has arrived.  In the past 8 years, there have been many eves of departure – nine to be exact and this will be the tenth.  Most of the departures were for the GPP experience focused primarily in Switzerland, one was for the pilot GPP in Chile, and one was for the Global Perspectives program for graduate deans.

So much has happened since that first departure.  What began as simply an idea, a possibility, has become a reality.  A partnership has been forged with the University of Basel.  Graduate deans from other U.S. graduate schools are watching what we do and are developing global perspectives programs designed for their home institutions.  And I continue to consider possibilities for expanding the program.  By many measures the GPP has been a success: 120+ participants and multiple visits to universities in Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany.  Presentations and publications.  Strong connections across universities and among academic leaders.  Alumni.  Collaborations.  And more.

The global perspectives program is more than study abroad although it probably falls under the category so identified by the university and described by colleagues.  It isn’t just a program, it is an experience and yes, an experience not unlike a study abroad program but yet somehow it is different.  It involves graduate students – that’s somewhat unique. The graduate students come from different disciplines – that’s unique.  The program is offered by a graduate school and led by a graduate dean – that’s definitely unique. The graduate students’ projects are unrelated to their research.  We visit universities to understand more about global higher education – we meet with academic leadership, faculty and students, we visit different academic units (faculties, departments, buildings).  We contribute individually and collectively to knowledge and understanding of a shared theme – this year ‘university & society: meeting expectations?.’  We interact across disciplinary perspectives, we reach across cultures and languages.  We learn.  We appreciate.  And we learn to appreciate.

GPP is also about the opportunity for participants to learn more about themselves.   And the experience can be a very personal one.  Sometimes it happens unknowingly, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes quite willingly.

As a part of the experience, I ask the Virginia Tech participants to keep journals and to write about their observations and personal reflections.  As I challenge myself daily, I encourage the GPPers to see new things and to see things in new ways (e.g., the doors and windows) and to see the unobvious.

Once again I am on the eve of departure and looking forward to another wonderful shared experience and an individual journey.

Wilhelm von Humboldt, the PhD and the modern research university

Recent conversations at multiple venues have prompted me to reflect on Wilhelm von Humboldt, the Doctor of Philosophy degree and the evolution of the modern research university.  First, the Swiss higher education system and the routine acknowledgement of Humboldt ‘s influence were discussed during the Input Seminar for the UniBasel Global Perspectives Program (March 18-19, 2013).  Two days later in Dublin at the EUA-CDE Global Forum on Doctoral Education (March 20-22), the topics of conversation included the evolution of doctoral education in Europe and the increasing emphasis on research in doctoral education (PhD).  During the last few class sessions of GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate, our discussions focused on global higher education and several international students shared an overview of the higher education systems from their home countries.  This provided the opportunities to reflect on the historical perspective of higher education and their influences on universities around the world.  At the March meeting of the 2013 VT Global Perspectives Program, we discussed terminology and the similarities and differences to understand better the evolution of global higher education and the universities that we will visit in May.  And finally as I read through selected blog posts from GRAD 5104 and GPP Switzerland I pondered the themes of these ‘conversations’ and realized the underlying but un-articulated interconnectedness of the 21st century research university, the evolution of the PhD and the influence of Humboldt.  Humboldt, the German university and the man, are frequently referenced in discussions about the university in Europe but less so in the United States although his influence is part of U.S. history as well.


Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was a 19th century philosopher, a Prussian diplomat, and an early ‘architect’ of national education including the ‘university’.  He is well known throughout Europe as the founder of the University of Berlin in 1810. Within a relatively short period of time, the University of Berlin (Humboldt) would soon became a model for 19th century European universities and ultimately would influence the development of U.S. universities. In recognition of Humboldt’s influence in shaping the modern university, the university was renamed Humboldt University of Berlin in 1949. The name of Humboldt reflects both Wilhelm’s contributions and those of his brother Alexander, a famous geographer and explorer.

Wilhelm von Humboldt espoused the view that the university should be a community of scholars and students.  In this ‘Humboldtian’ university, teaching and research were interconnected and vital to the work of the individual scholar.  Although important to advancement of knowledge and integral to the university’s mission, research was thought by Humboldt to be ‘ancillary to teaching’.  This notion persisted until the 20th century when research would finally be recognized as a ‘vital entity in itself’ thus setting the stage for the further development and prominence of the modern research university.

During the recent European University Association (EUA) – Council on Doctoral Education (CDE) Global Strategic Forum on Doctoral Education in Dublin, the PhD was described historically as a ‘license to teach’.  This makes sense when one considers that the original purpose was to prepare scholars to teach in universities.  For many years, the doctoral degree required advanced scholarship but not original research.  And once Wilhelm von Humboldt entered the discussions, the strong link between teaching and research was made that would change the university.  As the value of research expanded and the desire for original research increased throughout the last century, the Doctor of Philosophy degree changed and the PhD is recognized as a research degree worldwide.

The modern research university will continue to evolve and an emphasis on research will remain.  But the conversations about doctoral education must also continue about the importance of teaching and learning, the preparation for careers outside higher education, and the engagement between the university and society.  These conversations are happening within EUA-CDE regularly and will continue in the Future Professoriate graduate course (GRAD 5104) and especially the VT-UniBasel Global Perspectives Program.  I look forward to the ongoing dialogue.







Graduate education and web 2.0

I’ve been thinking a lot about the World Wide Web and social media and their impact and utility in graduate schools.  Conceptually I have understood the functionality associated with Web 1.0 and 2.0 and have sought to utilize these phases for enhanced digital interaction and communication.  What follows are some of my initial musings.

As a 21st century institution, the VT graduate school has undergone a transition from the traditional role as an administrative office to ‘a place and space for graduate education.’  Throughout the last century, graduate schools (not unlike other institutions) tended to operate as “top down” offices providing information (policy, procedures) through “static” means (catalogs, manuals) to “users” (constituencies, especially students) as the receivers of information.  Words similar to these have been used to describe the early days of the World Wide Web (1.0) – users could only view (receive) information and not contribute to the “webpages”, users (constituencies) as consumers of content not active participants, and the information wasn’t dynamic.  Although available since 1993, the use of web technology by graduate schools began in earnest mostly in the 21st century and reflected the Web 1.0 approach of delivery to consumers.  We took what we did and delivered it electronically.

The onset of Web 2.0 in 2002 and the availability of interactive tools and social media ultimately challenged graduate schools (as well as universities and national associations) to examine our operations and to embrace the change which was well underway.  Web 2.0 allows for uses beyond the static delivery of content.  It allows users to generate, interact and collaborate in virtual community.  Web 2.0 tools include wikis, blogs, and numerous social networking sites.  The VT Graduate School was one of the first in the nation to move to Web 2.0 conceptually and to build interactive tools (e.g., on-line catalog, featured graduate student, upcoming examinations) and to embrace social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook), all of which are inter-connected on the Graduate School website.   These examples and the development of the virtual GLC (vGLC) are still works in progress and ones that draw upon the greater interactivity of Web 2.0.

Today graduate schools must actively encourage sharing of information, the creation on content, and collaboration among the constituencies.  Although there is some “content to be delivered” the message and tools of Web 2.0 challenges graduate schools to think differently about what we do and how we do it and I’m not just referring to the administrative functions but the whole of the graduate education.  Using web technologies, graduate schools (2.0+) must rethink graduate education, embrace change and redefine “space and place” to include the brick and mortar of the physical space as well as the digital space and build graduate community.