Forums examine Big Ten move

Apr 4th, 2011 | By | Category: Campus News, March 31

What does it mean to be a Big Ten university? That was the question posed to UNL Harvey Perlman at a forum sponsored by the UNL Faculty Senate and Academic Planning Committee March 17.

For many people, the biggest challenge with the Big Ten will be the initial football schedule, Perlman joked. But, he said, he prefers to focus on the challenges and opportunities faced by the academic side of the university, both of which he characterized as being “great.”

Perlman said the invitation to join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, which was extended a mere five days after UNL accepted membership in the Big Ten last June validated UNL’s academic bona fides. The CIC is composed of provosts and chief academic officers of the Big Ten universities plus the University of Chicago. UNL joins the CIC and the Big Ten on July 1.

“We join the Big Ten not as a supplicant but as a full partner. And it’s not a bad group to be associated with,” he said.

But there are hurdles. UNL lags its new peers in nearly every metric, from enrollment to research activity to student “quality.” Yet there are positive signs.

UNL’s rate of growth in areas like increases in federal research funding, graduation rates, increase in number of students with 30-36 ACT scores exceeds the Big Ten average, he noted.

To address deep budget shortfalls, many Big Ten institutions have capped enrollments.

“We come from the smallest population state in the Big Ten and we have an obligation to be accessible to our state. I don’t intend to compete if it means we don’t admit Nebraska students” who have lower-end but still acceptable ACT scores, he said.

Perlman said UNL’s lower retention rates and graduation rates do need more attention, and in fact, educational consultants Noel Levitz Inc. will visit campus soon to assess UNL’s efforts and suggest best practices for improvement.

“We have a culture of quality,” Perlman said. “Our growth rate is faster. There is no reason why within the next decade we won’t be comfortably in the mid-range if we continue to take advantage of opportunities and our trajectory remains upward.”

And there are opportunities. With relatively low non-resident tuition, UNL is an attractive alternative to students whose home-state institutions have capped enrollment, he said. In fact, UNL admissions counselors have noticed it’s easier to meet with students in the Chicagoland area since the announcement last June.

The bigger questions, he said, are how do others view us, and how do we view ourselves.

Big Ten affiliation should make it easier to recruit faculty, is making it easier to recruit students and has boosted alumni pride nationally and specifically in Big Ten states, he said.

Perlman said faculty should be the heavy lifters in the task of “becoming a Big Ten university.” He said he cannot just impose higher standards on the university, but hopes future conversations would lead faculty to believe that “our expectations are higher.”

“We need to act like a Big Ten university, whatever that means. No one knows what a Big 12 academic institution means, but a Big Ten institution means something. And it’s less about football than about academics.

“We are the smallest, most thinly financed school in the Big Ten. We will need to get 98 percent from everyone. That’s a faculty challenge. You’ve got to ratchet it up and I have no doubt you can do it.”

In response to questions, Perlman said UNL needs to leverage its ability to work across disciplines, work collaboratively and take academic risks. Some Big Ten institutions, he said, have the reputations of being heavily silo-bound, which impedes progress.

And he said he encourages faculty to trumpet ideas.

“We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas in Canfield Hall,” he said. “Good ideas ought to be bubbling up from the faculty. I need the help. The ideas need to be realistic. They need to help us develop academic programs that could raise revenue or give us the reputational edge. Let’s see what we can do.”

– Kim Hachiya, University Communications

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave Comment