Cornerstones and Mosaics

Scott G. McNall
In 1976, our family moved to Lawrence, Kansas. We lived there for thirteen years, and it's a place our children still regard as home. One of the things that intrigued me in our drives across Kansas was the assortment of old, rambling rock walls assembled from native limestone—a product of the ancient sea that once covered the Great Plains. I decided I wanted to build my own wall in our backyard.

Before I could build it, I had to learn something about building walls. I read a book about laying dry walls. I looked closely at those that others had crafted years ago. I questioned an old man who still made and repaired those complicated assemblies. Such a wall is a carefully composed mosaic. At first glance a stable and well formed rock wall looks as though it were made of a few large symmetrical blocks laid side-by-side, like bricks. In fact, it is carefully constructed of hundreds of pieces of varying size, many hidden from view, all nestled and locked together to form a solid mass. Walls have cornerstones, which anchor them and provide a point from which to build.

The metaphor of the cornerstone has been used as the title for the complex plan which was adopted by the Trustees of the California State University System in 1998 to chart the course of the system and the individual campuses into the future. Three key concerns (access, quality, and accountability) gave rise to Cornerstones. The plan identified ten guiding principles and provided a number of supporting recommendations on how to provide access for a growing number of college-bound students, how to improve program quality, and how to demonstrate accountability to the public. The ten principles, which were adopted by the Statewide Academic Senate in 1998, require the following:

• The baccalaureate will be awarded on the basis of demonstrated learning.

• Each campus will shape its programs and services to meet the diverse needs of its students and society.

• Students will be active partners in the learning process, and opportunities for active learning will be provided throughout the curriculum.

• The system will reinvest in its faculty to maintain its primary mission as a teaching-centered comprehensive university, recognizing that faculty scholarship, research, and creative activity are essential components of that mission.

• The system will increase outreach efforts, improve transfer, retention, and graduation rates, and reduce the time needed to complete degrees.

I have listed only the first five principles of Cornerstones; there are five more, each with its own detailed recommendations for implementation. In all, there are over forty things that need to be done to implement fully all of the ten Cornerstones principles.

I suspect that for many faculty, staff, and students the magnitude of what we are being asked to do is both surprising and novel. Unless you are involved in the Academic Senate, you may not have heard of or paid much attention to the details of Cornerstones, or anticipated that implementation would come so quickly. We are being asked to act, in an unprecedented way, as part of the collective system with its 350,000 students and 19,000 faculty. It is right and essential that we do so.

But here is the good news: On this campus, we have already done virtually everything the implementation plan requires. Certainly, we will need to continue to work, refine, and innovate, but the fundamental nature of the institution will not be changed. Principle 10 of Cornerstones speaks to the matter of institutional flexibility in implementing the plan and gives to the campuses a great deal of autonomy in shaping their mission and identity. Cornerstones does not limit our campus; it will guide our response to changing conditions; it will allow us to preserve what is distinctive and nourish what we value.

Imagine that each campus is being asked to create its own mosaic or wall. Walls are by their very nature unique, showing the hand of the builder, fashioned out of indigenous materials. Let us consider what we already have in place. First, and foremost, we have a Strategic Plan, which has now been updated, and will continue to guide all our efforts. The Strategic Plan led to the creation of the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT), the Technology Learning Program (TLP), and Target 2000, our plan for the systematic introduction of technology into the teaching and learning environment of the campus.

The Strategic Plan directed the need for a staff development program and called for a strong commitment to faculty development. This year, investments in faculty and staff development (measured by funds for workshops, faculty development funds made available to colleges, and incentive funds) total close to $1 million. This amount represents a major step forward for the university.

The Academic Senate has consistently responded to the need to revitalize our undergraduate offerings and the General Education Curriculum. The revisions in 1996 led to the implementation of Course Link, which has facilitated the creation of high quality environments that promote the building of student-learning communities. Those revisions also led to the creation of our growing freshman orientation program. The 1998 revisions to GE will allow us to provide individual students with an integrated GE experience through course clusters. Important, too, from the perspective of Cornerstones, is that the Senate reform mandates that GE courses be outcomes based, an important step in helping to realize the injunction that credit be awarded on the basis of demonstrated learning, not time spent in the classroom. Finally, this fall the Senate also passed a resolution to support Writing Across the Curriculum, a bold and far-reaching program designed to improve student writing and to provide professors with the support they need to do so.

We have introduced a robust assessment program across campus, focused on helping departments and programs gather the information they need to improve the quality of their offerings and achieve greater distinctiveness. We will implement, soon, a systematic means of measuring whether or not we are making adequate progress toward the goals we have embraced. We have continued to deepen our commitment and connection to our partners in K-12, and we continue to enrich service-learning opportunities for students through the creative efforts of both faculty and staff.

I said earlier that much of a wall is hidden from view, composed of small pieces that are essential for the integrity and structure of the wall. It is important that each of us pause and reflect on what has been accomplished and how far the institution has come in a short time, as we seek to realize our goal of becoming one of the best comprehensive institutions in the country.

Scott G. McNall, Provost

and Vice President for

Academic Affairs


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