The second candidate for Binghamton University’s presidency presented her case Monday to a filled Old Union Hall, reaffirming her dedication to the public school system.
Dr. Susan Jeffords, currently serving as the vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB), spoke to a room filled mainly with faculty and staff. She told the audience how her mother had been the daughter of poor immigrants and though she could not afford to attend college on her own, she was aided by the GI Bill.
“I know for a fact that my life has been fundamentally changed because she was able to get a college education … because of the support of the federal government’s commitment to the power of transformative education,” Jeffords said. “I truly believe in the values of strength and the contribution of great public universities to this country and to the world.”
Jeffords received a bachelor’s degree in both English and psychology from Pennsylvania State University and received a doctorate in English from the University of Pennsylvania.
From 1985 to 2007, when she began serving at UWB, Jeffords served in a number of positions at the University of Washington-Seattle, including dean for the social sciences and vice provost for global affairs.
Jeffords discussed how globalization and technology were affecting higher education.
She explained that administrators needed to keep pace with an increasingly interconnected world by shaping students’ curriculum within a global context.
Jeffords added that the interconnectivity between countries places a greater importance on adapting to new technologies, which students are familiar with.
“Most of what we need to do as higher education leaders is to figure out how we can integrate those experiences and skills students already have in technology into the learning environment,” she said.
Jeffords claimed that these factors of learning were growing in importance because of new competition from universities in other countries, noting that while the United States for many years had the “finest education system in the world,” students now have options all around the world.
Jeffords preached collaboration with these growing international universities.
“One of the finest things we can do is build partnerships with those growing universities around the world,” Jeffords said. “[We must] find ways we can collaborate on curriculum, collaborate on research, collaborate on creating … opportunities for our joint students.”
Jeffords ended her presentation on a note of accountability, explaining the importance for a university to be open with the government and the community.
“We need to show what the metrics we use to measure our success and we need to be transparent about our processes and the way in which we make decisions,” she said.
The question-and-answer session was opened by Sandra Michael, a professor of biological sciences at BU. Michael noted that UWB was a much smaller school than BU with fewer degree programs and without Division I athletics, and asked what Jeffords could bring to BU as president.
In response to the concern, Jeffords said that at around 35,000 students, the University of Washington-Seattle was significantly larger than BU.
“One of the things that I think gives me a great advantage is that I’ve had opportunities at both of these places and I’ve had opportunities to think both about a campus that has always been large, and well-established, as well as a campus that is smaller,” Jeffords said.
The planned growth of BU over the coming years was a recurring theme during the Q-and-A session.
Andrew Scholtz, a professor of classical and near eastern studies, questioned how the growth of the University would affect such things as the faculty-to-student ratio and quality of the courses.
“I think even in a time of rapid growth, [we must make] sure that we are recruiting and retaining quality faculty, that we need to stay the kind of reputation for very high quality education that we’ve been able to establish, that you all have perfected,” Jeffords said.
Jeffords later added to another question that the values of BU are important to her and that she would want to discover how the University community would like to see its growth.
Fernando Guzman, a professor of mathematical sciences, asked, “My question to you is, liberal arts model, how will it survive to rapid growth and massive increasing of technology?”
Jeffords, a former liberal arts student herself, defended its importance and credited it for making American universities what they are today.
“It is so fundamental to what we do in this country and why our universities are great that I can’t imagine a model that I could feel passionate about that wouldn’t accept that fundamental commitment that is around the liberal arts,” she said.
Jeffords acknowledged that UWB had taken its share of budget cuts, though it had been her policy to receive the input of the community prior to deciding how they would be allocated.
According to Jeffords, the UWB community decided that the cuts would need to be made on three core principles.
The first principle was that availability of classes must be sustained, while the second was that faculty, particularly assistant professors, must be supported. The final principle was to sustain other kinds of activities which students felt were important to their learning experiences.
Jeffords insisted that students should not be disadvantaged by the cuts.
One of the final questions Jeffords answered had to do with her availability to students. Jeffords emphasized her relationship with the student government at UWB, adding that the students would e-mail her individually with questions that she would try to answer within 24 hours. She added that she holds regular town hall meetings.
“I started a practice earlier this year of just, once a month, having coffee in different places around the campus and different offices,” Jeffords said. “I’m just there for an hour and if anyone has something they want to talk about, they can come and talk about it.”
The Presidential Search Committee is soliciting feedback on Jeffords and all the candidates at www2.binghamton.edu/presidential-search/input-and-feedback.html.