Provost’s Roundtable: Deek and student leaders discuss

On October 9, student leaders from various organizations sat down with Dr. Fadi Deek, Provost and Senior Executive Vice President. The new addition of the Senior Executive Vice President title to Provost Deek’s job title reflects the new administration’s commitment to academics and the centrality of academic affairs to the university. The roundtable discussion series intends for senior administrators to get direct feedback on major issues that student leaders see facing students and the university. To that end, students representing various organizations were present for an extensive discussion focusing on high-level problems that students are facing in their education.

A major point of discussion was retention and graduation. The Student Senate’s position, represented heavily at the roundtable, has been that the university compromised quality in education for quantity of enrolled students. Deek countered that this may not be the direction in which NJIT is headed. “We’re not saying there are a lot of students here who cannot succeed. We’re saying if we’re accepting these people, we need to equip them to succeed.” This implies continued and increased support for student support services, which he mentioned. Specifically, departmental tutoring centers, such as the mathematics department’s, must be supported.

As Deek noted in a Letter to the Editor in a previous issue, one goal he has is to make NJIT a Top-100 nationally ranked university. To achieve this, he said that the university needs to increase graduation and retention rates. In order to graduate students in their 5th or 6th year with upwards of 160 credits with no specific completed degree, he supports offering a Bachelor’s Degree in “General Studies”. He is optimistic that this “would increase our graduation rate by 4 points and increase our rankings.” While none of NJIT’s peer institutions currently offer a Bachelor’s degree in General Studies, schools that do include the University of Connecticut (for adult students wanting unique and tailored degree programs), Brigham Young University, and Boise State University.

A major development discussed to improve the academic quality and preparedness of NJIT’s incoming class is the addition of NJIT to the ubiquitous Common Application used by more than 500 other higher education institutions. The expectation is that a more accessible application will increase the size of the applicant pool, leading to more selectivity and a higher quality freshman class that is more equipped to succeed in NJIT’s rigorous mathematics and science curriculum. Deek noted that “in the next application cycle, NJIT will be on the Common Application.”

Broad curriculum problems were discussed. Lou Stella, a Junior in Information Technology, raised concerns about the education he was receiving in his degree. From his experience, “the university curriculum skims the surface of material but provides neither the full details nor the practical hands-on experience we need to succeed in good careers in industry.” Deek agreed that this was an issue needing to be addressed, and that a contributing factor is poor academic infrastructure. He noted that “academic infrastructure will be a focus of mine in my new role” and that the new grant for Central King Building’s development as a major STEM facility will help here.

Undergraduate research was discussed with the consensus that with an annual research expenditure of $150 million, NJIT can do significantly better at encouraging and incentivizing undergraduate students to work with professors and complete significant research. Deek said that “when a professor indicates there will be undergraduate students working on a grant, there is additional [National Science Foundation] money added to the grant for free, but we don’t do this enough.” He noted that Dr. Atam Dhawan’s new position as Executive Director for Undergraduate Research and Innovation is designed to fill this gap.

The student leadership participated in a lively discussion with the Provost. Afterwards, Johnathan Weiss, Student Senate President, stated, “it was great having the opportunity to hold an open, friendly, informative discussion with the Provost.” NJIT’s student leaders and the Student Senate look forward to future roundtables with other senior administrators.

Thomas Anderson

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