Jonathan Gair

It seems to be a common theme in times of economic uncertainty that the world’s greatest artistic and social achievements are brought to the forefront. Global economic depression during the interwar period brought about an almost unparalleled cultural boom in Central and Eastern Europe (I think Berlin and Cabaret as one of many examples), and in the United States it spurred social critiques based around the effects of changes in monetary policy and fiscal flow. But what happens now, and what happens at Miami University?

While, for now, we can let others worry about national responses, these trying times bring us to wonder what is going on in our own lives, at our own university. While each individual on campus may not feel the whole-or even any-effects of the looming economic storm and ever-present plans to make Miami’s budget viable in the coming years, it can only be assumed that there are those that do. Questions concerning the disparity between administrator and faculty salaries creep into our consciousness just as easily as knowing the displeasure of classified and unclassified staff who have been offered the cash-it-and-quit-it plan. As an aside, it seems that our recent editorial on the death penalty has shown opponents to disparage “utilitarian” policy decisions-if anyone wants to see an actual utilitarian framework right in their own backyards, the idea of 100 workers sacrificing themselves to stave off greater job cuts is the moral framework in action.

The point, simply, is there are a lot of things in the now sub-zero, snow filled air of Miami. In my last column, I made the point of saying that we must not assume that administrative decisions are flawed, wrong or out to get us. Instead, we can’t forget that Miami continues to be what we want to make it. In the same way that hockey head coach Enrico Blasi has cultivated a culture of success, so too can we as students hold great influence over things that affect us.

There are three things that we must immediately take a look at during this crisis: First, if one is to “make Miami more Miami,” then what kind of Miami are we right now and what kind of Miami do we want to be. Two, in order to achieve these goals, we must obtain the resources that we need (e.g., faculty, staff and administrators). Third, as applied to every aspect of this university, what is the value added? I think, in the interest of brevity, this column will only attempt to examine the first question, with the rest handled in subsequent columns.

Our first goal is to ascertain what “making Miami more Miami” entails. I think it’s a fairly well-shared opinion that students who have done the research come to Miami because it has historically been a strong medium-sized university out in the middle of nowhere that has promoted undergraduate education above all else. But what does it mean to really be an “undergraduate” university? Sure there are the intangibles – like sitting back in smug satisfaction of having had more research opportunities that undergraduates from other colleges around the nation won’t get until they’re 30. Then there are the institutional supports, such as the hundreds of study abroad opportunities, funding for undergraduate research, the faculty to support such research, the quality of classes being taught, the number of students in each class and comprehensive promotions such as the “student as scholar” model.

According to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (www.carnegiefoundation.org), which categorizes American universities, Miami is already considered having “high research activity” despite enrollment being (obviously) very high in the undergraduates ranks. Now these categories are largely based on the number of graduate degrees awarded, but when you compare Miami’s undergraduate levels with that of its research “intensity,” there are five other universities the Carnegie Foundation has matched us with: Brigham Young University, North Carolina A&T State University, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University and the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. While I hate to speak negatively about the 1984 NCAA football national champions, this doesn’t seem the grouping that Miami should be in. One may wager a guess that this combination of factors isn’t seen that often because it oddly configures university resources and agendas, creating a situation where neither direction may be suitable at once.

Many argue that transforming our university into one that focuses more on faculty research is the wave of the future-that this is the only way for them to stay current in their fields and in the classroom. But how is that even remotely true? One can accomplish superb classroom duties while still being current in their field, or-at the very least-devote several years in the classroom and then take leave for research, which some faculty already do.

What we must be worried about is Miami’s comparative advantage as seen compared to other Ohio universities. The Ohio comparison seems most relevant because the rising out-of-state tuition costs may make the university simply out of reach for many from around the nation who are dealing with their own versions of the economic. With the coming end of Gov. Ted Strickland’s in-state university tuition freeze, Miami will need real reasons for students to come here. Is it a new student center or a better football team? No, even if those things would be nice. The only way we can harness our advantage as an undergraduate-focused institution is to ensure quality. It may be understandable to have a 200-person class in one’s first year if classes bring quality teaching to bear in the later years. It may be nice to have a multiplicity of summer programs (I’ve heard numbers quoted in the hundreds), but certainly not all of them are spectacular. In these tough times we need to focus on what we are. Games of definition will only seek to bog us down and distract us from focusing on quality undergraduate education.

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