Has switching to a digital setting been tough?
We had virtually no experience at working from a distance. Prior to the pandemic, 3% of our classes were offered online. We have educators without much experience teaching online, and we have a student body whose hold on education and their belief in their own ability to get a college degree is precarious. That’s a dangerous combination.
What is your own biggest concern?
I wonder all the time if we are missing a generation of students who had the potential to change their lives through a college education, but they happened to hit college at a time when we didn’t have the kind of welcoming, person-to-person, face-to-face embrace that’s been so important and keeps so many students on campus.
How do you drive down costs in higher education?
You take a look at state schools and ask, “Is this an institution that is prioritizing the education mission or is this an institution that has decided to build stadiums and health clubs and museums?” And in the latter case, you kind of surrender the question of how to make it less expensive, because you can’t. Our in-state tuition has just crossed the $7,000-a-year mark. Students are paying $3,500 a semester. The cost to educate each engineering student is $12,000. The students are paying 60% of the cost to educate them.
What is one class you think every student should take at least once, and why?
I think it’s a world literature class. When I first went off to the Philippines [for postgraduate coursework], I read six or seven novels written by Filipinos because I wanted somebody with the voice of that country to take me through their story. I think we are rapidly losing the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of other people, and world literature requires that you do that.