“It’s sort of a think tank,” is how Dr. Denise Dutton described the University Seminar. This year-long discussion group dedicated to examining challenges facing higher education in general and the University of Tulsa in particular.
This year, the seminar focuses on the topic, “What distinguishes a TU education, and how can we make it better?”
The group, composed of faculty and administrators, will present its findings to university leaders at the end of the year. The resulting report will also be bound and housed in McFarlin Library’s Special Collections.
This is expected to be an annual process.
Dutton is serving as facilitator and coordinator for this year’s University Seminar, the first after a years-long hiatus. Though a similar program was pioneered in the 1990s by a university chaplain, it took on a more regimented format, complete with syllabus, and did not last.
The reboot is different. Each participant, nominated by the Dean’s Council or the Provost, has an opportunity to lead a discussion on a subject of their choosing. As a result, the seminar has taken on wide-ranging subjects.
The two most recent meetings have “investigated the way in which diversity enhances our educational mission,” Dutton said.
Physics professor Dr. Scott Holmstrom is one of the participants who brought the diversity issue to the seminar. His particular concern is faculty diversity.
“Our faculty isn’t representative of our community,” he said.
Other topics include college affordability and accessibility, course evaluations and what they actually measure, academic integrity and TU’s small size.
In the spirit of supporting the educational mission of the university, seminar members are thinking about the role of faculty in passing on and modelling norms of academic integrity.
This goes hand-in-hand with learning.
“If we encourage students to engage in superficial or strategic learning, then it isn’t clear why academic integrity is important,” Dutton said.
Similarly, TU’s size brings with it advantages and disadvantages for supporting a liberal education.
“Our size allows us a certain intimacy,” Dutton said. “You can individualize your education here. What are we doing that makes that possible?”
The seminar also serves to produce, increase and deepen connections between colleges. Participants include one faculty member from each college, nominated by their respective dean.
The seminar thus builds on an existing tradition of intercollegiate cooperation, a tradition perhaps represented in microcosm by the booklet “Life of Inquiry,” co-edited by Dr. John Henshaw of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Dr. Joli Jensen of the Faculty of Communication. The booklet contains short essays from faculty in each of the colleges, and is directed at prospective students.
“There are not many schools where professors in Engineering and Natural Sciences are regularly working with professors in Arts and Sciences,” Dutton said.
At the end of April, the seminar group will informally discuss their findings with university leaders before preparing a report at the end of the year. The bound report will be presented to the president’s executive staff.
Wade Crawford contributed to this report.