Columbia College presidential finalist answers questions from students, faculty

Monday, January 13, 2014 | 10:08 p.m. CST; updated 1:49 p.m. CST, Monday, January 20, 2014
Scott Dalrymple answers question at Columbia College during a Monday afternoon forum in which he met with students. He is one of two finalists for the position of president at Columbia College.

COLUMBIA — Scott Dalrymple took the stage Monday afternoon to address questions from Columbia College faculty members and students in the final leg of the college's search for its 17th president.

“I’m really impressed. I feel like he has experience in all the different venues,” said Angela Houston, a senior in the Management and Marketing Department. “He’s approachable, which is really good. I’m excited. I thought he was a great candidate.”

Dalrymple’s engaging demeanor was acknowledged by several faculty and student attendees. He used the forum as an opportunity to not only address specific questions but also provide more background on his personal and professional experiences.

Dalrymple is one of two finalists for the position at Columbia College. He is currently serving as dean of the School of Liberal Arts at Excelsior College in New York. The other finalist, Randy Hanna, will visit campus to meet faculty and students Tuesday.

Chase Barnes, a sophomore transfer student studying political science, said Dalrymple, 46, was personable, well-spoken and “had good direction” throughout his presentation.

Common themes behind Dalrymple's hopes for the future of Columbia College were his visions for the president's role within the faculty and the creation of a more defined governance system.

“There are few things that annoy me more than a micro-managing president,” Dalrymple said. “The president should have enough to do without getting involved in the day-to-day business of the faculty. To a large extent, I would leave faculty governance to the faculty.”

Mark Price, professor of philosophy at Columbia College, said he appreciated Dalrymple’s honesty, particularly when admitting he didn't have answers regarding ethical concerns that were brought up during the forum.

“He’s willing to improvise with us,” Price said.

Here are some of the topics Dalrymple addressed:

Presence and role of adjunct faculty

The national trend toward the adjunct model was brought up by both students and faculty and was an issue that Dalrymple admitted having concerns about.

He said he's seen most of the changes that have arisen over the last 20 years and cited his own experience as an adjunct. Adjuncts are part-time, nontenure-track faculty often employed in adult and online education, he said.

"Adjuncts have pluses and minuses," Dalrymple said.

He said adjuncts are useful with programs in more applied fields, such as business and nursing, because they bring more practical experience instead of theory. He cited concerns about adjuncts with less classroom experience and time with students than traditional tenured faculty.

Dalrymple said the role of adjunct professors relates to the need for a more defined governance structure, specifically of where they would fall within the system in a time when tenured faculty are no longer the primary workforce.

“When it comes to the specifics, I think especially here in the evening program, I want to hear that adjuncts feel like they’re within the fold and part of the family and engaged in whatever department has hired you,” he said.

Curriculum expansion

The state of faculty governance once again came into play when Dalrymple was questioned about his plans for expanding the curriculum. He was adamant that it was presumptuous to answer questions about the college's needs without more experience.

“I think a lot of that should be coming from you,” Dalrymple said to the faculty.

He explained that experience both within Columbia College, as well as with other area institutions, was necessary for him before venturing into the realm of curriculum changes.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” Dalrymple said. “But I’m reluctant to publicly declare where I think it should go.”

Choosing between a singular or dual brand

Faculty members questioned whether nontraditional modes of teaching, through adult education and distance learning, could continue to co-exist under a single brand alongside the traditional higher education model.

Multiple audience members brought up the issue of branding as something the new president should address early on.

"Is the college going to remain one brand and take on all the difficulties that come with it, and if not, how are we going to negotiate new brands?" Price said.

Dalrymple said the issue was uncommon but complicated by the success of both the adult education division and traditional campus.

There are advantages to either a one-brand or a two-brand approach, Dalrymple said. He said the college can leverage the benefit of a brand that overlaps two market audiences, but having two brands could minimize confusion within each audience.

Dalrymple said he didn't have an answer on which direction the college should go.

"What I can say is that I am aware of the issue." he said.

Class length

When faced with the question of how to maximize academic performance with shortened class hours, Dalrymple said schools must remain realistic about market demands. He said it was not a "tenable" option to extend the length of courses, especially when it came down to online and adult education.

"Eight (weeks) is the currency of the realm. ... The marketplace, for better or worse, and probably for worse, is that way right now," he said.

He said schools need to work within that market and "gotta learn how to do it well."

Expanding the main campus

Dalrymple said he believed in investing in the expansion of Columbia College's main campus and supports the college's efforts to buy up surrounding property.

He said he wants to see the infrastructure expand along with the student body.

"Something magical happens on a campus when you get over around 1,200 people," he said, describing a more vibrant atmosphere when campuses reach "critical mass."

He said the college's move to transform its soccer field from grass to turf, which would allow both students and athletes to use the space, was one positive example of the changes he'd like to see.

"Design matters. Space matters," he said.

Fighting rising tuition costs

The issue of funding college is "the number one issue in higher education right now and for the next twenty years," Dalrymple said.

Both tuition and nontuition costs are outpacing the rate of inflation, he said.

Dalrymple said he faced challenges similar to today's students when he was growing up. He worked as a night manager for a grocery store and took out student loans to pay for college. The loans took several years to repay, but he believes he had an easier time managing the costs than most students today.

"I believe in creative solutions for how we help students pay for college," he said.

Barnes recognized Dalrymple's commitment to minimizing college tuition.

"It seems like he’s set on keeping it down,” he said.

Supervising editor is Stephanie Ebbs.

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