W6 - When Changes at the Margins are Not Nearly Enough: Designing and Implementing Comprehensive Change
There is a new normal in higher education today, and it is prompting colleges and universities to consider change in comprehensive rather than compartmental ways. Systemic academic change, however, is hard at the political, interpersonal, educational, and structural level, and few institutions of higher learning are undertaking it wholesale. Hiram College—a small, residential liberal arts institution in Northeast Ohio—is leading the way in conceptualizing and implementing wide and deep changes that are rare today but will become increasingly common. Within a two-year period, administrators and faculty leaders expect to enhance the first-year experience, totally revamp the core curriculum, completely reconfigure new and existing majors and minors into five interdisciplinary schools, and identify and assess a 21st-century skill set and mindset students are expected to demonstrate at graduation. In going about this work, the College reshaped and resized its staff and faculty, adding or augmenting programs of promise and eliminating or reducing those that struggled to attract students.
Hiram did not get it all right; parts of their journey were expedited by paths cleared by many; others were impeded by barriers that leaders might have dismantled earlier in the process. While the journey is far from over, the College President and Chair of the Faculty are willing to share goals, lessons learned, milestones achieved, and hardships confronted and diverted in this unusual what-you-might-learn-from-us account of systemic change. Participants will receive myriad materials that guided this process: prioritization templates, timelines, announcement memos, and more. Facilitators will lead a structured discussion that allows for questions and interaction.
Lori E. Varlotta, was appointed as the 22nd president of Hiram College (OH) in July 2014. Under her leadership, the 170-year-old college in Northeast Ohio has celebrated many firsts and broken records in key areas. For each of the last three fiscal years, for example, she and the development team have logged in record fundraising years, helping the College achieve its strongest financial position in recent history.
Varlotta, her cabinet, and teams of faculty and staff have spent the last couple of years designing a bold plan of comprehensive change that positions Hiram as a model for the New Liberal Arts. This model combines contemporary and classic majors, prioritizes integrative and interdisciplinary learning, guarantees that all students complete an experiential activity, and promotes mindful technology.
Changes of this breadth and scope do not always come easy to colleges that date back to the mid-nineteenth century, but Varlotta’s commitment to using shared governance structures as vital mechanisms of change has served the College well. As soon as she arrived at Hiram, President Varlotta revitalized shared governance so that faculty, staff, and students could systematically participate in decision-making processes. These entities have played a role in vetting the most recent Strategic Plan and weighing into and shaping the systemic change process that is unfolding at this very moment.
Prior to Hiram, Dr. Varlotta spent 11 years at California State University, Sacramento. At the time of her departure, she served as senior vice president for planning, enrollment management, and student affairs, where she led 31 departments in the areas of enrollment, student life, retention, educational equity, and NCAA Division I athletics.
Varlotta’s 33-year career in higher education administration extends beyond any single campus. She is frequently invited to regional and national conferences to address pressing issues in higher education, such as retention and graduation, planning and budgeting, and transparency and accountability. She has published extensively on the topics of higher education assessment and accountability; student success and graduation; health and wellness; and community, identity, and service.
A proud first-generation college student, Varlotta earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana), a Master of Science degree in cultural foundations of education from Syracuse University (New York), and an interdisciplinary Doctor of Philosophy degree in educational leadership and feminist philosophy from Miami University (Ohio).
Nicolas Hirsch, associate professor of biology, accepted a position at Hiram as an assistant professor in 2008. He came to Hiram from Eastern Connecticut State University where he was a visiting assistant professor of biology. Professor Hirsch was elected as Hiram Faculty Chair in 2017, a two-year post at the College.
In addition to serving as Faculty Chair, Hirsch has been intimately involved in the systemic redesign that is occurring at Hiram. He was one of five faculty members to serve on the Strategic Academic Team (SAT). This team was charged with making data-driven recommendations to the faculty-at-large, the Vice President of Academic Affairs/Dean of the College, and the President regarding which academic programs should be augmented, added, maintained, reduced, or eliminated. The work was difficult and labor intensive. After months of deliberations, SAT made recommendations that were accepted in full by the Dean of the College, the President, and ultimately the Board of Trustees.