John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Don’t Miss This Gathering: I’m Not!

May 2, 2016adminInsights0

John Gardner You would think that after 35 years I would have found another way of learning! But I haven’t, at least not one that is as fulfilling and enjoyable. I refer to learning from fellow higher educators who have figured out ways to enhance student success that I haven’t yet mastered or perhaps even know about, in some kind of interactive, conference setting. In this spirit I write about an upcoming gathering, the Student Retention Symposium, to be held in Asheville, North Carolina. This is a repeat, in concept, even we hosted in the same location a year ago, but with a number of new guest experts, and some returning guest experts, brought back by popular demand.

My colleagues on our staff have organized a really excellent line up of interesting presenters; all of them doing unique and important work that should receive my and your attention. We have designed this meeting so that it is ideal especially for teams. It will be a relatively small meeting as the facility, a Marriott Renaissance property, let alone the city, is not designed for mega conventions. What we wanted was a setting and meeting construct that would yield maximum interaction, learning, and relaxation, especially within the confines of the professional setting, but also wandering around a charming small and safe city.

Here is what and whom we will feature:

A focus on Learning Communities, one of the most successfully validated curricular structures yielding enhanced retention, provided by Jean Henscheid of the University of Idaho, entitled “Why and How Learning Communities Retain Students.”

A focus on Supplemental Instruction, one of the longest standing and the most consistently and widely validated, dating to 1974, academic interventions in high failure rate courses, which my wife, Dr. Betsy Barefoot and I have been championing and helping to disseminate since the 1980’s: provided by Marion Stone, the current national leader of this work, from the University of Missouri Kansas City, entitled: “Supplemental Instruction and Student Success.”

A focus on early warning and learning analytics, a very recent innovation used in many different fields and now in higher education, to improve academic advising and as a classroom intervention with underperforming students. This will be provided by Matt Pistilli of Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

A focus on “Athletics and Student Retention.” This session is brought back by popular demand from this meeting of a year ago and will feature two presenters from polar opposite institutional types: a large research Division I university (Ohio State) and a very small, private, liberal arts college (Brevard College). Presented by David Graham and Juan Mascaro, respectively.

A focus on “Case Studies in Transforming Gateway Courses to Improve Teaching, Learning and Success. Here a faculty member, Martine Rife, from Lansing Community College and Tony Scinta, a senior academic administrator from Nevada State will present two case studies of teaching and learning transformation for increased student and faculty success.

A focus on “Reforming Developmental Education: Implications for Retention” provided by Melissa Quinley from AB Tech Community College and Susan Gabriel from Community College of Baltimore County. Thank goodness, developmental education, ain’t what it used to be. This affects two and four-year institutions and their deserving students.

A focus on “Creating a Collaborative Campus for Student Success: How to Build Dynamic, Faculty Inclusive, Transformational Change” This will be presented by the leader and principal designer of an international intervention to reduce high D,W,F, I rates in gateway courses, my colleague, Drew Koch, who is the Executive Vice President of the Gardner Institute.

And something from John Gardner for the good of the retention order.

So here we have a mix of some long standing and long validated retention interventions; combined with the very newest ideas, contributions, interventions in this very dynamic field. We will feature expert presenters from a wide variety of four and two-year institutions. We have both veteran thought leaders and practitioners in this retention field and some of the newest innovators in the field.

I know I am going to learn from these people and our guests. Within the confines of the Gardner Institute there are multiple mantras. And in this case one of them is: “if John can do it, anyone can!”

I hope you will join me at the JNGI Student Retention Symposium as I keep learning.

House Bill 2: Déjà vu All Over Again

April 22, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

I write to share some reflections and report on actions taken with respect to the controversial legislation recently adopted by the North Carolina legislature regarding what the proponents are describing as privacy and safety protection in public toilets and what opponents would describe much differently. As one who has been championing for social justice since I was a college student in the 1960’s, this is all a very bitter pill to swallow.

And because I am the appointed leader of a non-profit organization that serves the national and international higher education community, I wanted to report on what actions our organization has taken in response to the recent legislative action which has been found by so many in our fellow higher education community as offensive and probably –and hopefully- illegal.

I refer to what is known in North Carolina as House Bill 2, which restricts the use of public restrooms by transgendered persons to the gender indicated on their birth certificates and not their gender identity; and which prohibits anyone from seeking legal relief related to North Carolina workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation; and which prohibits any municipality in North Carolina from raising the minimum wage above the state proscribed minimum (currently the Federal minimum); and which forbids any North Carolina municipality from adopting policy to provide anti-discrimination protection beyond what is currently provided in state statute.

Actions Taken

In light of these new restrictions being imposed in North Carolina, I would want it known hereby that the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education:

  • Will continue to obey all State of North Carolina statutes and policies and those of the United States government as they may pertain to the operation of our legally constituted corporation.
  • Strongly opposes these legislative provisions.
  • Believes these provisions violate the fundamental values of our organization, which have been to promote social justice and equality of treatment and rights for all undergraduate college students regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, physical condition, religion, creed, nationality, immigration status, sexual orientation and/or identity.
  • Has successfully been able to cancel lodging space and related arrangements for the annual, legally mandated meeting of the Institute’s Board of Directors, which was to have been held in North Carolina and will now be held out of the state of North Carolina.
  • Is not able to move the locations of four professional meetings our Institute has previously entered into prior to this legislative action for legally contracted hotel space in North Carolina for events scheduled for June, July, and October of 2016, because of significant financial damages we would incur that would be unacceptable for a small, non-profit organization such as ours. We must honor our contracts.
  • Will not book, organize, or host any more professional meetings in the state of North Carolina, other than the four referenced above, until this legislation is rescinded by the North Carolina legislature or invalidated by the Federal courts.
  • Will respect any of our colleagues in higher education who may choose not to participate in any of our remaining events hosted in North Carolina because of their personal, moral, opposition to this legislation.
  • Understands and accept, of course, any of our higher education colleagues who are forbidden by state or city policy from the use of their public funds to travel to North Carolina in an official state employment capacity because of this legislation and hence cannot participate in any of these remaining events in North Carolina.
  • Profoundly regrets these legislative actions and their outcomes for North Carolina citizens and the state’s economy, for which we are certainly not responsible.
  • Believe that the majority of our fellow North Carolinians agree with us that any form of discrimination against others based on sexual orientation or gender identity is inappropriate and a moral affront to the dignity of all persons.
  • Implores the supporters of and participants in the various works of the Gardner Institute to bear with us as we do the best we can under these circumstances, which we did not create, and to continue to grant us their respect and support.
  • Has posted a public statement to this effect on the home page of our Institute website:


I was raised in a lily white, affluent suburb of New York City, New Canaan, Connecticut. I was a child of privilege. I know represent what sociologists have long called “downward social mobility.” I like many Americans learned prejudice at home, although I know I never translated that into discrimination.

My own undergraduate experience was truly intellectually liberating and to the extent possible it enabled me to unlearn, rethink, the culturally acquired prejudices I may have acquired in my family and my country. I am so appreciative of my own liberal arts college, Marietta College, where I received the intellectual and professional foundation for my career work to promote social justice.

My military experience on active duty in the United States Air Force further demonstrated the power of government to provide an environment where all members of the society can be treated equally and where all can flourish.

While on active duty, I served in South Carolina, arriving 2.5 years after the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. I had the opportunity there for 32.5 years to observe the transformation of a formally de jure segregated political region, in part through higher education open to all citizens.

As a country we stopped restricting toilet use as a function of race and ethnicity in 1964. This new legislation adopted by my adopted state of North Carolina returns us to an era I had thought we had long left behind. Now we are restricting the rights of our latest scapegoat cohort, transgendered people, to use the toilets of their chosen identity. So, in fifty years we have moved from suppressing the rights of blacks and women, and then of gay persons, and undocumented immigrants, and now transgendered persons. The game is the same. Only the people being attacked and suffering are different. And sadly, many of the proponents of this newest version of Jim Crow, are the same: disproportionately, older, southern, white, men.

One of the most basic human functions and what should be a right, is where you go to the bathroom. Government aspiring to provide equality for all should not be restricting this basic human right.

I learned firsthand that those who advocate for social justice and civil rights for all Americans can and do pay a price. I was fired (or as we euphemistically say in higher education speak “non renewed) from Winthrop College in 1969 for my activities in establishing a local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. In that action I naively participated in legal action taken against a local business owner that was prominently connected to the governing board of my employer. Not very smart John. I did not have tenure. Contrary to what many outside the higher education community say, we still do need tenure! Thankfully, I was able to secure a faculty appointment at the University of South Carolina, which always protected my privilege of academic freedom and allowed me the opportunity to do work of socially redeeming value to promote social justice for all, for the next nearly five decades.

As a country, we have made progress. We are making progress, albeit too slowly. I have made progress. As I wrote initially, this latest action is a setback, especially for North Carolina, but also for our country as it reflects so poorly on us abroad—and hence is a bitter pill to swallow.

I Escape to New Zealand: But What About our Students?

March 7, 2016huhnInsights0

John Gardner

John Gardner copyI write this during an “escape” from the winter 2016 political primary season and all the crazy, vitriolic, anti immigrant, anti Hispanic, misogynist, hateful anger brought to the fore by Trump, Cruz, Rubio and other figures in the Republican party. My escape is for two weeks, mostly in New Zealand and several days in Australia on the way home. My wife, Betsy Barefoot is my partner on this escape, and everything else. This is our third visit to New Zealand in five years. I need to just remind myself what a different kind of life and culture can be produced by another former British colony and English speaking society, which has made very different choices than us.

I have the professional, personal, financial, and calendar freedom to escape.  This differentiates me from most all of our college and university students. And given the freedom afforded by the internet, SKYPE, global phones, I can work from New Zealand—and am—almost as effectively as I can and do from the United States. And all without loosing any aspects of my livelihood or letting down any of my professional responsibilities.

For our students who are as disturbed as I am by the current discourse in our Republic, how can they escape, reflect, re-center, get some detachment and insight and resolve to push on to make a difference? What are their outlets for escape?

  • conversation with fellow students and faculty staff
  • sleep
  • music—listening and/or performing
  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • the arts – patronizing or creating
  • service work/volunteering
  • weekend drill in the National Guard
  • spring break travel for service, learning and/or debauchery
  • reading
  • surfing—either on the internet or in an ocean
  • vigorous physical exercise
  • going “home” (for residential students)
  • taking on the troubles of others
  • eating
  • gambling
  • watching intercollegiate and pro sports
  • playing sports themselves
  • hunting
  • fishing
  • prayer
  • yoga
  • retreating as in retreats
  • playing board games
  • power watching TV and films

Are you offering your students any opportunities for time out?

  • For reflection?
  • For quiet?
  • For peace?
  • For solitude?
  • To talk with you to help sort our all the craziness in our national order these days?

How do you extend such invitations to your students?  Individually, en masse, directly, obliquely, generally?

Where do you offer them campus space for reflection, peace and quiet?

I remember how important it was for me as an undergraduate to be invited by my professors to their offices for conversation and/or their homes for a meal with their families.

I had a lot on my mind. Trying to decide on how to avoid the draft for the Vietnam War without fleeing the country. Trying to decide what to do about several very important relationships. Trying to find something to study in graduate school for a draft deferment when I did not have a major as an undergraduate.

I found the ideal graduate field for a no major guy like me: American Studies. And the draft found me anyway and so I volunteered for the US Air Force and did my duty!

So I have escaped to New Zealand again. What appeals about this place to me:

Like us, they have two main political parties, one more conservative than the other. But the dialogue is civil.

  • There is universal health coverage.
  • The country is safe.
  • No one is allowed to have handguns or automatic weapons.
  • There is no “concealed carry” or “open carry” or “permits” for legal possession of handguns. In my county of 30,000 people in the US there are over 1600 such permits.
  • Abortion is legal.
  • Capital punishment has been abolished. And homicide rates are very low.
  • Little if any visible evidence of poverty.
  • No mobile homes.
  • Very few churches (is there a correlation here?).
  • Businesses aren’t using Christian slogans to sell anything. There truly is separation of church and state.
  • Almost every yard is neat and well cared for no matter what the standard of the dwelling
  • There is no litter on the roads—amazng!
  • American music and films everywhere.
  • New Zealanders are fascinated by the Oscars (which I can easily live without).
  • They are fanatically anti-nuclear and pacifist.
  • They remember when the British generals made dumb decisions and sacrificed thousands of young New Zealand men to die in World War I and are resolved not to get into entangling alliances again.
  • They are so “left” they even drive on the left side of the road.
  • No one is talking about building a wall to keep immigrants out—although there is a strict immigration control.
  • The government executed a national act of reconciliation for its abuse of indigenous persons (which we have never done towards our own Native Americans or descendants of our former slaves.
  • The government also formally apologized to one nation’s, (China) mistreated immigrants to New Zealand during the gold mining boom era.
  • The place is truly beautiful. An outdoor person’s paradise.
  • And the climate, for the most part, more gentle than ours. And it’s their summer during our winter.
  • There is a guaranteed minimum wage of around $15 an hour.
  • Restaurant servers don’t need to depend on tips. And hence tipping is not de rigeur.
  • Workers are guaranteed a month’s vacation with pay.
  • The population is visibly less overweight than ours.
  • People describe their identity in terms of what they do outside work, not through their work.
  • Like me, people are amazed and disturbed that the level of US political discourse has sunk to hitherto unimaginable levels. What we do, say, create, matters to these people.
  • The police are largely invisible.
  • Everyone is very polite. And I mean really polite.
  • I can go to a concert of Australian aboriginal music, performed by aboriginal musicians playing to an entire audience of raving and cheering whites.
  • National arts treasures, like the national museum in Wellington do not charge admissions fees.

And there’s more. I will return for another visit-and probably another “escape.”

So this is what I went to college for. So I could have the sense to select a mate of comparable education and interests to mutually appreciate an escape like this.

To be able to afford a two week escape ten thousand miles away from home.

To have a career where I could “work” from New Zealand on those occasions when the spirit moved me.

I am going to return home somewhat restored and resolved to do what I can in my own personal and professional spheres of influence to further the cause of attaining social justice for more American college and university students.

We all need healthy escapes, including our students—as occasions for reflection, regeneration, recommitment and resolve.

Sometimes Good Does Come From Bad

February 16, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

John Gardner copyI have been through many US presidential elections but I can’t remember one that had so many presidential wannabees appealing to our most base instincts: fear, prejudice, xenophobia, jingoism, and intolerance. Am trying to not let myself become preoccupied with worry about where this may all end up. In this state of mind I am even more inclined to be on the lookout for some good coming from some bad. I found an illustration the other night.

The occasion was a fund-raiser for a local non-profit charitable organization in Brevard, North Carolina, where Betsy Barefoot and I reside and have an office for our own non-profit organization. The event we attended was to raise money for a local program known as “Rise and Shine.” This is an after school enrichment, tutoring, support, and motivational intervention for local children who are from economically distressed families. This organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary. It currently enrolls 50 kids, elementary school through high school. Each one has his/her own personal tutor and advocate daily. Virtually every kid in this program for the past two decades has gone on to college. What odds against that!

This initiative grew out of a reaction led by one woman to a march in 1988 by the Klu Klux Klan, right here in this beautiful little mountain town of 6000 where I live in this now very red state. This is also the town that had the first high school in the state to racially integrate. But it is in a county that has two high schools which only exist for historical reasons, each one lacking the desirable economy of scale. One is for the more rural end of the country and enrolls no black students at all. The other is in the town itself, which is racially diverse, thank goodness. We maintain two of them to perpetuate de facto segregation. As I look around this peaceful little place I find it hard to imagine the Klan marching here less than 30 years ago. But it did. And some of those marchers are probably alive and well around me.

Anyway, this lone woman of conscience pulled together a band of folks who wanted to start something to promote racial and social justice as the antithesis to the Klan actions. And this non-profit Rise and Shine was born.

This is the language of Rise and Shine today and I commend it for my readers’ consideration as a living testimony to what can result when our citizens say enough is enough; and when we act on a positive vision instead to overcome the barriers of race, class, poverty, prejudice, intolerance and fear of displacement by societal factors beyond our control.


You Matter
Your needs, your wishes, and your opinions count

We Believe in You
We are here for you every day because we have faith in who you are and who you will become

Dream Big
Let your dreams inspire you to work hard and reach high.”

So what’s your message to inspire your students to help them achieve social justice?

Keep it Simple—but Profound: It’s all about the Journey and Relationships

February 16, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

John Gardner copyAs higher educators we have in common that we are always mindful of what are, ideally, the impacts of higher education—so that we can intentionally replicate these for our own students.

In my case, one of the many outcomes was learning the Socratic Method, and then practicing it henceforth and for ever more.

This happened the fall semester that President Kennedy was murdered, 1963. I was taking a course in political philosophy and we were reading Plato’s Republic in which his narrator, Socrates, practices his method, whereby he interrogates many others in this search for the truth, his truth. His assumption is that all of us have some notion of the truth. And that to get your own truth, you interact with others and learn their truths which become like half truths that you add up to create your own truth. The most important truths that Socrates is in search of are two that I have carried with me for the rest of my life post college: 1) what is justice? And 2) who should rule?

On the afternoon of Friday, November 22, the class set aside for the professor to interpret for us students Socrates’ answer to “who should rule,” our class was interrupted by the news of the shooting of President Kennedy. The day is indelibly marked in my memory as is Socrates’ answer.

Since then I have been on multiple “journeys” that make up my overall life journey. One of these journeys is the pursuit of a healthy and long life. I learned some of the fundamentals of that in college too, as a varsity athlete (crew) where I discovered the power and synergy of the mind/body connection. That is another story. But by no means did I learn all that I needed to know to be fully successful in this journey—I am and must still be learning.

For the past few years I have been led on my health journey by a wonderful physician that my wife, Betsy Barefoot, and I have as a mentor. His name is Thomas Rennard and he practices in Asheville, N.C. We have really lucked out. And our US health care system really is a game of roulette. He knows the odds all too well and treats and refers us accordingly.

In a recent, approximately sixty minute conversation with him he summarized for me his philosophy for his practice of medicine. As I listened to him I couldn’t help but wish he was teaching this to medical students. I found myself thinking that “My doctor is saying better than I exactly how I might describe the essence of my career with students and colleagues.” I also was thinking that he was expressing this much more succinctly and profoundly than I could have.

So what was his message, his Socratic truth? It all comes down quite simply to: journey and relationships. The philosophy underlying his practice of medicine is to join a journey, the life journey of fellow human beings who happen to be his patients. He accompanies them on this journey. He signs on to their journey and is a highly committed fellow traveler. And to do this means he has to have a level of organizational stability, to his practice, community, and local patients. The commitment is fundamentally to others. His is a lifetime commitment.

This means that he starts the journey wherever he finds us when we first see him—in Betsy’s  and my case, in our mid to late 60’s. And he continues the journey for as long as it lasts. He shares and empathizes with us along the way.

I recall that I learned in my study in college of American literature, that one of the most powerful motifs of our literature is this notion of personal growth through journey. Start with Huck Finn and go on from there.

My wife and I are on a raft going down a river with this physician as our guide.

To do this he has to get to know us. He has to understand us, how we live our lives, our life choices. He has to invest in those. To do all this he has to have a relationship with us, his patients. Rather than automatically substitute a battery of sophisticated and expensive tests to determine what is going on with us, he talks to us first very thoroughly, and respectfully. This is not an efficient process time wise. But his is a thorough process. I am sure my readers have some inkling how difficult it is to have such a practice when we realize the pressures of modern medicine to efficiently get patients in and out the door. So there it is: he fulfills his oath by taking many journeys with his patients through the context and lens of the relationships he develops with them, and for them.

Isn’t this exactly what we should be doing with our students, and some of us are doing with our students? I am so glad I stayed at one university for three decades where I could really see my relationships with students through much of their natural life cycle. This helped make some of them more whole, and definitely me more whole.

While I was good at knowing when to refer my students for various kinds of professional interventions from learning study skills, tutoring, counseling, career planning, financial aid, etc, I attempted first to glean enough information from them and to establish a relationship before making such referrals.

Very recently at a national conference I was in conversation with a friend and colleague who one of the most highly esteemed authorities in higher education about data use and institutional research metrics. He/she knew me well and this led to him/her to make this  observation: “When it comes to trying to improve student success, some would say that before you can decide what to do specifically for students, you have to have a philosophy for what you want to do. But I would say instead that you have to start first with the data. What does the data tell us?” Now, of course, my physician wasn’t there to be a party to this conversation. But had he been I suspect he would have said, “No, first you have to have a philosophy” and, of course that was exactly my position as my colleague knew full well. So the alternative argument here is that you have a philosophy as your foundation that stipulates you see yourself as being on a journey with patients/students with whom you have relationships, and out of that structure you will make better assessments and yield better outcomes.

As I look back on my career and ask what gives me my highest levels of satisfaction, gratification and learning, it is the journeys that I took with my students and the relationships that I developed with them to take these journeys. Both these ideals were ends in and of themselves—the journeys and the relationships, not just means.

So I am thankful to my physician for stating more simply and profoundly in just three words what my most important journey has been all about, and what I would want the structure to be for far more of our students: journey and relationships.

And once again I have discovered the power of the Socratic Method—the truths that reside in significant others. Thank you Dr. Rennard.


Changes That Are Cold and Distant

January 4, 2016huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

The end-of-year holiday period is one in which I do many things I haven’t set aside the time all year to do:

  1. Hosting visits from wonderful children and grandchildren
  2. making charitable contributions
  3. income tax preparation
  4. making vacation reservations for 2016
  5. putting up and taking down a tree and other decorations
  6. holiday letter to people to whom I used to send Christmas cards
  7. phone calls to lifetime special friends
  8. writing some in the same cohort

John Gardner copyAnd it was in that latter category this year that I wrote a man who used to be my wife’s and my family physician. We became his and he ours right after he graduated from medical school, the epitome of the best our higher education system educates and trains. He was charged with the very latest knowledge, idealism, optimism, youthful but mature energy, with his total adult life open before him. Eventually he moved on to another part of the country but we have stayed in touch. He is doing very “well” in terms of the way we conventionally measure success in terms of attainment of professional excellence and success. But he wrote me a line that I just can’t get out of my mind—keeping in mind this is a physician with 1100 patients and so busy it takes a new patient six months to get an appointment with him:

“The changes in medicine make it cold and distant”

“……cold and distant….”

“……cold and distant…..”

I wish I could make that thought go away. This is now what I wanted for my friend. This is not what I want for myself and my loved ones in our US medical system. This is not what I want for our students either—not only in our medical system but in our higher education system too—the latter being the critical preparation process for delivery of professional medical care.

On the board of directors of the non-profit organization I am privileged to lead, we have a director who is a very, very successful entrepreneur from the health care industry. He keeps pointing out to me and the other fellow directors the parallels he sees between the changes in our health care system and those in our higher education system.

Some of the most obvious parallels:

Example: the increased role of government regulation in both sectors

Example: the increased role of technology in delivering the core processes of both

Example: the huge costs of this increased reliance on technology

Example: the increased demands for public scrutiny and accountability of “outcomes” from both systems

Example: the decreased autonomy of the formerly most powerful members of the two comparable professions: professors and physicians—whose status, power and compensation is now less than the administrators who “manage” these systems

Example: “managed” care and “managed” delivery of the college experience

Example: rapidly rising costs that outpace annual inflation rates with said costs being passed on to consumers

Example: the lack of political will to make universal access to both health care and higher education a birthright, an entitlement

Example: unequal access to both systems as a function of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status

Example: mergers and consolidations in both

Example: not-for-profit colleges and hospitals becoming increasingly more and more like for-profit institutions in both sectors

Example: struggles and even closings of small, rural, private colleges/private hospitals

I could go on with this enumeration of parallels but I think the above list is sufficient to make my point.

I don’t know anyone who has spent any time in the US healthcare system who has not found some contexts and interactions within that system that are truly “cold and distant.”

As I think of my friend’s evocative phrase, I find myself wondering how accurate a characterization this would also be for many components of the American college going culture and experience.

Asking the right questions:

I hope my readers will join me as we start this new year by considering this description of higher education along with some questions:

Does “cold and distant” describe some components of your campus culture?

What does that mean very specifically and operationally?

What are the consequences of this for student learning, success, retention, graduation, health and welfare?

Does it really have to be that way?

What would account for whatever is cold and distant?

Who is accountable for this?

How did we get to be this way?

What would it take to ameliorate that?

What would be the cost benefit ratio for taking the necessary steps to do so?

What is keeping us from doing so?

Recognizing that there may be elements of my own institution that are “cold and distant” about which I have no say and control and not even any ability to influence, what could I do to insure that those elements under my control and influence will not be characterized in this manner? Yes, each of us must reduce this to our level of locus of control. We all have some level of locus of control.

A New Year’s Resolution

As I prepare for my work in higher education for 2016 I am going to keep this phrase foremost in my mind and strive to do what I can to make this less descriptive of the changes we are making in American higher education.

This is my new year’s resolution.

Conferences are Fabulous Contexts for Extroverts Like Me

December 21, 2015adminInsights0

John Gardner copyIt is natural as the calendar year draws to a close that we make an effort to look ahead to the new year and focus on some things we are looking forward to. As a conference junkie—after all, I am the founder of the First-Year Experience conferences about 35 years ago—I still enjoy meeting planning and especially interacting with folks who actually come to the meeting. Conferences are fabulous contexts for extroverts like me. And I am looking forward to two small meetings which I have helped design for early in 2016.

I refer to: 1. JNGI Higher Education Partnership Forum, and 2: JNGI Student Success Seminar: Finding the Best Recipe for Student Success

Both will be offered concurrently in beautiful south Florida, late this January (25-26) near West Palm Beach in Jupiter.

The first is our fourth offering of a process we have been told has been very, very helpful to several hundred campuses that have sent teams to the three previous offerings of this meeting. The big idea here is really simple: you pull together a team of academic and student affairs leaders, definitely including faculty, and come spend a day and a half together to come to terms with each other and hammer out a plan for an initiative you are going to undertake when you get back home. With the ideas we generated in our first convening of this process we created a tool which we will use again this time, our Seven Principles for Good Practice for Student Success Partnerships. Here’s a link for you to use this now:

We offer this meeting out of our conviction that one of the most important things you have to do to increase student success is to create and sustain more partnerships across your campus. This means asking us Americans to do something very difficult for us, namely, collaborate, when in reality far more of us would rather compete. The need for this is more timely than ever given the organizational shifts underway on many campuses resulting in the creation of new units that are being constituted as “Student Success” and which are neither fish nor fowl—academic and/or student affairs.

Our thinking in designing these two meetings was that an institution could identify a small cohort of key change agents and leaders, actual and potential, and divide them into two groups. One group would come and work as a team at the first meeting. The other cohort would attend the second meeting, a comprehensive primer, overview of the most important things to know and understand about this new field of student success. This will be delivered in a highly efficient and productive manner, over a day and a half, but still with plenty of interaction with other folks trying to figure out student success and with the three leaders and facilitators. The latter are my wife, Dr. Betsy Barefoot, our organization’s senior officer for innovation, Dr. Drew Koch, and myself. Surely two out of the three of us could keep you engaged and make you even better informed about student success essential –what we are calling “ingredients”—ingredients for a “secret sauce.” We will also integrate several of the activities so that they will be shared by both cohorts. I think these two parallel and integrated events are going to generate some powerful synergies, ideas, and collegial relationships.

I will look forward to seeing some of my readers there and to learning from them I am sure. Have a good holiday and I wish you a good new year ahead.

Veterans’ Day 2015: What Did I Derive from my “Service” Experience and How Did That Compare to my College Experience?

November 18, 2015huhnInsights0

John N. Gardner

John Gardner copyToday, Veterans’ Day 2015, I went, as is my custom, to the recognition ceremony for veterans in my adopted town of Brevard, N.C., a small, rural, mountain town of about 6000. While I don’t need this day and ceremony to remind me of the impact on my development of military service, it is certainly a moving reminder each year.

Today’s ceremony could not have been held on a more beautiful late fall day. The turn out was about 200, give or take, almost entirely older white citizens. The majority of us vets were Vietnam era, but there were a few Korean War era survivors left standing. The occasion is one for grandstanding by local elected officials who can’t resist the allure of air-time in front of voters and this best opportunity of the year to demonstrate their patriotism. The ceremony is a mixture of patriotism, martial fervor, jingoism, religious invocations and blessings, ethnocentrism, claims about how much better we have made the rest of the world, music, overuse of sexist language recognizing the “men” as if no women had served, coupled with powerfully sincere respect and gratitude for those who served, and especially those who lost their lives in service to country. In spite of the elements I find objectionable, I wouldn’t miss it.

For one day of the year I feel all the differences between me and my fellow local residents do not matter. We are all one. We all have one thing in common. We are all bonded. We are family. We are connected. We have a set of common experiences, values, shared memories of similar rituals, and sacrifices.

Much of my mental professionally related time is spent thinking about the impact of college. What difference does college make in the near and long term now for students, and their families who are paying so dearly for higher education? Some of the outcomes that I would hope come about as a result of the college experience could also be realized from military experience.

My own experience was that I had already been to college and graduate school before I went on active duty.

I started my tour late in my 22nd year. That meant I had a head start on maturity as compared to a beginning college student.

The outcomes of my military experience were these:

  1. The Air Force gave me my life’s vocation: that of higher educator. That happened because my squadron commander on my first day on duty at my permanent base, gave me a direct order to perform “community service” by which he meant adjunct teaching for the University of South Carolina. And that was how I got my big start. So in this case, the military ordered me into my life’s work. Usually in the higher education culture we are not nearly so directive with our students. We don’t have the same abilities to give them “direct orders.” If we do they can refuse and we can’t court martial them. We can simply deny them academic credit or degrees.
  2. The Air Force sent me to work and live in a part of the world and my country where I never would have chosen voluntarily to be, the Southeast. It was a game changer. And when I finished my tour and was honorably discharged I voluntarily decided to remain in the south.
  3. The Air Force taught me what it means to “serve” and perform “service.” I had not learned that in college. In my era, colleges weren’t into the business of teaching such concepts intentionally and experientially.
  4. The Air Force exposed me to an incredibly wide range of “diversity”, much more broadly and powerfully than I had ever learned in college or at home. I met, served with, lived with, ate with, socialized with, a range of fellow citizens that I would otherwise have been socially isolated from were it not for the Air Force.
  5. The Air Force taught me to put the needs of my country before my own. I certainly never learned that in college.
  6. The Air Force taught me how a large and complex organization and bureaucracy, Catch 22 and all, worked—or at times didn’t work. And how to function very successfully in such an environment. I certainly never learned that in college.
  7. The Air Force taught me a level of tolerance of people and their views that were vastly different from mine, particularly those with more conservative notions about foreign policy and the Vietnam War, that I had not learned in college.
  8. The Air Force taught me the concept of “mission.” I had to understand what was the “mission” of the US armed forces, the Air Force in particular, my “command” in the Air Force (the Tactical Air Command), my base (Shaw AFB, S.C), my squadron on my base, the 363rd Tactical Hospital, and my unit in my squadron—the hospital Psychiatric Clinic—(I was a psychiatric social worker) and finally MY mission in my unit, squadron, base, command, and branch of service. No one in authority during my college years had ever asked me to think about, let alone develop, my mission. But by the time I was discharged from the Air Force, I had a mission. It was to serve my fellow citizens and country as a higher educator, and in particular, doing what I regarded as a kind of missionary work in the civil rights era South Carolina.
  9. The Air Force taught me a body of knowledge and a set of skills. The knowledge was in the field of applied mental health and psychiatry. The skills were those of listening, interviewing, clinical observation, empathy, counseling, therapeutic interactions, and understanding of human behaviors, including deviancies and mental health disorders. These outcomes have proved so valuable for me as a professor, administrator, parent.
  10. The Air Force taught me the power of what we now call in my line of work in the academy as “peer leaders.” In the military context these were the Non Commissioned Officers, the squad leaders, those in positions of key unit authority but who were closest in age and educational attainment to the most junior troops in the unit.
  11. The Air Force taught me that the most powerful way to develop disadvantaged citizens was to give them responsibility and to teach them how to handle that responsibility. I saw some of the most unlikely citizens turned into outstanding leaders and contributors when they were given responsibility combined with high but reasonable expectations.
  12. The Air Force taught me the importance of “basic training” for new entrants into a new subculture—in our higher ed context the analog to “orientation” for new students and transfers. Unlike many colleges, orientation/basic training was not an elective experience. It was mandatory. As my Drill Sergeant used to say: “There are three ways to learn things and if you want to survive Vietnam you will learn the right way, the wrong way and the Air Force way.” Today we still are not teaching enough college students how to “survive” in the college/university way. And many of them are not surviving and hence not thriving.
  13. The Air Force showed me how a government “program” could provide levels of equal opportunity for people from very diverse backgrounds, opportunities that were unequaled in the civilian society. While I was based on a totally racially integrated base from 1966-68 in the deep south, the society immediately outside the “back gate” remained totally segregated.
  14. The Air Force helped me to understand the important role the military played, and still plays in providing upward social mobility for generations of poor, rural and urban, disproportionately southerners and minorities.
  15. The Air Force introduced me to how organizations could intentionally create “leaders” through “officer training. It helped me to see that just as with professors, the best of us are not born that way we are made, we are developed by our employers.
  16. The Air Force showed me how to take responsibility to educate your citizens about a variety of subjects that were still taboo in the larger civilian society, such as in particular, sex education and prevention of pregnancy and disease.

Oh there was so much I learned in my military experiences.

No doubt about it, I am very clear as to what the outcomes were for me from my military experience.

So when I gather each year in front of our local courthouse on the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour, I know why I am there and what my experiences in common with my fellow vets did for me and made me whatever it is that I came to be. The jury is in on me. And I owe the US Air Force a great deal. It is a balance due, of further service.

I am not suggesting that my military experience was more important than my college experience. It was just different. The two were complementary. The two were hugely influential. I reflect often on both and apply what I have learned from both. Both made me more complete, whole, mature, wise. I am grateful for both. I made the most of both. And I wish more of our country’s young people today could have both. But in the era of the volunteer army that is not going to happen.