The interim president at the University of Northern Iowa made his case Thursday for keeping the job on a permanent basis.
Jim Wohlpart told participants in a public forum on campus that one of the biggest challenges the school faces is maintaining its core mission.
“As a result of all of the challenges that we’re facing — the increasing enrollments, the changes in demographics, the decreasing of state funds, the increasing of federal regulations — we have lost our narrative in higher education. We are now being defined from the outside,” Wohlpart says.
He says that outside definition of universities is a place that turns out students who can get jobs. “This is what we’re about. Getting students into STEM majors — that’s an even more narrow focus because that’s where the jobs are and the funding is and the salaries are — so that they can get jobs,” Wohlpart says. “This vocationalization of higher education has forgotten the public good that is at the heart of what we do in public higher education. It has forgotten the role of developing an educated citizenry for a flourishing democracy.”
He says the outside view leaves out the most important part of what higher education does.”It has forgotten the role of colleges and universities in helping students transition from being young adults into adulthood,” Wohlpart says, “helping them find their purpose and their passion and marrying that purpose and passion with a vocation. Is there anything more important than that?,” Wohlpart asked.
He says the outside definition doesn’t match up with what he’s hearing from the people who hire students. “The irony is, that if you look at any of the surveys of employers, they will tell you that what they want is what we are doing by providing students with a liberal education that empowers students to deal with complexity, diversity and change,” according to Wohlpart. He was later asked about U-N-I’s identity, which he says is to students with an education where they engage in learning. Wohlpart says he’s been surprised in his time at the school as provost that those on campus sometimes can’t explain how well the school does this.
“So what I am talking about when I talk about engaged learning is — it’s not sufficient to develop these skills and this knowledge and dispositions in the classroom. Employers are telling us that’s not sufficient any more, students have to apply this in real-world settings outside the classroom,” Wohlpart says.”Here that happens at a really remarkable level at the University of Northern Iowa. It’s part of what drew me here and what I think is very distinctive.” Wohlpart says as president he would take the lead in pushing out that message.
“I’m not a marketing person, but we’ve got to find ways to tell stories about what we are doing that will be sexy and really, really interesting,” Wohlpart says. “So, I think that the vision that we’ve created does provide us with an opportunity to come together as a campus community…to help us understand who we are, why we are distinctive, and then elevate that.” Wohlpart is the second of three finalists for the job.
Montana State University chancellor Mark Nook will visit the campus today and hold a public forum. The Board of Regents is expected to select one of the three to be the new president next week.