Over the course of the past year, I have researched and visited many universities as my oldest daughter has conductd her college search and application process. I’ve learned a great deal about the different priorities of institutions and their leaders. Some schools value academic excellence and intellectual rigor, while others seem to treat coursework and research as almost an afterthought. The best institutions have a commitment to intellectual development that begins with the Chair of the Board of Trustees and permeates the university community.
My experience at Bryant over the past twelve years has been a very rewarding one. We have grown our reputation, prepared students well for career success, and cultivated a warm and caring community. However, we have not made elevated academics as the utmost priority, and we have not celebrated academic excellence in the ways that many top notch universities do. On many occasions, our institution seems to celebrate accomplishment in many other endeavors much more vigorously and publicly than we do academic achievement. To take the next step forward as an institution, we must change our ways.
What could we do to prioritize, reward, and celebrate academic achievement much more prominently here at Bryant University? Here are a few ideas:
1. We should construct a prominent display of academic honors and achievements by our students and faculty. In my twelve years here, no such display case has ever existed. My colleagues and I have been calling for one for years. Meanwhile, we have built beautiful trophy cases for athletic achievement. The faculty advisory team requested an academic achievement display during the design of the AIC. We are still waiting and keep hearing that such a display is in the works. Why has it taken twelve years? Our students regularly win national and regional academic competitions, and our faculty earn outside awards and honors. These should be displayed publicly.
2. We should display prominent publications by faculty and students in a prominent location on campus. For instance, at William & Mary, the campus tour stops in a beautiful lobby where every single student research publication over the past few years is displayed in glass cases. Similarly, prominent publications by faculty are displayed on campus.
3. Does the community know the names of the students who have been inducted this year into the Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honor Society (or other academic honor societies)? We should proudly announce these names and celebrate these students. At some schools, I witnessed large displays with the names of students who had achieved these types of recognition.
4. The faculty teaching award is announced at a faculty meeting to close out the academic year. No students are present at this meeting. The website rarely mentions the recipients of this honor. We should announce the outstanding teacher at Bryant in a public forum where students can celebrate this achievement with their favorite professors.
5. Graduates of the Honors program should be celebrated in a much more significant manner at commencement.
6. Financial fellowships should be more broadly accessible for students conducting research in collaboration with faculty members.
7. The fellowship program supporting unpaid internships should be expanded significantly. Nearly every school I have visited has a much more extensive program than Bryant.
8. University leaders should announce via email and/or social media and celebrate the students who win major academic competitions such as the National Financial Plan Competition.
9. We should have a dedicated website focused on intellectual thought leadership by Bryant faculty. Many universities have a website that regularly features columns, interviews, and videos highlighting the research work that their faculty (and students) are doing.
10. We should celebrate and recognize in a public manner the recent graduates who achieve admission to top graduate schools around the country.
11. The university recognizes academic achievement through awards at commencement. Why wait until graduation to honor outstanding students? We should institute several major academic awards for first years, sophomores, and juniors.
12. Tweets from senior administrators should celebrate academic achievement as often as they do athletic success or other successful activities on campus.
I’m quite sure that many students and faculty colleagues share my desire to elevate academic excellence as a priority at Bryant. If you have other ideas for how to support, recognize, and celebrate academic achievement, I hope that you will share them. Please email me with your ideas, or better yet, share your ideas on this subject directly with President Machtley via email or Twitter. I look forward to hearing from a diverse array of campus voices. Thank you very much!