Terry Bodenhorn visited the Western New Mexico University campus April 11 and 12 as the fourth and final candidate for the dean of the new College of Arts and Sciences.
He, with a bachelor's degree in East Asian Studies from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and a Ph.D. in Modern Chinese History from the University of Michigan, has served as a faculty member, department chair, honors-program director and associate dean at the University of Illinois at Springfield. At UIS he had responsibility for enrollment management, program reviews and various faculty development initiatives.
Bodenhorn traveled to Silver City from his current position as dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Shantou University in South China. The university faculty is made up of faculty members, 20 percent of whom hold non-Chinese passports, with many faculty speaking only English and others, only Chinese. One of his key tasks at STU has been to establish a sense of community in this complex linguistic and cultural environment.
His bio states that his general intellectual interests are broad and "include the processes and effects of globalization, 'big history,' and collective human behavior. My key educational concerns include curricular internationalization and enhancement of study-abroad opportunities for students."
"I believe a crucial responsibility in higher education is to prepare students for their futures (not our pasts)…," Bodenhorn said.
He discussed his fit for the dean position at WNMU, his values and his vision.
"What I know about Western is what I've learned from the Internet and from talking to people today," Bodenhorn said. "I've worked in colleges, facing similar problems with similar programs and of a similar size. I also have experience with similar degrees and a similar diversity of faculty and students. I have a lot of experience that I think the next dean will need as you move to colleges from departments. There will be changes in promotion and tenure; changes in curricula; and there may be more team-taught classes. That is why I am interested in this position.
"I have spent much of my time in the West," Bodenhorn continued. "My first degree was from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks where, at the time, there were about 5,000 students. When I was there, it was a flagship college. The aspects of Silver City and Western that I like are that you have a lot of potential to develop niches. The geology around here is extraordinary."
As for his academic values, he said he noticed when he was looking at the job advertisement, the website and the itinerary for his visit, that "there seems to be an interesting connection between the university and the community. I understand it is fairly recent, but it is well thought out. It is a way for the university to meet its civic responsibility in town and gown relations. It's one of the reason to improve the environment and for the university to learn what it doesn't know. When I was driving with Priscilla (Lucero, one of the search committee members), it seems like there were a lot of things where the university could contribute."
"While Western is in transition, it has to maintain high academic standards," Bodenhorn cautioned. "Each year, more than 2,000 of the 4,000 U.S. colleges and universities send representatives to recruit Chinese students. In reality, it takes a while for a university to build a good reputation. We have to continue to build those high academic standards."
Another value he holds is a sense of equity and fairness. "You need to think of it in other ways other than just financial—for instance, in the assignment of courses. I've been in places where the new faculty members get the worst courses. It's not just salaries, but gender, age, and developmental opportunities. I know the higher education environment can be political. I try to keep my focus on problem solving. At the micro level, I address specific problems, and at the macro level, I have to consider the good of the university."
If a university has limited resources, then strategic planning and budget development is required, through looking at overall needs, he said.
"Any new administrator has to build trust, not just with the faculty, but between the faculty and the other colleges," Bodenhorn said. "You have to be collaborative. I tend not to make decisions in isolation, but sometimes ultimately a dean has to make a decision, especially when it comes to personnel. A dean has only three things to worry about: personnel, curriculum, budget, and a fourth is facilities. My priority is personnel. You can't build a great college or university without attention to personnel—faculty and staff."
As for his educational values, he is interested in interdisciplinary work. "Problems can't be solved by just one entity," Bodenhorn said. "I collaborate a lot with the dean of the law school and the dean of the business college. I would encourage it here. I would also encourage internationalization. That is the key goal of the college where I am in China. I would like to build on the Chicano/Chicana program here."
He pointed out that the environment is changing, not only with climate change, but also with the U.S. the former driving force and China now a global strength.
Bodenhorn said it would be presumptuous for him to come in and say: "This is my vision for Western. It's an operational decision. I don't know enough yet. I would take my experience, a broad environmental knowledge, my values and make an informed but uncertain projection into the future all summed up in a short unifying statement. I would have to learn more about the history, the politics and the demographics of the place."
"My generic vision is to work together as a community to best prepare students with the skills and knowledge they will need for their futures," Bodenhorn said. "It's a mistake to think students need to learn what we learned. We need to think about your future, instead of our pasts."
He said his vision would include collaboration in setting and pursuing common goals; maintaining high academic standards; creating interdisciplinary courses and internationalization; with attention to broad trends in higher education nationwide and internationally and to the unique characteristics of the college, the university and the region.
Bodenhorn then took questions from those attending the forum.
"In your visit to Western, what have you seen that verified what you had already learned and what is different?" a questioner asked.
"Much of what I've heard today struck me as common to other universities of this size, with a changing demographic of students," Bodenhorn replied. "The challenges are those any dean would expect. It is an interesting way the president is doing it with the change of administration and reorganization. That usually generates a new way of doing things, new excitement and new enthusiasm. Driving around, I saw an interesting cross-section of the community, with one place I saw being poorer than I expected."
Another audience member asked a follow-up question. "This has been a self-serving institution prior to Dr. Shepard. How will you address the faculty members who have been self-serving?"
"My education started 40 years ago," Bodenhorn said. "If I try to tell students about what I found exciting, they might not. If I thought it through to decide what you need, it wouldn't be self-serving. Change is tough. If a faculty member at some point decides this change doesn't work, we'll try to offer reasons why the education or curriculum change is needed. I understand the president is a good communicator. I, too, would try to explain, but in the end, faculty members are free agents. It's not how a particular person wants the college to look like. Dr. Shepard has to be going in the same direction. I also try to listen to those who may not want to go the same way."
An audience member asked, as a corollary to a prior question. "How will you advocate for and support students? Say the issue is between the student and a faculty member."
"It's not a sure thing that I would advocate just for the student," Bodenhorn said. "I would first try to get as complete a picture as possible." He cited an example of a retired faculty member from UIS, who was living in Florida and teaching online in Illinois. He was a serious drunk, but because he was the former president of the university, they kept him on the faculty. The president said, because he was a former president, they couldn't fire him. So we advised students not to take his course."
The audience member "rephrased" the question: "How will you work with the student to strengthen the community?"
"I have approached such issues," Bodenhorn said. "Sometimes it is dependent on resources. I would have undergraduate and graduate student committees. The students would come to talk to me monthly. That is one kind of community. We also do at STU a couple of events a year to bring students and faculty together. There we celebrate Lantern Day. Here we would have a barbecue together with students and faculty, and also just with the faculty to build that community. I understand baseball is big here. We could have games."
A student said there was a push to have more English classes online, but "I like face-to-face. What is your opinion on online and face-to-face classes?"
Bodenhorn said: "I'm going to give you a typical administration answer. Both. In Illinois, the university would not survive without online courses and degrees. In some ways, it is more important to have the brick and mortar for socialization for students and so you can learn the model, if you want to teach."
"My understanding of Western is that part of what is keeping the university afloat is online courses," Bodenhorn continued. "I think there will be changes in what is possible online, not just nationally, but internationally. In China, they are trying to push technology. One effort will put Chinese and Irish students together in a virtual classroom. I think that will be viable within 10 years. It will give students a chance to talk other students in China, India, Bangladesh, or Russia, and it will broaden your experience."
Another audience member asked how the dean candidate would relate to Western as a Hispanic-serving institution.
"I should have said you will be able to talk to students in Mexico and South America," Bodenhorn said. "You should definitely expand the Chicano/Chicana programs. You should expand the opportunities to student abroad. But how should you expand globalization?
"I spent a lot of time in Taiwan," he continued. "There you can walk into a Mexican restaurant. I'm not naïve to believe that all globalization is wonderful. We dump all our e-waste in Asia. Apple may exploit the workers, but they also enhance the quality of life of those workers. Hispanic studies, in general, would want to take it not just regionally, but to a global level."
A questioner asked what Bodenhorn's personal philosophy is and how it impacts his approach to his work.
"Probably my personal philosophy was impacted by my study of Buddhism," Bodenhorn said. "It's more my values than my philosophy. I have to keep developing intellectually with life-long learning."