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UST Vice President for Academic Affairs Candidates Speak at Forums

The two finalists for UST vice president for academic affairs, Laurie Underwood and UST Associate Professor of Theology and Dean of Arts and Sciences Christopher Evans, addressed open forum staff meetings on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4, respectively.

They fielded questions that included the future of UST, the growth of graduate programs, online programming and support for international students.

Evans said UST needs to expand its graduate programs.

“I think we need to start now; independent research suggests that by 2025 we’re going to see a 15 percent drop in the number of 18-year-olds,” said Evans, who spoke a Cullen Hall. “That’s a percentage of hundreds and thousands that’s going to shut down a few schools. I think we need to really focus now on adult education, as well as provide an even amount of lifelong learning.”

Evans also said the University does not have an institutional infrastructure in place for online program development, and that he thinks it should.  

Evans was asked if he thinks the University should teach classes in Spanish for students whose first language is Spanish, and replied that similar requests in the past have not received much support.

He implied that such classes would not likely help students in the long-run.  “If I go to France and go study there, there’s probably not going to be a course in English,” he said. “Particularly if I’m going to work in France, there needs to be some kind of language proficiency there.”

Laurie Underwood, the dean of arts and humanities and director of the Presidential Scholars Program at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, spoke at Jones Hall.

Underwood said she feels qualified for the position of vice president for student affairs because of her diverse cultural views and CNU’s history. She said CNU was in the same place of uncertainty and transition 20 years ago that UST now finds itself in; once financially tenuous. CNU is one of the top public liberal arts colleges in the South, according to Underwood.

In response to a question about how to increase UST’s graduate student enrollment, Underwood said UST has to see how it can strengthen its current graduate programs, and also examine current market and demographic forces.

Underwood said that along with marketing efforts, the level of faculty involvement in a university’s recruitment process “makes all of the difference in the world.”

Underwood said that although she has taught online courses, CNU has moved away from full online programs because many courses benefit more from face-to-face interaction. Online programs have to be strategically planned, she said, and not all programs can be successful in an online format.

If UST decided to create an online program, the University’s program should be distinct in order to stand out from the competition, Underwood said.

Underwood also said there should be a tutoring and a peer-mentoring system at UST to help international students succeed, and that she helped CNU hire a person to support international students during her tenure there.

She said there should be a student-alert system in place to warn faculty about the number of classes a student is failing. Faculty need to know if a student is failing because of communication and writing issues, or because of a lack of engagement, she added.

UST’s interim vice president for academic affairs is Poldi Tschirch, dean of UST’s Carol and Odis Peavy School of Nursing.  

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