A conversation about the new Academic Plan

Over the last 18 months, the Dean’s office and faculty members have collaborated on forming an Academic Plan for the college. Dr. Randall Krieg, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Dr. Jonathan Malmude, President of the Faculty Senate, who together led the effort to formulate the plan, agreed to answer some questions about the Academic Plan.

Why is an Academic Plan important?

Our Academic Plan is important because the face of higher education is changing so rapidly that many small colleges and even some large ones are facing significant challenges. The Academic Plan is a way for an institution to continuously improve itself, hold itself accountable and keep abreast of change in the current higher education environment.

Which feature of the Academic Plan would you consider most essential to Saint Joseph’s continuing development of its learning culture?

The most essential feature of the Academic Plan is its readiness to implement innovative learning programs that combine humanities and professional content. Students need and want forms of learning that prepare them for life and careers. As part of that, they also need to improve their ability to think, communicate, and solve interdisciplinary and many-sided problems. They also wish to understand the ethical and social significance of future professional and personal decisions. Not only that; their parents and the community expect our students to be prepared in this way.

What innovative programs are part of our Academic Plan?

Innovative learning features hold a prominent place in our Academic Plan, including: service learning, community involvement, on-campus learning communities, internships, student involvement with faculty scholarship, hybrid courses (which include classroom and online features), self-designed majors, study abroad, a first-year experience program for incoming students, and integrated majors (which coordinate major programs to provide students with career advantages).

Will this plan require more work from faculty and staff?

Great change is not possible without more effort. Higher education and the job market are evolving so fast, and the college needs to be quite adaptive. However, the more we work at improving ourselves, the easier it will become. We must maintain depth and flexibility in our educational offerings to best serve our students.

Will the curriculum of the four-year college change?

We are currently assessing our core curriculum in order to ensure it aligns with student needs. Among other things, we are considering more integrated majors and more extensive first-year programming for incoming students. Moreover, our Mercy Center, with its focus on social justice and service, enlivens and enlightens our curriculum by adding faith-based and communitarian features. Likewise, our campus farm can enhance curriculum in areas of sustainability and experiential learning.

Dr. Randall Krieg and Dr. Jonathan Malmude

Dr. Randall Krieg and Dr. Jonathan Malmude

How does the online program fit into the Academic Plan?

Online programs have become more and more integrated with on-campus education. As a result of implementing the plan, all of the program directors in the online division have now been included in our Faculty Senate governance. This adds to the synergy between the two modalities of education that we offer, classroom-based and online. As time goes by, the blend of on-campus and online learning will continue to increase. Also, we will see a larger graduate program emerging at the college.

What about extracurricular learning?

In general, we want to encourage students to learn from what lies beyond the classroom and online, by drawing from such elements as specialists, institutes, workplaces and discussions out in the community. This also includes more student involvement in the work and professional interests of their professors.

What is the role of technology in the plan?

The Academic Plan calls for developing e-portfolios to retain significant samples of the actual content of student learning, as well as what the faculty teach. Clearly, technology will play an increasing role in allowing our educational process to be both targeted and comprehensive.

With all the planned changes, will some things stay the same?

Humanistic, liberal arts education will remain essential because it teaches values: how to proceed ethically and in line with social needs and responsibilities. The Mercy tradition of social reform and access to basic human needs can only be sustained if three streams of learning continue to coalesce. These are learning about Mercy values; gaining professional skills and knowledge; and mastering humanistic learning, which supports critical thinking and the integration of knowledge.