The chancellor talks student success rates, new academic programs and athletics
By MANDI STEFFEY
As of July 1, IU South Bend has a new chancellor. Terry Allison, recent provost and vice president of academic affairs at Governors State University in Illinois, is coming to campus with a clear vision for the university. Chancellor Allison spoke with The Preface about his thoughts on beginning this academic year and his plans for the future of IUSB.
Q: How are you liking things at IU South Bend and in South Bend so far?
A: I’m really enjoying being here. When I was thinking about where I might go next this seemed like a really wonderful university. I’m really happy here so far.
Q: How did you decide to make the transition to this university?
A: I was near Chicago. And even though I’m a Californian and was for most of my life, I thought I would either go back to California or around the Chicago area. I’ve really enjoyed living in the sphere of Chicago, and when this [job opportunity] came up, I thought it was in a really good location. And being part of Indiana University is great. It’s a university with a wonderful reputation and it’s doing wonderful things. When I came to visit South Bend, I discovered this great community. People here seem very supportive of the university. That kind of community support, alumni support and great people on campus were what put it all together for me.
Q: When you were a candidate for this position, you made it clear that one of your top priorities as chancellor would be student retention. What are your thoughts on retention at IUSB?
A: I don’t know if you’ve seen our current statistics or studied them in detail, but more than a third of our first-year students don’t continue to the sophomore year. It’s been hovering between about 62 and 65 percent for the last several years. That means more than one out of three students are not going to succeed in their goals.
Now, sometimes those students, several years later or sometimes many years later come back and do finish a degree. But when you look at the fact that we have invested a lot of money to recruit students here to the campus, providing new student orientations and admissions services to get them started—and the students aren’t continuing.
Some of these students, mostly young people around 18 or 19 when they’re coming in, I care about whether or not they can move on with their plans. Something started them on the track to getting a college degree, and some of them are experiencing major interruptions.
In terms of the university, it’s not good for us to keep investing resources to recruit students if they aren’t going to succeed academically. Not every student will succeed, but we need to do a lot more to help students succeed. We need to have more support for students who need extra assistance.
Q: Do you see a lack in the current services we have that aim to improve student success?
A: We know a couple of things from talking to students. We’ve been calling. A lot of our offices have been calling some students several times just to find out what’s going on and why they haven’t come back to school. And for a lot of students, it is the financial assistance that they need. That’s not something we can immediately take care of this year, but knowing that, we can start to implement strategies for students who say they can’t continue due to financial reasons.
Many of our freshmen finish their first year with less than a 2.0 GPA. My message is always that we need to grade to a high standard. We need to be rigorous and make sure that the Indiana University degree we’re offering means something. That is the quality assurance of the university. At the same time, we could put into place a lot more assistance programs.
We have the Summer Bridge program, the Leadership Academy. We certainly have the Writing Center, and math labs—things like that to help students do better. For the most part, those are optional for students. Perhaps we need to make more of those mandatory when students come in with a certain placement score and we feel that they could be vulnerable to not doing well in specific courses.
We might need to require rather than suggest to students that they attend some of these supplemental instruction sessions.
Q: What other worries do you have about IUSB?
A: We have been listening to students. I’m concerned about advising. We need to have a coherent model that students can understand. They should be able to get timely appointments. On the flip side of that, speaking to some faculty, I’m concerned with the number of students who sign up for advising and don’t keep their appointments or don’t follow through on the advice that they may be given.
So, we really need to strengthen that whole advising system. I think that will help somewhat in retention.
Q: What are some things you are looking forward to changing on campus? What can students expect?
A: One thing I’ve talked about is, and in one way it’s a major change and in another way it’s not: we have a list of new programs for the next years that we would like to put in place. That list was developed kind of independently by schools and colleges here and I’m going to institute a more comprehensive approach to it that really involves the community as well.
When I first drove into the city and saw all these major health facilities and then I looked at our health program, I saw a mismatch. We have some good programs here. We have some excellent programs, but we don’t have enough programs. That’s the most rapidly growing area of employment and I really want to make sure that students here have the opportunity to pursue some professional degrees that we don’t offer.
Always we should be on top of providing a strong liberal arts education, which I think we do very well, but some students want to go into health administration, nutrition, fitness, gerontology and a whole other range of programs that we could definitely begin to offer or strengthen here.
Q: What other things do you hope to improve aside from academics? How do you feel about the current student attitude towards campus?
A: I would not say that it’s uncommon for a university of this type. It’s primarily a commuter institution. I hope students have to sense that our athletics have added a lot recently. And housing—but we still need to work to fill our housing.
So in addition to that, we do have an athletics expansion advisory committee. I’ve already met with them this past week. To remain in the NAIA, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, we have to have six teams by 2015. Right now we have three: men’s and women’s basketball and women’s volleyball. They’ve prioritized men’s golf and men’s and women’s cross country to have the minimum of six. Women’s golf and maybe some other sports will be coming after that.
Q: Can you say when those teams will be added?
A: When you look at the calendar, we’re going to at least have to have recruiters in place by next spring, spring of 2014, because they’re going to need to work with high school students in the academic year of 2014-2015. Really in the fall is when most of the recruitment is done to get the teams together by 2015-2016. So that’s really going to develop pretty quickly.
Q: Do you think college athletics are important?
A: Our IU South Bend athletes have a higher GPA. A large percentage of them live on campus, more than half. They graduate faster and they retain from the freshman to sophomore year. I think we have a really appropriate approach to our athletics program, which is to have scholar athletes. These are students with no disciplinary problems, in fact there were none at all last year which is pretty amazing.
We have a relatively small program, but all that says that our coaches are doing a great job and the students themselves are really focusing on what’s important, which is their studies.
Q: How do you think you will be different from our previous chancellor, Una Mae Reck?
A: I think what everybody has said and is thankful for is Chancellor Reck changing this university into a campus. She initiated the athletics. She put a lot of things into place.
What I’m going to put my emphasis on is, as I said, student success. And that includes that full spectrum of student life. Not just recruitment and retention, but expanding athletics, expanding internships within the community for our students, working with our alumni association and others to make sure that students here have opportunities for service learning. All of these things will really make our students more successful as they leave this institution.
The other thing, as I mentioned earlier, is finding out what academic programs really meet the needs of the community. In order to accomplish that, I’m really going to focus on planning this year. Not only doing the academic master plan, but the full strategic plan for the university. Not the 99 page version, but the three page version that I think will actually be a successful outline that we can work on for the next five, six or seven years.
Q: During a panel as a candidate for this position, you mentioned that you were a member of many environmental groups. Are you interested in green technology on campus? Do you plan on putting a bigger emphasis on sustainability?
A: Academically, I think we’re doing a lot of interesting things here in sustainability. It’s a good academic program. The campus that I was at for many years, California State San Marcos, they won the recycle mania contest nationally at least five times.
Here we really want to look at our ability to recycle and reuse. We did the sustainable parking lot across the street along the western edge [of IUSB] and we’ll certainly look for more opportunities. There’s some permeable pavement over there and native plants. Some of them look a little more natural than we’re used to with our landscaping, but they’re very beautiful. So we’ll be looking at that.
We’ll also be looking into using less water, certainly fewer toxic materials. The new building will be LEED certified.
Q: Can students expect to be able to see you on campus? Do you expect to be engaged with students?
A: I was out at orientation today [August 14] walking around. I was among the tables, going around and saying hello. Several students have come by to say hello, and we certainly take e-mails that come directly from students so we can try to help them. I’m certainly happy to meet with student groups if they invite me. I really enjoy working with students. And when you have a job like this, it’s hard to teach, but I would love to get back in the classroom some year.
Q: Are you eager for the year to start? How do you feel overall about the new position?
A: It’s a major step up to be a chancellor. Previously I was a provost [and vice president of academic affairs] at my last university and that had a lot of duties. But to be head of the campus, there’s a lot more work externally in the community meeting people. I think that’s an exciting part about the job, too.
I’ve really enjoyed it so far here. I’ve been meeting many different people and I’m really excited about the coming year. It’s good to be here.