Two Conversations with Provost Dai
By Steve Newman
What follows is the second half of my interview with the Provost on April 3rd as well as a second interview on June 18th. Again, I am grateful to Provost Dai for making time in his extraordinarily busy schedule to discuss these topics:
Funding and Administering Research
Unions and The Role of Chairs
The Faculty’s Voice and the Need for Communication
Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and Online Education at Temple
International Education: Branch Campuses, Collaborative PhDs, and Graduate Study Abroad in the Humanities
The Value and Cost of a Temple Education: Financial Aid, Tuition, and The Conwellian Mission
Faculty-Administration Communication and Graduate Education
SN: I’d like to ask about research. I’ve heard a fair number of complaints from faculty in multiple colleges. As one faculty member put it about our research offices, “They act as if the faculty are working for them rather than the other way around.” On the way to our interview from the train station, I got an earful from a colleague in another college about the trouble she was having in getting a major grant submitted, and it was clear that rather than the well-oiled machine you referred to above, it was a rusty machine that wasn’t working properly. Do you think there is merit to these complaints, and, if so, what do we need to do? You’re a world-renowned researcher yourself, so I figure you would feel these problems keenly. What do we need to do to improve the research infrastructure at Temple?
HLD: Building research has been the goal at Temple for a while; this is nothing new. You have been here 11 years, and you’ve seen how we’ve wanted to build research. There are different parts of building research. One part is to help faculty get sponsored research dollars. In this line of thinking, there has been a school of thought that we should actively go to the federal government to get pork barrel money or go to industry. These activities are certainly very important. At the same time these activities can only be successful or meaningful when you already have a strong faculty. I see some other universities, particularly newer ones, taking this path to get special federal appropria-tions. But pork barrels do not go forever, and when it run out, that was it. On the other hand, the more competitive universities, what they do is first to build a strong faculty. How do you have a strong faculty? Recruit and then support them. Those are the two ways.
SN: As you were recruited from Penn to come here.
HLD: Even when recruiting assistant professors, you recruit the best. But once they come here, no matter if they are assistant, associate, or full, junior or senior, you have to support them. Supporting them means that when they want to send out grants, we have to help them. For example, writing a proposal today is a very complex task. You have to justify the social impact and educational value. In some universities, they even have people write up the educational value part. And then, there is the budget preparation. You have to have an office and say “I need a budget of roughly this much with this many students,” and out comes a budget for you. We need this kind of support that helps prepare proposals and leads to a very efficient submission of proposals. And then once the proposal gets funded, we need to set up accurate accounting from the pre-award to the post-award periods. There are a lot of complaints about grant accounting at Temple. Like “Why didn’t you let me know that I still have this much money, and now I have to turn it back to the funding agency?” Or “Why haven’t you let me know that I’m running a deficit so I can--” And then there’s compliance. A huge issue—
SN: I’ve heard complaints about that, too.
HLD: IRB issues, right? I could continue on and on. A lot of these are actually legitimate complaints. I think Temple has put a lot of emphasis the past several years on one side, the external approach. We certainly need to build research infrastructure at least at the same time. Actually even before we go out and try to build connections, we have to have a well-oiled machine to support the faculty first.
SN: And you’re committed to doing that.
HLD: Yes, I’m committed to that.
SN: A question about graduate students and graduate funding. This may be a more acute problem in the humanities and social studies than in the natural sciences, though it may be a problem everywhere: How do we properly fund our graduate programs? In the time I’ve been at Temple, the years I’ve been conscious of this, what I’ve seen is that support for graduate students, TAships, fellowships, have grown scarcer and are not competitive with the universities we’re competing with. When students come here, they are teaching more than they should, and then we have the new rule inelegantly referred to as the “gradjunct rule.” We can’t hire them to teach if they are not on a TAship, and since most of our TAships last for five years, we can’t hire them after that. I was the Director of Undergraduate Studies in English when this rule came down, and we were all asking, “Where did this come from?” And all of a sudden we could no longer hire our own most senior graduate students to teach. Do you think there’s a problem here and do you have any thoughts about how we might resolve it?
HLD: I have many thoughts on this. Let me say three, so that I don’t forget. First, we have to realize that Temple is relatively poor compared to our peer institutions. So we have to focus on how to develop more resources. I could give you an hour of discussion about how to develop new resources. The second thing we have to do is figure out how to best use the resources we do have. We have to ask: What is the most reasonable model for funding graduate education? I’ll give you an example for consideration—I already started this discussion in the CLA Collegial Assembly. Again, as I said, I’m going to stick my neck out to initiate a discussion. Penn, back in the 1990s, I remembered at that time, the chemistry department had 200 graduate students with $15 million in external funding, and the English department also had 200 graduate students with no external funding, but the time to graduate in English was 11 years. I was on the advisory committee to the dean at that time, an excellent Dean, Rosemary Stevens, a very purposeful and tough person. I don’t mind you including her name here, because I really admire her. In discussions in her advisory committee, I recognized that in the sciences, we have a student-advisor apprenticeship relationship, very different from that in humanities. The student works for me; we publish together; and his/her success is my success and vice versa. But in English, it’s different. You as faculty sit on the committee; you hear the report; they do their own theses and publish on their own. The more students you have, the more burden and more workload. So what Penn did was they consolidated their support focused on 50 well-funded students instead of 200. The result is you get better students, they finish more quickly—they now average 5-6 years. And when they finish, because they are more focused on their studies, they are more competitive on the job market. The new model has many benefits. So I think it’s time for us to look at what can be the best use of our available resources. Now I come to the third point —Why can’t we appoint grad students as gradjuncts? Or grad adjuncts? This is my guess: It has to do with the concerns of unions.
SN: I’ve talked with the President of TUGSA about the TUGSA contract, and that there’s a mistaken sense that everybody on the contract work exactly the same number of hours and they’d grieve if anybody was assigned less than the maximum. I don’t think—
HLD: — I’ll give you another example. We don’t have to talk about details, but I’ll give you another example. When I moved from Penn to here, I had several students who were already at an advanced stage of candidacy, so they’d be getting Penn degrees. But they were doing experiments in the laboratories at Temple. So, naturally, I wanted Temple to pay through my grants from Temple, but I couldn’t because the union rules say they have to be Temple students before I can pay them. And even though I wasn’t exploiting the labor... So what was the end result? I had to ship my grant money to Penn to pay them, and then Penn got to charge the overhead, and so I lost money and then Temple lost the grant money... Penn has no problem about where my students do their research as long as they get paid. They don’t care where they get their checks from. But we cannot issue payment to students who are not registered as Temple students.
SN: I think sorting out the differences between your position on unions and mine might take a while—
HLD: See, this is the thing. Let’s go back to your issue—I actually find a lot of these suspicions are unnecessary. Again, I want to emphasize, I am here to work for the benefit of students and faculty. It’s not that I’m management and I want to squeeze you to please the stockholders. I don’t have these stockholders to please. Why are you suspecting me of working against your interests? I’m here only to make tough choices. You really need to write this—
SN: No, it’s in the interview, and I’m happy to print it. I think from where I sit as someone who has been pretty involved in the union, the longer history of Temple has been an antagonistic relationship between management and labor.
HLD: I understand. And everybody suffered. Seriously. Everybody suffered.
SN: I agree. You ask why don’t we trust you and why don’t we see that we’re on the same side, and we very much are. Recently, the faculty said, “Look, the governor is trying to cut us bad. And that’s bad for everybody.” And so the faculty and the administration joined forces, and the union agreed to a contract extension in which we really got no raise this year—merit is deferred-—and the second year is pretty modest and that allowed Temple to keep its tuition flat. But when the administration announced triumphantly that we’re keeping tuition flat, nowhere did they acknowledge what the faculty had sacrificed. Or then there’s the example of taking the chairs out of the bargaining unit. I understand that’s the position that the administration holds. But how it gets done and how things happen, it always feels as if we’re always playing hardball with each other.
HLD: I’ll be very honest with you. Both President Theobald and I feel on the chair issue, we’ll do whatever the labor board will say. Here, we only ask for a clarification. That’s just a matter—it seems like the chair is doing managerial type of work if we consider the union situation. If the labor
board, says no that they’re not part of management, we’re not going to—
SN: —You’re not going to appeal.
HLD: We’re not going to. Basically, in the old model, I’ve already worked 5 and half years with chairs as it was. I find, yeah, it’s workable. Again, I think we should treat everyone as colleagues. Your chair is temporary. We are adamant that no chair serves more than 10 years. After 10 years, they are back as faculty. This is very different from General Motors, where you have the blue-collar and the white-collar.
SN: I’m very nervous about speaking for the union even though I’m on the Executive Committee. But I think our feeling is it that would be one thing if there had never been a bargaining unit, as is true of most universities. And chairs everywhere have always been appointed at the pleasure of the dean. We understand that. But since we have long had a bargaining unit at Temple, the way this is often read is, “Decentralized budgeting is here, and the deans want the chairs to dance to the tune they call.” That may be a misreading, but that’s the way a lot of members of the faculty read it.
HLD: This is the thing. If we say the chair dances to the tune of the dean, then we have to step back and think about this. If you look at my role as provost, I see that there is a mechanism that leads to my appointment. Once I am appointed, I see my role as your having asked me to execute our mission. I think everybody recognizes that access to excellence is our mission. And I see that as our mission as well. But in executing this mission, I need to launch new initiatives and make hard choices. This is what I see you all have asked me to do. My purview and mandate comes through your empowerment through the process. When I make choices, I have to turn down some requests. I have to direct resources in certain ways. You can call that management. To me, it is not really management. It’s leadership. Again I emphasize, in 2 or 3 years, or God knows, maybe next year, I may become a faculty member again. We are not in a for-profit organization. We have a very special situation as faculty rotate in and out of the ‘management.’ In the spirit of this, this particular move is just to clarify things. We only ask the board to make a clarification. What do you think?
SN: Obviously, you’re going to be making a case—
HLD: Because some of the chairs do ask, “Why am I in the bargaining unit? I’m making teaching assignments?” and I know that the teaching assignment is the most serious thing...[laughs]
SN: In my department that is mostly done by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. But while you will respect the decision of the Labor Relations-Board, you do have a position on this: Something has changed in the role of the chairs where they are managers now.
HLD: Because they are indeed making workload assignments and distributing resources. And some of the chairs came to us and expressed confusion over their roles. Actually, as I just said, I worked in the current situation without much problem. But, on the other hand, it seems like for some of the chairs there is something of an identity crisis. So we just say, “You tell us from the standpoint of operations, is it A or B? I just want to call an apple an apple and an orange an orange.” I can tell you that President Theobald feels exactly the same way. We don’t have any grudges or whatever.
SN: You have suggested that the faculty need to raise their voice more. Is it your sense that the faculty is too timid or that the voices that you’re hearing are misunderstanding the situation? Is it either or both?
HLD: The first thing I want to say that I’m not blaming the faculty on this because in an ideal world, the process that results in people in these quote-unquote ‘executive’ positions would be making the right decisions and then all the faculty needs to do is their scholarship and teach their courses well. That’s the most ideal situation. I found the University of Virginia case extremely interesting. The president was fired and the faculty forced the board to reinstate her. That was a good example where the faculty exerted a large influence, and, of course, that’s where people see a true injustice being done. I would say if there are places where you see true injustice, I want to hear about it. I sit in this dungeon that they call garden level...
SN: The garden level—that seems like a term that a real-estate agent might use…
HLD: When I get out and visit departments and colleges and talk to faculty, no matter how often I go, I’m not sure I have a real grasp of the temperature. So I think if the faculty really sees injustice, or something we didn’t do right, I really want to hear about it. Sometimes I like to hear a real discussion—like our discussion about Gen Ed. I hope the faculty doesn’t mind that I raise these issues. I’m not imposing these views on people. When I was a chair at Penn, I knew that when making senior hires, no matter which name I suggested, it would be killed by the faculty. No matter how great that person was. [Laughs] So I know that people in quote-unquote ‘influential’ positions ought to be very careful in exercising their influence. The other part indeed is that I hope that the faculty will not be misinformed, that they understand the situation correctly.
We can schedule another appointment. This is an interesting discussion, and these are all sensitive issues. I think you’d find that other provosts might brush this aside.
SN: That’s why when I was asked about this interview I told people I was really looking forward to it because you—
HLD:—because I have a big mouth—.
SN: No, no. Somebody said to me, “He just pretends he’s being unguarded.” But I don’t think that’s true. It’s the same thing with President Theobald. If he didn’t know about something, he said he didn’t know. Which is refreshing, actually.
HLD: I think we are very fortunate to have President Theobald. He’s that type of leader, who as Confucius said, sets his mind on setting the fundamentals right.
[At this point, a member of the Provost’s staff knocked on the door to remind him of his next appointment.]
SN: You were talking about misinformation—
HLD: We have very different interpretations about why it went wrong with the last contract negotiation. This really boggles my mind.
SN: There are bound to be disagreements between the administration and the union and the administration and faculty. How do we acknowledge that without making it worse? President Theobald is coming to the Steering Committee today; you’re sitting down with me; I know Art Hochner, the President of TAUP, is reaching out to President Theobald. There are going to be pressures and disagreements, but surely there must be some way—
HLD: —That is very important communication we ought to have. From my point of view, if we can afford to give the faculty 10% increase, why wouldn’t I? If I did that today, President Theobald and Provost Dai would be the most beloved—
SN: And then we’d be broke, and the Board would—
HLD: —Right. But we all want to be loved and to make our colleagues happy.
SN: I’ll probably have some follow-up questions if you don’t mind about international education and other topics. . .
HLD: I’d be very open to that.
SN: Thanks again!
Because there were many topics we didn’t get to cover in my first conversation with the Provost, he agreed to a second interview, which was conducted on June 18th. Again, I am grateful to Provost Dai for making time in his extraordinarily busy schedule to discuss these topics.
HLD: So how was the response to the previous interview?
SN: Good, I think. I think that people were really interested in what you had to say.
HLD: At least one person wrote me. I find it interesting that I completely agree with what the person said. This is about priorities in Gen Ed. Probably I should have also added that often it’s not that I don’t see the value of some of the things we do. Like language. I certainly see the value of teaching a foreign language. The question is that if you have only 34 credit-hours, how are you going to spend them?
SN: I do think that someone will be writing to point out the GenEd courses already compare religions among other things. So that tells me that at least some people are reading it and that they want to continue the dialogue, which is always good.
I was hoping we could start off with one of the hot topics and the broader issues at stake, and that has to do with MOOCs and distance and online education. In our prior discussions, you identified the two most important challenges facing Temple as maintaining or even increasing educational quality and the second was increasing financial resources, and both of those seem to figure into MOOCs. I know that there is both a joint administrative/faculty task force putting together standards for courses of this type and a committee on the Board of Trustees. On one hand, a lot of these things seem very exciting and maybe even necessary. On the other hand, a lot of faculty are concerned that certain moves in online education might dilute educational quality and faculty oversight. As I asked President Theobald in my interview with him, he said that “the faculty are in charge of the curriculum.” But right now there is a great deal of pressure being exerted on the faculty’s curricular prerogatives, with, for instance, the American Council on Education accrediting certain MOOCs and so forth. So I’m wondering if you could comment on any proposals for standards or initiatives on distance education and MOOCs in particular and how do you think we should proceed on these issues?
HLD: I’ve been thinking - I heard stories that Stanford, MIT put out a few MOOC courses, and 100000 people would register; but, then, the number of people completing the courses is much smaller. In principle you could say, “What if Stanford and MIT say if you complete these MOOCs, you get a Stanford or MIT degree?” They could certainly wipe out the rest of higher ed. But when you start thinking along these lines, then you find, maybe in 4 years there will be a million Chinese students or students from other parts of the world who will be Stanford graduates. Then everybody is a Stanford Graduate.
SN: And that would devalue the value of the degree?
HLD: That would be one impact. Then, how do we know that one million Stanford graduates really took the course? This raises the crucial question of how you police the validity of the transcript. I don’t have the answer to that. So when people ask me about this, I find I have no answer. We certainly worry about the quality of delivering online courses. So if we are going to do online courses, our emphasis would be that we need to provide teaching coaches, we need to provide technical assistance to faculty members so that they can construct a first-rate teaching module that students feel that they are learning, that they are really rigorous. I think that can be done. My belief is that we provide proper support to the faculty so that faculty know we’re not just videotaping them in front of a blackboard but that we’re really creating an interactive mode of education, and through this interactive mode you can deliver a rigorous education. I also know in a course, its success has to do with the homework you require, the reading materials. I came from Taiwan. We had this very strange mode of education. Work very hard before college and then once you get to college, it’s play, play, play. I can tell you that during the freshman year I would go to the classroom and often just doze off. I’d just go and ask what the professor was teaching and then I’d go back and read the books. A lot of studying in college is self-imposed effort. The professor is pushing you along. Certainly a great instructor is immensely valuable. I actually had one instructor, she was so good, that after taking her course, listening to her lectures, I just found that my brain had come alive, and I was really able to think. I understand the value of great instruction. But I would say 90% of my college learning was self-learned.
SN: One of the many concerns I have with MOOCs is that there is no interaction between the professor and the students. There’s no way for me to evaluate 75000 students. I can’t guide them. And then there’s the difference between a case like yours, coming from very rigorous high school preparation whereas you suggested in our prior interview, many American students do not. Although I’ve found many Temple students to be enormously self-motivated, in part because many of them are paying the bill by themselves and in part because they’re “self-starters.” I also worry about this—and the statistics so far bear this out, that those who do best in online courses tend to come from backgrounds where they’ve already been coached to understand what university learning requires.
HLD: I totally agree. I don’t think online learning will ever replace classroom instruction and the interaction between faculty and students. I don’t think the current MOOC mode is the optimal mode, but we can certainly design online courses that are effective even in the aspect of interacting with students.
SN: Absolutely. Absolutely.
HLD: I think the concern is there. I think our job, my job is to make sure that we don’t just fall into the mode of having the faculty member just standing in front of the blackboard being videotaped. And then saying, “Here’s an online course.” If we want to do it, we have to do it right.
SN: We all use online tools all the time for our research. I introduce students to online tools. I think there are great examples of hybrid and purely online courses. As with many faculty, we are fully ambivalent, we want to see this go well but then we are concerned how it will actually happen. For instance, Temple takes so many transfer students every year, and we can’t know if other schools are doing online education in the high-quality way you and I want to see Temple do it. And with the pressure to take in transfers not only to foot our own bill but also from the state to do better in time to degree and completion percentages, I think there’s some concern about parts of the curriculum getting away from us. What is your sense, in more concrete terms, if you can say, what we might be able to expect in terms of guidelines and initiatives in this area? What’s in the works?
HLD: The President’s committee, a committee appointed by Dick Englert and chaired by Trustee Chip Marshall and Dean Moshe Porat, completed a report which that laid out general principles, basically said that Temple should take a serious look and then start to engage with online learning. And after this report, I set up a smaller workgroup on online education. This is actually now part of President Theobald’s overall campus physical plan.
SN: This is within the Master Plan process.
HLD: Even before the Master Plan is completed, this particular workgroup is going to put out a set of recommendations. I think by the time the report is released, there ought to be some actions. My prediction having only seen the preliminary report is that we will set up an Online Education Office, but most likely this office will be operated with the Teaching and Learning Center. That Center is for supporting faculty in their teaching. This simply means that not only it is important to market the courses, the business and the commercial aspect, the most important part is how you support the faculty to really do a course right. In fact, the President has already approved the first year’s budget, and we’ll start setting up an office with staff and technology.
[Editor’s Note: Provost Dai has informed me that President Theobald has allocated an operating budget for the creation of an Online Education and Distant Learning office within the Provost’s portfolio.]
SN: What some people miss is that the reason that the MITs and Stanfords and Dukes could get into this early is that these courses are enormously expensive to do well, and people I know who teach online courses, how much front-end work there needs to be. You only save money on instruction here, I think, if you do it poorly.
HLD: I think faculty should understand that our view is not everybody is going to do this. We are going to do this in several targeted areas. For example, some of the Gen Ed courses. Or the beginning or intro courses—the primary beneficiaries in this area are campuses like TUJ and Harrisburg. For instance, TUJ has a 2+2 computer science major, 2 years in Japan, 2 years here. How do we deliver the first two years’ courses? That’s a big challenge. Some of these courses may be delivered online. The other area is that we might find master degree programs where there is a niche market. I read a report recently, for example, that there is a prediction that a huge number of jobs would be added because of the natural gas boom. To support the natural gas boom requires workers that have knowledge in both environment and energy technology. So combining the two disciplines together to create a new master degree program makes sense. And most of the people in this business are not traditional college-age students, so online delivery will be suitable.
SN: They probably already have a bachelor’s degree under their belts.
HLD: Right. So here is an opportunity to create an online degree program and then market it available for all over the country. It’s not like we’re going to tell every faculty member, “You need to take your course online.” That’s not going to be the case.
SN: When MOOCs first appeared, I couldn’t figure out aside from branding and perhaps selling the data of the students how this would work financially, since there seemed to be high hopes that way. Well, of course, once you start granting credit for MOOCs then the financial advantage is clearer, and the fear is that the lower level courses at Temple and elsewhere might get wiped out if we start accepting MOOC credit for some supposed equivalent to a Gen Ed course somewhere else. That worries people, including me.
HLD: On that particular point, I would add the following, that that probably won’t happen, for a very weird reason—we are among the institutions with the cheapest tuitions. Imagining our students spend more money taking a MOOC course to get credit rather than here at Temple? That probably won’t happen. On the other hand, we gradually want to participate in the MOOC market, even if only for branding reasons. Here, our strategy will be to identify faculty members with higher name recognition. We’ll put out a few, not too many, but some MOOC courses, and then people will see this and then…
SN: It will be a gateway to Temple.
HLD: Yes. That’s our general strategy.
SN: My next questions have to do with international education. This is something you’ve been heavily involved in, I know; you just mentioned, for instance, the 2+2 program in Japan. I’m wondering if we are planning to open up physical branch campuses like we have in Tokyo and Rome and as many other universities have been doing in Asia and on the Arabian Peninsula.
HLD: This is a really big issue I have been pondering for several years. I think President Theobald just went on his first trip abroad in his official capacity as President. There are several revelations I can offer here. Number one—the other day I was joking with someone in a dinner hosted by Mayor Nutter for our sister city Tianjing in China. The people visiting were primarily in commerce and business. I was joking with a guest that when you look at how competitive American manufacturing and other industries and services are, education is the last line of defense. If you view education as a business, it is the one business where we still have the best goods in the world. Even though in most of the Asian countries, their education institutions are expanding very rapidly, there is still a great need for more capacity. Their economies are still growing at a much faster pace than ours. So families’ willingness to spend in educating their children is still strong there. One of our major strategies, then, is to have more international students on main campus. This is not just because for economic reasons. But because in this world, just as our President went to China to see the competition we’re facing, we need to expose our students to a globalized environment.
SN: And also to broaden their cultural experience.
HLD: Yes. Either we bring our students abroad or we bring the international students to main campus. So when we design an international strategy, that is our number one goal. Now let’s talk about whether a physical campus is what we should pursue. I think if you look at our Japan campus, you’d say it has not been very effective meeting this particular goal. We have a campus in Japan. It stands alone by itself. We don’t have much interaction. In the earlier days, many faculty members from Temple’s main campus went, but now many, many fewer. A physical campus may not be the strategy. Look at Carnegie Mellon, for example. International students account for 29% of their total student body. Temple is at 6.5%.
SN: And Carnegie-Mellon doesn’t have a separate campus in a place like Shanghai.
HLD: Right. It’s not essential in terms of a globalized university. This doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage an international campus to achieve this goal. If we want to do it, we have to design it in the proper way. Japan, at one point, was the focus of American universities. If I’m not wrong, 39 American universities set up campuses in Japan, and now we’re the only one left. At that time, Japan was the biggest supplier of students to the United States. Then the next wave of campuses was in the Middle East, in the Gulf States. 29 universities set up campuses there, and 1/3rd of them closed in the first year and I don’t know how many of them left. The most recent wave is China. We hear about Duke and NYU opening up campuses.
SN: Not without controversy.
HLD: Even Kean University set up a campus in China. We are certainly thinking about this, but we are not jumping into it. We want to do it under the most favorable conditions, in the right location, and under the right framework.
SN: I’m an alum at Duke and I have friends at Yale, and the decision to go into Singapore in Yale’s case and into China in Duke’s were controversial among the faculty because there are issues of academic freedom at stake, and they are sticky ones. On one hand, you want to be a courteous guest. On the other hand, certain things have to be discussed if we’re going to generate knowledge that aren’t negotiable.
HLD: Our current focus is through these collaborative, joint, sequential programs. Like the 2+2 for Bachelor degree programs and 3+2 programs for Master’s programs.
SN: Another question along these lines. I was talking with a colleague in CLA who perceives that there has been a move away at Temple from helping to get our grad students abroad to do field work abroad, especially in the humanities. Do you perceive that? If so, what can we do about it, if anything?
HLD: I assume you are asking about undergrads as well as graduate students. For graduate students, it’s hard for Master's students because the course of study is too short. But for the PhD students, we are starting to establish a new model, a dual PhD model. We have started one with Yonsei University, which is arguably one of the best in Korea. What we do with Yonsei is that a PhD student can go to the partner university and do research in a collaborative way for 1 or 2 years, and then, at the end of completing the thesis, the student’s credentials are approved by both universities, including the thesis, and at the end he or she gets two PhD degrees, not a joint degree, but both.
SN: Could that be expanded into the social sciences or the humanities?
HLD: In this case, there are financial implications. The challenge is to find the right counterpart where you can do collaborative research. So in the natural sciences, engineering, or medicine, if you can find a PI (Principal Investigator) or a laboratory that shares your interest, you can find a thesis that can be carried out in both universities. That’s the challenge. The implementation is the challenge. The concept is simple. Now, in the humanities, it’s slightly different. There, you have the issue that the student him or herself does the research, so there’s no such need to go to another “laboratory.”
SN: Unless you’re an anthropologist doing fieldwork, for example, or an historian studying the history of China. And my sense from this colleague is that the infrastructure to support this at Temple is lacking. And we might actually be seeing a change in the humanities in terms of the model of scholarship. We are looking to the natural and “harder” social sciences, thinking about humanities labs. These are increasingly common, especially among people involved in the Digital Humanities. There is a recent initiative out of Harvard thinking about the humanities as collaborative ventures producing knowledge rather than person stuck in the stacks alone, like I was, writing my dissertation.
HLD: There is always a financial angle here. In the natural sciences, the driving force is that if you have a piece of equipment I don’t have, but I can benefit from it, so I send my students to your lab, that’s the benefit part. Otherwise, why should I pay for my student to do research I don’t want to see? In the Humanities, the student is funded by Temple, often through teaching assistantship. Let’s say the student is going to Cambridge to study Shakespeare. What’s the benefit to Temple, unless Cambridge is willing to fund half of the student’s fees?
SN: They may be willing to go halves on it. There are international fellowships as well. I suppose there are other reasons. It could be Cambridge or it could be a school in China interested in the production of Shakespeare around the world. I think of a friend of mine at Bryn Mawr who produced an iPad app of The Tempest; there’s knowledge created there. The benefit for Temple is that our students get to make contacts and learn from people elsewhere, which enriches them as scholars, and this makes them more marketable and thus more likely to get jobs, if we want to talk in those terms. It’s not quite as concrete as the trade-offs you cited in the natural sciences.
HLD: You can have study abroad to have the experience; the other model is to advance this model into a dual degree. For undergraduates, there are two main impediments. The first is financial, and that depends on the particular student’s financial resources. The second one the faculty can help, though. When a student goes abroad, the student takes courses and needs to transfer the course credits back to Temple. The student has paid tuition to Temple and through exchange they go to a foreign institution. What we find is that our faculties are sometimes reluctant to accept these course credits. Here I find a contradiction. We have faculty saying we want more students to go abroad, but if the courses are not going to be accepted, the student will not go.
SN: In around two weeks, I’ll be leaving for a study abroad program, taking 14 students to London, that, I hope won’t be a problem. These will be Temple courses taught by Temple faculty.
HLD: Right. It shouldn’t be a problem there. Here, I find some nationalism at work here. When students go to British universities, we find it much easier for faculty to accept the credit. But that’s not the case when it comes to Asian universities, even though sometimes these institutions are better-equipped than we are, and their faculty are all US trained.
SN: Does this impediment happen across disciplines?
HLD: Yes, across disciplines.
SN: One of the initiatives that you’ve put forth is a model of providing more merit-based aid, and this will increase the educational quality of Temple by bringing in better-prepared students; and this will, in turn, among other things push up our rankings, which is not rankings for rankings’ sake because resources follow rankings, and so then, we will get more money, and then...
HLD: [Laughs] You say it so well, Steve. I should hire you as my spokesman. You make it sound like these are your ideas.
SN: [Laughs] Well, there would be some conflicts of interest there, I think. And I know these are your ideas, since I have heard you explain them in various settings. And then with more resources, we’ll be able to offer more need-based aid.
SN: And what I’ve heard from some faculty members is that those effects are very remote, will take years to happen, and they may not happen at all. And then, in the meantime, we’ve lost purchase on the Conwellian Mission. I’m wondering how you would respond to this, if you could provide other examples where this sort of approach has worked.
HLD: Let’s just say that today we charge the tuition that Pittsburgh and Penn State charges. Is that a crime? We are all state-supported research universities, and Philadelphia is more expensive than Happy Valley or Pittsburgh. If we charged that tuition, we would have $100 million more a year, man! If I had this $100 million more — or, I should say — if President Theobald has this $100 million more, we could put half of it into financial aid. It would increase from $85 million to $135 million, and that would increase our discount rate from 13% to 20%.
SN: How much of a rise in tuition would that be? What’s the gap?
HLD: The gap would be about $2500 per student. It would be about a little less than a 20% increase.
SN: But that money would be re-circulated to help those who would need it.
HLD: Yes, you could take whatever percentage you want and apply it to financial aid. If you took all of that $100 million and put it in financial aid, our discount rate would be about 30%.
SN: And that would put us closer to some of the other schools you’ve talked about, like Drexel.
HLD: Drexel charges $35,000. We would still be far away from that.
SN: But the discount rate would be similar.
HLD: Yes. If we had followed Pitt and Penn State’s strategy, then we would be much richer, so our students would be able to enjoy a much higher discount rate. I close my case.
SN: You wouldn’t do this in one fell swoop, of course. How would you phase in this increase?
HLD: Of course not! I’d have a lynch mob after me if we tried to do it all at once.
SN: Your face would be on a lot of Wanted posters, for sure. Let’s say we had this $50 million, would we split it between merit and need based?
HLD: I think most of it would go to need-based. This year we were very successful—I can tell you that our average SAT score will jump 18 points. We have not only almost doubled our annual intake of honors students from 350 to 550, the 550’s SAT is 1370. The previous year’s was 1340. That only required us to spend just a bit more than $2 million.
SN: Your sense is that that investment will pay off.
HLD: If you are asking will it pay off, I can’t answer that. I have many people coming to me for resources, saying that this $2 million could be used for many other purposes, you could fund this or that operation, my operation. I can’t tell you that I made the right decision. I can certainly say that $2 million made a substantial and appreciable increase in the student characteristics. I can’t predict what the impact will be on the US News and World Report ranking, but I can almost assure you it will improve.
SN: What you’re talking about is really a two-track strategy. I think some people have understood this that the aid money will be diverted to merit-based aid in hopes of long-term effects. But you also plan to increase resources by raising tuition, which can be used to fulfill the Conwellian mis-sion in the short and medium-term with more help coming in the long-term if an increase in the ranking of the universities leads to a virtuous cycle of increases.
HLD: And at the same time, as I said, our goal is to improve the quality of education we deliver. I sit in this office, and I really find that we need to improve our student counseling, for instance. The year before, a student averaged for non-emergency cases an 8-week wait time. We have cut that down to 2 weeks. And I have people telling me 2 weeks is still too much. The only way to handle this is to increase the number of counselors, and that means we need more resources. All over, I find that by holding on to this low-price model, we are not helping the students, as the model intends; in fact, we are doing the reverse. We are not providing the services our students need.
[At this point, one of the Provost’s staff members came in to remind him that he had another appointment.]
HLD: I’m afraid I have to run. But we can do a follow-up.
SN: You’ve been very generous with your time. I appreciate it.
HLD: I think it’s crucial to have communication with the faculty. I think that since some of my thoughts are unconventional, we need multiple dialogues for people to understand that I’m not just shooting from the hip.
SN: From the faculty standpoint, we want to make sure that there’s a conversation.
HLD: I know the decision is mine. And I’m going to get a paycheck no matter what I decide to do. It’s not about the paycheck. I really want to put us on the right track, do the right thing. As I was saying when I was interrupted, I was going to say, “Deliver the best education that we can.” But I also want to keep Temple prosperous, so that we can keep printing checks to support the faculty. This year, I really appreciated how President Theobald has guided the university. For the first time in five years all the colleges are seeing increases in their budgets.
SN: The first time I can remember that happening.
HLD: Four years of cuts and now we’re reversing that trend. Even though the state funding is flat, and we have increased the undergraduate tuition only 2.8%. By the way, we have substantially increased the graduate tuition. I can tell you this. The graduate tuition will increase 8.5%. You can also ask me why. Do you know how we determined that increase? We took Penn State and Pitt’s tuition and multiplied by 80%, and that required an 8.5% increase. We are worth at least that much. Why do we price ourselves so low?
SN: That’s going to be interesting. Many of our students in the English department come unfunded, which I think is a terrible decision for them to make. But then if we only took funded students, the college wouldn’t let us run our seminars that small...
HLD: We need to work out a model that is flexible and also satisfies multiple needs. I think we should be able to create a model that is win-win for everybody. The way you just described the situation in English, you pointed out several things. We don’t want to harm the intellectual community—meaning the seminar model. We really want to keep that. But then how many PhDs in English should we produce?
SN: Not too many, actually.
HLD: Right. You want to fully fund those with the most potential, and you don’t want to encourage people to incur debt and also give them false hopes...
SN: No. It’s an unethical enterprise.
HLD: So we must be able to find a model where we focus the resources and maintain the vitality of the intellectual community.
SN: One of the ways to do this of course is to have a larger Master's program, which is one of the things we have been talking about.
HLD: Right. Wonderful.
SN: Yes, we have some great doctoral students. But then many of them can’t fulfill their potential because they’re working other jobs and taking out loans or their teaching loads are too high, and then where are they? And where are we as a department? One of the things that interests me about decentralized budgeting is that should give the faculty more of a voice but with that will come more responsibility, too. I am going to be fascinated to see how these budget committees do when they are presented with the actual numbers. “Ok, you wanted this power, but here’s the responsibility that comes with it.” It’s going to be very interesting.
Thanks again for your time. •