Chadron State College
Chadron State College

Getting to Know: Academic Affairs

June 13, 2018

Charles Snare
Charles Snare

College Relations publishes a monthly series of news articles, features and Q&A interviews highlighting various departments on campus in an effort to assist the faculty and staff in gaining an increased awareness about and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

The June Q&A is with Dr. Charles Snare, Vice President for Academic Affairs. Snare has been Vice President for Academic Affairs at Chadron State College for six years and also served as a dean for six years.

How does the Office of Academic Affairs develop and promote excellence in teaching at Chadron State College?

One of the reasons faculty or staff choose to work at CSC is we value learning. Orchestrating learner-centered environments is our guiding principle. To pursue our polestar encompasses viewing peers as valuable collaborators and not as umpires. This means orchestrating learning environments for the campus community members to develop the muscles or habits of communication, willingness to listen, persistence, generosity, giving rather than taking, and solidarity of purpose. Such environments engage, challenge, and reinterpret our identities. A community of learners and excellence in teaching are inextricably intertwined.

While there are numerous avenues pursued, one illustration is the faculty Teaching and Learning Center (TLC). Upon my arrival in 2006 as a dean, a few faculty members suggested the need to create a TLC. Subsequently, the Higher Learning Commission 2007 Visiting Team suggested CSC create a TLC. The seeds of it began with a new faculty orientation developed by faculty and staff. It evolved into the TLC in 2011. A set of dedicated faculty and staff made this possible. Since 2013, the TLC is under the Teaching and Learning Technologies (TLT) unit which also consists of the Library Learning Commons. The TLT has been recognized in 2014 and 2017 on a national and international level.

What is the Master Academic Plan and how does it contribute to teaching and learning at CSC?

The 2014-18 Master Academic Plan (MAP) included six purposes and six priorities. With regard to purposes, one purpose of the MAP was to lead the effort in developing a comprehensive Chadron State 2020 – that is the centerpiece of the CSC strategic plan, which is supported by the Facilities Plan and the Foundation’s Plan. Creating learner-centered environments is our polestar. Thus aligning resources and efforts provides an important piece to foster student learning and organizational learning. In other words, it is an avenue to harness the tremendous individual efforts as a team to have the most beneficial impact on learning.

The MAP consists of six priorities: Improve the Essential Studies Program, develop and promote co-curricular experiences, foster student engagement, advance the TLT, improve student recruitment/retention, and improve faculty and staff recruitment/retention. Each of these underpin the advancement of a community of learners and orchestration of learner-centered environments such as high-impact practices. This is illustrated on a day-to-day basis with faculty and staff goals. During 2018, 93 percent of full-time faculty and 96 percent of Academic Affairs professional staff pursued a MAP priority. Cabinet has consistently supported the MAP priorities. With respect to committees, 86 percent of CSC committees and 62 percent of CSC Presidential committees identify a MAP priority as part of the committee work. We do what we say we are.

In the recent Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation, CSC was commended as being innovative with collaborations across campus. How do those collaborations come about and how unique is that in higher education?

An us-versus-them mentality is pervasive throughout higher education. It may include faculty and administration, student affairs and academic affairs, humanities and business, system office and college, and/or students and college. Differing educational training, backgrounds, experiences and interests, as well as personality clashes and differing unit/department objectives may undermine collaboration. Collaboration and communication is challenging in any organization, including within higher education. While there are a variety of facets to this, we try to avoid the mindset that it will just naturally occur. Working on it every day is vital. The problem is seldom the problem; how individuals handle the problem is often the problem.

CSC is a teaching and learning institution, and as stated in the Chadron State 2020: CSC is advancing the historical tradition of purpose, place, and people. CSC seeks to hire and retain those who demonstrate/develop this skill. Much of our work is based in teams and programs that necessitate collaboration. What we try to do as an institution is bring out the best in people, because if we bring out the best in people, we’ll bring out the best in CSC.

What qualities do you think make an effective college teacher?

Being an effective college teacher is one of the most difficult responsibilities. The complexity and variables involved in teaching are immense. College teachers must understand their discipline, the science of learning, technology, human motivation, and accreditation. Understanding is the first part; the second part is learning the skill to develop and orchestrate learner-centered activities and environments. Knowledge to action is a developed skill and one of the most demanding challenges for organizations and individuals.

Effective college teachers are accessible, approachable, enthusiastic, prepared, sensitive, and respectful; they care for students, provide constructive feedback, develop realistic expectations, exhibit fairness, and establish daily and semester goals and outcomes. College teachers are curious and critical self-reflective learners. Working within a community of learners, teachers develop courses and programs that scaffold learning. Teaching problems/issues are viewed as “teaching puzzles” similar to “research puzzles.” Puzzles challenge us to gain a better understanding, challenge our assumptions, and/or provide a means to engage more students and at a deeper level. It is both a humbling and exhilarating experience.

Too often college teaching is undervalued. I have had the opportunity to serve at three higher education institutions. By far, CSC has faculty who demonstrate the best of higher education teaching – they care and will go the extra 10 miles for their colleagues and students.

What qualities are needed in an effective higher education administrator?

A recent article in “The Chronicle of Higher Education” is titled, “No one wants to be your Dean.” The skills required include detail oriented, yet a visionary for the school. Deans must deal with a fast-paced environment that is constantly changing. There must be a willingness to listen and ask thoughtful questions with patience so as to pull out the important aspects. Human beings sometimes express the frustration of the moment; communication is challenging as we have different experiences and educational backgrounds. Added to this, human memory is less than accurate.

Typically an administrator is barraged by endless criticism; thus it is important not to be sidetracked by the means of communication and seek to tease out the essence of the concern. This takes developing the habit of humility and fairness, cultivating avenues to respond to human emotions, and seeking out the individuals who are silent. An important component that is imperative is separating the self from one’s role. This also assists with grasping the larger picture and connecting the dots, developing ways to learn from mistakes, and avoiding seeking information that supports our point of view or understanding.

At times, to foster organizational learning, constructive conflict is appropriate. This must be done to strengthen relationships, break down less than productive relationships, better tackle the challenges of higher education, and/or push beyond our comfort zone to encourage learning. A secondary benefit is it serves as a role model for students. Negative conflict has been the experience for many students. It is done to promote one’s views, blame others, and win an argument at any expense. Dialogue is crucial to the many challenges we confront in the world and higher education today.

Obtaining honest feedback is a thorny task in itself. Administrators need to find mechanisms to hear the things one doesn’t want to hear and then have the humility to learn and improve and/or view things from different perspectives. Humans are wired to perceive they are better drivers, students, and spouses than they are – this also is the case for administrators. One needs to be cognizant of what you know and don’t know.

One other aspect is important. We live in a society that encourages each of us to discover who we are and our passion and then to follow our dream. One downside to this is that this unearths only one small slice of who we are. This limits the wonders of life in discovering the different sides of ourselves. The administrative role has the potential to transform us – to develop the different sides. Thus an administrator needs to have the capacity to become a different and hopefully better human being and professional. The role teaches us how little we know, how much there is to learn, and reveals the vast array of interesting features of the world from budgets, centers, libraries, facilities, and disciplines. The administrative role provides the opportunity to develop skills that otherwise are less likely to be cultivated. Similar to teaching, it is both a humbling and exhilarating experience.

—George Ledbetter