View from 305: Thoughts from the President’s Office

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Continuity and change

In 1969, change was in the air. Richard Nixon assumed the presidency, the Vietnam War was in the headlines, and anti-war protests were on the rise. Songs—often with a counter-cultural bent—from the Doors, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, and the Beatles dominated the airwaves, and 400,000 youths from the baby boom generation flocked to Woodstock, N.Y., for a now-iconic live music festival. Perhaps every era has called itself “these changing times,” but the late ’60s and early ’70s were arguably a cauldron of radical transformation.

In the academy, some institutions—including the University of Redlands—engaged the era of “student power,” as TIME magazine called it, through new programming.

An exemplar of the era, the new and experimental Johnston College opened its doors on the Redlands campus that same year, in 1969. Reflecting the zeitgeist, the new school offered students the freedom to design their own curriculum, narrative evaluations instead of letter grades, and the opportunity to join a self-governing living-learning community.

Almost 50 years later—with students now listening to music on their smartphones, sharing photos on Instagram, and organizing around issues such as gun violence—the Johnston approach to education remains a distinctive part of the University.

As the cover story in this issue describes (see page 22), success stories from Johnston abound. Students in the program have followed their passions in a range of activities —starting a summer camp for disadvantaged youth, launching a statewide conference to confront racial issues from a student perspective, and initiating a unique clothing line. Johnston alumni report they graduated with valuable lessons that shaped their lives.

While anecdotes impress, one day we might prefer to rely on harder data produced by rigorous research. A well-conducted study would track measurable indicators to answer questions such as: Do Johnston alumni pursue advanced studies at a higher rate than their peers? Given good operational definitions of “success,” does this educational model produce more satisfied, productive, or high-achieving individuals? What elements of its educational approach lead to post-Johnston accomplishments?

In 2003–04, the National Science Foundation launched a program that funded basic scientific research into how people learn, to help inform educational practices and policy. It appears this program still exists in some form; certainly, the need for education-related data is still with us. Such research on Johnston student outcomes would make a worthy dissertation project for one of our doctoral students at the School of Education.

In the meantime, I applaud the spirit of innovation that brought Johnston into being and welcome the self-directed and creative students the program attracts to our campus.

Since Johnston’s founding, the University has continued to respond to the demands of the times. An experimental program launched in the ’70s focusing on the needs of working professionals has developed into what we know today as the University of Redlands School of Business. Throughout the years, majors such as environmental studies; public policy; and women, gender, and sexuality studies have been added to enrich the College of Arts and Sciences’ lineup, reflecting the evolving interests of contemporary students. In addition, an online MBA and a master’s degree in learning and teaching have been introduced to provide another way to access some of our offerings; a new online master’s program in education is now accepting applications.

Educational innovation at the U of R continues. As reported in this issue (page 4), a master’s degree in vocal chamber music will provide a unique low-residency course of study for choral performers who want to take their careers to the next professional level; a master’s program in music pedagogy is also under development. The School of Business is planning an MS in organizational leadership. In addition, a new College major in health, medicine, and society will provide students with an interdisciplinary perspective on medicine spanning science, public policy, global health, and the social sciences.

Parallel to curricular developments, the University continues to expand pathways for students. A new agreement with the two-year College of the Desert brings students to the University, and another agreement with Western University of Health Sciences, which offers a doctorate in pharmacy, provides opportunities for new graduates.

While adaptability is imperative to our success, so, of course, is continuity. The mission to provide a personalized and student-centered education has remained unwavering throughout the 111 years since the University’s incorporation. We embrace the nobility of that pursuit, continuing to educate both the heart and mind to connect our students to a real world of opportunity.

Forever yours,

Ralph W. Kuncl, PhD MD
President
University of Redlands

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