Hiram College

Dear faculty, staff, and students,

It’s advising season for all of us. Just as advising winds down for most of our students and faculty, a form of high-stakes, college-wide advising kicks into full gear.

Thanks to a designated donor contribution, the RAND Corporation is advising the entire college community on our redesign process. For those who may be unfamiliar with RAND, their website describes them as a research organization that develops interdisciplinary solutions to public challenges in an effort to make communities throughout the world safer, more secure, healthier, and more prosperous. Three of RAND’s consultants have joined our project with an interest in helping us create a high-level academic structure that is innovative and highly customized. As genuine researchers, they are not coming in to deliver a predetermined solution or a cookie-cutter proposal they have designed for dozens of other colleges.

I know how difficult (for many people and on many levels) the redesign work is. Therefore, we are fortunate to have a world-class social science research team helping us think about an educationally exciting and contextually feasible academic structure. The development of this structure has been and will continue to be a highly iterative process. It stems from a proposal generated by Professors Sorrick and Goodner’s brainstorming group and proposals from other faculty as well. While those proposals vary from each other, each of them aim to create an academic structure that is more streamlined than what we have today. The proposed structures also aim to facilitate integrated learning in ways that are genuine and understandable to students and parents.

To refine and further develop the emergent ideas generated by these faculty members, representatives from RAND visited campus on March 5 and 6. Like any good advisor, they sat down and engaged in deep listening sessions, striving diligently to hear about the hopes and challenges on the minds of many. During their first two-day visit, they met with over 20 people including: the Strategic Academic Team, the Senior Cabinet, a member of the Board of Trustees, a few faculty members, and several students. The purpose of that visit was to gather information about the process to date and to map out next steps to engage the college community in the discovery process about academic structures.

RAND returned to campus this Monday, March 19, and held eight focus-group-type meetings with dozens of campus constituents. After these meetings, they started to compile qualitative data from the listening sessions and focus groups. They are also reviewing quantitative data on existing courses in an effort to map out pedagogical networks that help discern how and to what extent course and program integration is currently occurring.

As our consultants move through the analysis of Hiram data, they will also do an environmental scan of other small colleges to see what we might learn from peer and aspirant institutions who have undertaken similar tasks. Soon thereafter, RAND will develop an advising report that depicts recommendations, based on what they heard at Hiram and what they gleaned elsewhere, for a possible new academic structure. I have asked them to share their recommendations or proposals with the campus in what might be thought of as a large group advising session on Monday, April 16. They will also sit down in small group advising sessions to meet more personally with any member of the faculty, staff, or student body. If you would like to be included in one of those smaller sessions, please email Phil Eaves (eavespj@hiram.edu) indicating your availability (simply state “early morning,” “late morning,” “early afternoon,” or “late afternoon”) for April 16. Schedules on that day are class-free, so I am hoping that negates the typical class conflicts.

As we continue the highly participatory redesign work, I am acutely aware that having it unfold concurrently with program realignment or discontinuation is hard. Without a doubt, however, the primary driver of this work is to build a truly distinguished living and learning experience for 21st-century students—one that leads to fulfilling careers and prepares students to address the urgent challenges of our time.

Over the decades, Hiram has done an excellent job of educating students. But, as has happened before and will happen again, the changes all around us demand that Hiram again makes the changes it needs to thrive. To grow enrollment to the level we need for a healthy future, we must face, head on, the student demographic challenges, increasing market forces, spiraling pricing models, and new delivery models that faculty and staff heard about at last week’s Town Hall.

So, it is in the spirit of Hiram’s common good that I will continue to call together those who have the willingness, energy, and creativity to imagine what Hiram’s academic structures, curricular programs, and co-curricular activities look like and how they fit together to provide as rich an experience as possible for those who must always come first: our students.

The ongoing invitation to participate in the process remains open. Again, if you are interested in hearing the latest ideas, please send Phil Eaves an email in short order.

Your President,

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Lori E. Varlotta