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.