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A conversation with Dean Burton Kaufman

What are some significant issues facing the school?
I have had four priorities since I came. Two of them, curricular review and flexibility, were recommended by a review committee.

We will review the traditional major, which requires a student to take the first two years at Western and then take the majority of the last two years outside of Western. We require natural systems, social systems, creativity and culture, interdisciplinary technology and interdisciplinary fine arts all in the first year and creativity and culture, natural systems and social systems in the second year.

The result is that students tend to be somewhat isolated from the rest of the university the first two years and at the same time they don’t have as close a connection to Western in the last two years. We are looking at offering an integrative seminar in lieu of some of our sophomore requirements and, in general, making our curriculum more flexible.

Our faculty teach the lower-level courses and the first two years take so much of our teaching resources, that we haven’t been able to offer as many upper-level courses. More flexible requirements open up the chance for faculty to teach more upper-level seminars. Also, it makes a more clearly delineated learning experience, with courses structured so that they build on one another.

Another priority is to grow the program modestly. We have had between 185-195 majors. We’re using the Elizabeth Turner endowment to provide four-year scholarships of half to full-cost of tuition. I hope this will help to grow the program. We need to do it modestly, and growing too much would defeat our purpose of individualized programs of study and small classes.

I hope to have a 400- to 450-member student body — not only majors, but students taking individual classes. For example, students in architecture and interior design in the School of Fine Arts take their first-year requirements at Western.

The fourth priority is to establish majors in environmental science and environmental studies. Within Western we have already approved these majors, but we still face the long process of approvals that will almost certainly involve considerable discussion across campus before they can become reality. Our proposal might be part of a package that would include co-majors outside of Western. My own hope is to attract 20-25 additional students to Western each year through these majors.

What are some other initiatives at Western?
I’m in the process of creating an advisory board of alumni from the school. Western may have the most loyal alumni of any academic organization here. One of every three alumni returned for our 25th reunion last year.

They’re so interested in what’s happening here, what students are doing and how they can help recruit. It’s wonderful.

Another thing we’ll do is enhance the integration of residential and academic life.
Last year we adopted a new model for residence halls. There’s a director of student life, a resident instructor, a graduate head resident and an undergraduate head resident. They’re trying to work with the faculty to do evening programs to complement the learning experience of students, lectures, service learning projects, trips to cultural events, etc. And we still have a faculty member living in a residence hall. It’s currently Xiu Wu Liu, who lives in McKee.

What are some successes for Western College?
This incoming class is the best ever. Working closely with admission staff and bringing high-school counselors to Western campus has brought us a more diverse student body, and the scholarship fund has allowed us to get unique students to apply. Ten students will be here on Turner scholarships.

The number of applications and the number of acceptances before orientation were up also — 52 vs. 32 the year before.

We gave our first Western Community Scholars fund scholarship last year to a Western first-year student.

Other successes include the remodeling of the residential life program, improvements in the administration and the hiring of a technology specialist, whom we share with the College of Arts and Science.

We have improved the community atmosphere by re-instituting monthly community dinners with our faculty and students. Our center for community learning, guided by Scott Markland, helps student take positions of leadership within Western.

"Dragonfly" magazine and its supporting programs, created by Interdisciplinary Studies faculty, staff and students have enhanced science learning in numerous classrooms and homes.

What has the school done to enhance diversity?
Diversity is Western’s middle name. It’s what we do. Our required courses include emphasis on nondominant cultures’ perspectives. For instance, recent social systems titles include "Urban Cultures," "Chinese Politics and Society in the 20th Century," "Constructing California: Insider and Outsider Narratives" and "Violence: A Social Science Exploration."

Diversity is one of the things we look for in awarding scholarships — what does this person do to enhance our diversity? It’s a high priority. And now, a gift from an alum will help recruit a more diverse student group.

One of the reasons for environmental science/studies majors is also for diversity. Most of our students are in social sciences or arts, and there is a 2-1 female-male ratio. We’re hoping with this major, we’ll have more students in the sciences and more male students in the program.

How does the school connect to the broader community?
Our students perform service learning in such places as Over-the-Rhine. They’re involved with Habitat for Humanity. They’re very socially active.

Locally, I’ve been talking with Hamilton and Middletown campuses about sharing students and faculty.

Perhaps we reach farthest into the community with "Dragonfly," the national children’s magazine that Interdisciplinary Studies faculty, staff and students have created and edit. Schools, families and libraries across the country subscribe to the magazine, which comes with a home guide and teacher’s companion. The magazine and Web site reach thousands of children every month, teaching them science, encouraging writing and inquiry, and allowing them to join with researchers and visionaries, such as primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, in a common forum for discovery. Feedback from schools has been wonderful, and "Dragonfly" has received a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and two Ed Press Awards, among others. The "Dragonfly" Web site has been recognized by the British Broadcasting Corp. and "USA TODAY."

New directions for Project Dragonfly include a national program through the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the creation of a professional development program for teachers. A national PBS television series based on "Dragonfly" is also in development.

Date Published: 12/02/1999
Volume: 19   Number: 18

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