UB21 Rewards New Thinking
By Chris Hart
It's a nice, comforting phrase: the "day-to-day." In the day-to-day of working and living, it's easy to settle in and focus on becoming very good at what you do. Over time you learn what works, and what doesn't. It's also easy (and effective) to become wary—wary of change, risk, new ideas and new approaches.
But at a modern, 21st century university, "wary" and "day-to-day" don't make for a good pairing. When it comes to effective teaching, solid academic programming, excellent career preparation, and all of the other elements that signify a reputable campus whose best is yet to come, the day-to-day must involve a certain amount of—let's just say it: guts.
That's what UB21 is: A gutsy approach to ensuring that the University of Baltimore has a great future ahead of it; that the institution is light on its feet, self-aware and simultaneously cognizant of the incredible change happening in the world around us; and that it can continue to be part of that change through the alive, vital learning environment that it has established over nearly a century. UB21 is the University insisting that in the 21st century, it will be heard, seen and respected.
When Pres. Robert L. Bogomolny announced UB21 at last September's Convocation, he framed it as a series of questions rather than statements:
- What is happening at the leading edge of our disciplines?
- How can the best of current practices inform our aspirations?
- How can the University of Baltimore achieve distinction in the dynamic environment of 21st century higher education?
In the five months since then, this platform for introducing new ideas about instruction, innovation and course offerings for UB's growing student body has gained ground on a key front: A senior assistant to the provost for academic planning, Regina Bento, professor of management in the Merrick School of Business and an authority on workplace principles and practices, has been appointed (more on that in the sidebar). While the defining of what UB21 is will be an ongoing process, the initiative will officially launch on Wednesday, March 16, when University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. "Brit" Kirwan visits UB to talk about the USM's newly produced 10-year strategic plan, "Powering Maryland Forward: USM's 2020 Plan for More Degrees, a Stronger Innovation Economy, a Higher Quality of Life." (A community-wide invitation to this event is forthcoming.)
"I think UB21 is a natural progression of our return to four-year undergraduate education in 2007," Bogomolny said recently, "when we had the opportunity to build a program from the ground up and reconsider the undergraduate curriculum. As UB grows, it changes. The challenge is how to stick to our mission of teaching and learning, knowing that the education market is in flux, that job needs are evolving, and that the pace of life is simply speeding up. As I see it, UB21 acknowledges all of that, and encourages us to have a dialogue about it—with results."
So, it's a place for discussion and decision-making. But it's also a clearinghouse for those activities that can help the University to evolve and, in turn, manage its evolution.
What might some of those activities be? For one thing, it could be a focus on the digital revolution that has transformed so many aspects of our lives, impacting how we work, how we communicate, how we are entertained, and even—as we are witnessing in Egypt and throughout the Middle East—how we create new societies.
By rewarding this kind of thinking, UB21 could bring new perspectives to the University's creation of the quality undergraduate, graduate and professional education of this century. It's a principled perspective that may prove to be an essential difference between those campuses that thrive in the 2000s, and those that simply press on through inertia or legacy.
UB Provost Joseph Wood has his own "let's do it" outlook on UB21:
"What drew me to UB in the first place was an institutional can-do excitement and energy for reinvention," he said. "In the last decade, we had to reinvent ourselves to survive. Now we need to reinvent ourselves again to ensure that we achieve our broadening mission in what promises to be the most challenging period of change in higher education since the end of World War II. But we can do it. Our efforts will create a bit of disequilibrium, but that will be far less than the disequilibrium the future is certain to bring if we do not move now. Our obligation is to our future students. Our success will ensure their success."
With a 31 percent rate of growth in total enrollment over the past five years, there is a sense of insistence about this initiative: If the growth continues as expected, and as plans for a nearby apartment building for students come to fruition and the new home for the School of Law takes shape, the campus will not only look different, it will feel different as well. How can the "flavor" of UB, the tangible and intangible aspects of the University that have real value beyond our borders, remain with us? And, without skipping a beat, how do we change with the changing times?
Even though she's just starting out in her new role, Bento already is staking out a position about that:
"You need a rearview mirror to drive a car, but you also have to keep your eyes on the road ahead," she said. "You have to recognize the possibilities that open up in front of you and do something with them, and also create possibilities when you can. UB has a strong sense of itself, and in a time when education is being commodified, we have a chance to take that identity and be great."
Bento's outlook has been shaped by seminal business management studies like Clayton Christensen's work in "disruptive innovation," in which a product or service's disruptive nature—whether by intent or accident, it stands out in a crowded marketplace—attains "gotta have it" status, attracting more and more attention and pushing more established providers out of the competition.
While words like "disruptive" and "disequilibrium" imply an unsettled state for everybody, eventually things settle back down to acceptable levels. But (and this is the important part), the landscape will be altered—permanently.
This kind of innovation in higher education is possible, Bento said, in an environment like the one suggested by UB21, where consensus is the goal of a group of dedicated, creative people.
"We have that at UB now!" she said. "Nobody I know wakes up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to be just mediocre today.' That doesn't happen here—we're incredibly talented and we want to make UB an inspiring place. That's how I see UB21: reminding us who we are, reminding us of our best selves and all that we have to contribute."
That sounds like the new day-to-day routine at the University of Baltimore: Stay positive. Keep thinking. And contribute to the dialogue.
Regina Bento: Helping the University Build Its 'House'
By Chris Hart
When Regina Bento walks around campus, she sees a big house—and it's undergoing major renovations. When she talks to UB professors, students, graduates and administrators, she hears the sound of a family—but a family that is contending with all of the dust, the noise and the changing mix of priorities that come with any major upgrade.
"UB is under renovation," she said recently, "and renovations can be stressful."
Bento has been through changes at the University of Baltimore before: she's been teaching in the Merrick School of Business since 1991, and has witnessed the institution move through any number of trends in student needs, workplace demands, tight budgets and so on. Now, this award-winning professor of management and a lifelong student of how higher education functions in a changing environment has been appointed senior assistant to the provost for academic planning, under the new UB21 rubric.
Bento, who will continue to teach management courses in the School of Business while she also contributes to UB21, will work with the faculty, senior leadership, student groups—basically, the whole of the UB community—to build a consensus-driven environment for moving the institution forward academically in the new century. UB21, which is rapidly becoming a magnet for ideas, perspectives and data on how UB can manage growth and change, will be informed by Bento's outlook and experience. It's an experience that this native of Brazil and graduate of both the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. (a Ph.D. in management) and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, (an M.D. in psychiatry and a master of science degree in management) is eager to share with the "family."
"I feel like I have been preparing for the UB21 position for many years," Bento said. "It reminds me of an M.I.T. professor I knew who would come to class and look at his notes just five minutes before class started. He would say, 'Behind those five minutes is 30 years of preparation.' The question is whether that preparation has become a weight around your neck, or a way to keep you free to explore. Are you hopeful, or cynical?"
Bento chooses hope: She said she hopes that her extensive study of management techniques and philosophy, coupled with her optimism about the UB of today and tomorrow, will be the impetus that UB21 needs to succeed.
"I know who we are but there is a lot more to learn," she said. "I'll be listening, working on ways that we can diagnose and resolve the issues we have as the campus grows. What makes me hopeful is that we have the desire to excel here."
Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs Joseph Wood points out an essential quality of his new UB21 partner:
"Regina brings to this important work a great mix of personal, professional and disciplinary skills, but, most important, she brings a keen ear," Wood said. "She is exceedingly able to read the landscape and offer a constructive critique that will allow us to set UB on the right trajectory for achieving our UB21 goal."
That goal, as Wood and the institution's leadership describe it, is to take what makes UB great now, and build on new elements to ensure its greatness tomorrow.
Bento turns from the "renovating-a-house" metaphor to consider how much has changed in the way 21st century college students learn and interact.
"These days, as a teacher I'm much more the curator of the world's most incredible museum and all of its exhibits," she said, noting how much information is on the Web—and how little of it is properly presented, let alone contextualized. "If I'm doing my job, I'm inspiring my students to want to find out about all of the things that are hidden away. After all, we have much more in storage than we have on the museum walls. And if I've really succeeded with my students, then some of them will go out into the world and find the artist in themselves."
With a smile, Bento turned the metaphor upside down: "A good college education is not just another field trip. I've been a chaperone on those trips, and I don't want to do that!"
Bento is widely known for inspiring students to become passionate about their education. She believes that colleges and universities are in danger of "commodifying" what only they can deliver—in part it's an accidental by-product, perhaps, of the era of "on-demand" and instant gratification in which we live.
The way to work back from this drift toward a co-opted future, she said, is to encourage creativity everywhere on campus. She said she wants to make UB21 a place where being creative, whether it's a new course proposal or a new way to measure outcomes, is the first order of business.
"We have a strong 'no-frills' self-image at UB," she said. "We're not wasting energy going around saying, 'How do I look?' all the time. I think we have the right attitude, and we're not faking it with anybody. We just need to ignite that fire and it will never die here. If you have passion, then you have the perfect foundation for managing change."
With that, Bento runs into another meeting where she will listen, ask questions and answer them, too. UB21, like the University of Baltimore itself, is now under construction.
Play About Catonsville Protesters a 'Happy Marriage' of Activism and Art
On Feb. 10-12, Spotlight UB presented The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, Daniel Berrigan's depiction of the trial in which he and eight others were accused of destroying federal property and interfering with the Selective Service Act as a protest against the Vietnam War. The 1971 play, a moving examination of not only the anti-war movement during the Vietnam era, but also of the connections between morality, religious conviction and civil disobedience, was directed by Raine Bode and featured a mix of campus and local actors.
It also prompted discussion—a lot of discussion. On Saturday, the final night of the run, UB hosted a lively pre-performance talk about the impact of protest and social-justice theater, featuring many of Baltimore's most notable peace activists.
The exchange proved to be "a happy marriage" between activists and those involved in Spotlight UB's growing reputation for live performance and challenging works of art, said Kimberley Lynne, UB's theater events coordinator.
"Each group learned different things through their different codex of resistance," Lynne said, noting that beyond the scheduled discussion on Saturday, audience members gathered after each night's performance to talk about the play in the lobby outside the theater. In all, she said, well over 300 experienced Catonsville Nine, ranging in age from students to senior citizens.
Lynne said she will always remember non-violent activist Max Obuszewski's quote from the Feb. 12 discussion: "When I’m in jail, I usually fast. I get a lot of attention that way."
"And I loved the last moment of the play, when the black student portraying the witness lit a match in the dark and let it fall," she said.
(Photos: David Hahn)