Highlights from the 2016 Winter Symposium

winter symposium-photo2Faculty, staff and administrators met last week for PSU’s 2016 Winter Symposium. The symposium theme was “What Does It Mean to be Educated in the 21st Century?” A weighty question, but one that captured the purpose of the symposium and our desire to delve deeper into critical conversations about liberal education, the constant changing nature of higher education, our students, and on what we know about knowledge, disciplines, and teaching.

The daylong, over twenty-year tradition is an opportunity for colleagues to learn, share ideas and formulate actions on relevant academic issues. President Wiewel kicked off the event by punctuating the importance of this question for PSU. He referenced our history, changes in PSU’s recent past, our current environment and a look forward to opportunities. The President cited a number of goals and initiatives that call for addressing the symposium’s focus in PSU’s new Strategic Plan. He carried that commitment throughout the day by his participation at the entire Symposium.

Keynote Speaker
Dr. Kevin Reilly, President Emeritus of the University of Wisconsin System was our keynote speaker. Dr. Reilly brought the perspective of decades in higher education as a faculty member, administrator, and currently as an advisor to university governing boards. Reilly’s Ph.D. in English came through in some of the amusing, illustrative and meaningful poems he quoted throughout his presentation.

His talk, “What is quality? What about completion? What about us?”, brought together many important threads about higher education and learning in the current times. Dr. Reilly set the stage by contrasting the universities of the past as monastic centers of all knowledge to how 21st century knowledge creation, dissemination, access and learning takes place. He provided a list of top-10 levers to adjust to achieve quality and completion in an undergraduate education. His remarks serve as the basis for the day’s discussions.winter symposium-photo1

Faculty Senate
Brad Hansen, Professor of Music, spoke on behalf of Faculty Senate Presiding Officer and French Professor Gina Greco. Professor Hansen emphasized the importance of this conversation to the Faculty Senate as they continue to explore issues of liberal education at PSU. The Senate will be forming a taskforce on this topic so stay tune to their activities.

The majority of the day was organized around panels and table discussions:

  • Balancing Academic Depth and Breadth
  • Harmonizing Education for Local Concerns and Global Issues
  • The Significance of Equity and Inclusion in Education
  • Balancing Wellness with Productivity

Over 20 faculty, staff, students, administrators, alumni and community members gave panel presentations to share their perspectives on these topics. Table conversations were deep and rich and produced a lot of food for thought, frames of reference and possible actions. The notes from the conversations are being transcripted and will soon be available.

Main Takeaways and Four Categories
We generated a lot of questions, some solutions and many what-ifs. There were healthy and collegial differences of options that made for rich table conversations. I synthesized what I heard and read from the table summaries into four categories: those at 30,000 feet, 10,000 feet, on the ground, and below the surface.

30,000 feet: our curriculum is too compartmentalized; complex problems of the world are not solved by a single discipline; global, social and power differentials are key actors; large organizational change is difficult; education is a public good and should have influence on what we want humans to know and be.

10,000 feet: structured educational pathways are too rigid; concepts need to be translated in concrete pedagogy; students would be partners in creating a true learning environment; our scholarship should inform our pedagogy; we need to critically look at our entire curriculum without violating the individual faculty rights of academic freedom; learning should be fun and creative.

On the ground: course content sometimes can be isolated to a single class; figure out ways to make our horizontal program sequence have more vertical connections to courses in and outside the major; creating safe spaces in class for students to share thoughts and opinions; caring for the people we work with; knowing our students.

Below the surface: making sure all voices are at the table; eliminating tokenism and invisibility; authentically addressing differing views; shining the light on areas of improvement.

The question often asked at the end of such an event as the Symposium is: “So, now what?”

At the end of the day, I asked everyone in attendance:

  • One thing they learned about themselves during the day.
  • One thing they learned at the symposium that they would ask their department /colleagues to do or talk about.
  • Think about who was not in the room; who needs to be part of these conversations.
  • How PSU’s Strategic Plan can inform the work ahead.
  • Embrace our learnings and actions as our collective work and not the work of one or a few.
  • Not let the day become just a generation of ideas, but result in actions.

Watch Winter Symposium Videos
If you missed the event, view the videos on the Academic Affairs website: PSU Winter Symposium 2016 – Welcome & Keynote and PSU Winter Symposium 2016 – Synthesis and Closing. 

Share your thoughts on the 2016 Winter Symposium below. If you could not attend, let us know your perspectives based on the information in this blog post, or, perhaps, conversations you had with attendees.


2 thoughts on “Highlights from the 2016 Winter Symposium

  1. Hello Sona,

    In answer to your question: “who needs to be part of these conversations”….I appreciate your efforts to include employers in the PANEL discussion….it would have been nice to have more participants who could share the employer’s perspective in the TABLE discussions.

    Thanks for the post….and for the very interesting and thoughtful symposium.



  2. It’s exciting to see a great American public university like PSU willing to examine its critical role and push itself toward ever greater relevance and impact. Bravo. In the closely interconnected world in which we now live, we can not afford to allow comfortable traditions or the status quo to impede our ability to positively affect students’ lives and advance our communities.


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