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Is Academia Dying? By Erica Levi Zelinger, Assistant Director of Communication
Pennoni Honors College

On October 7, the Pennoni Honors College hosted a program of talks, panel discussion and dinner to address the topic: “What’s Killing Higher Ed?”

Speakers included Mary Nguyen Barry, a policy analyst with the education think tank, Education Reform Now, and Leonard Waks, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership at Temple University and President of The John Dewey Society. The panel featured a rare gathering of Drexel’s Deans of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences, Business, Engineering and School of Education. It addressed difficult topics such as the cost of higher education and resulting student debt, the increasing role of online learning, and the dire state of the humanities.

“The title, ‘What’s Killing Higher Ed?’ was deliberately provocative,” said Pennoni Honors College Dean Paula Marantz Cohen. “We posed the question so that we could look hard at what is threatening our universities as they currently exist today.”

“The fact is that higher education is changing and universities are seeking to adjust to a new cultural and technological landscape,” said Elaine O’Loughlin, Assistant Dean of the Honors College and coordinator of the event. “‘How is it changing?’ We explored this question as well as the ways in which Drexel might adapt. And since the Pennoni Honors College is a center for high-level interdisciplinary inquiry, it made sense for us to host this event.”

Drexel’s traditional mission may now be at the vanguard of what many universities are trying to do. “Drexel’s cooperative education program, always part of our mission, connects theory to practice and is in step with what is needed now, especially as higher education gets more expensive and the job market becomes more challenging,” said Daniel Dougherty, Associate Dean of the Honors College, Director of the Honors Program, and moderator of the discussion.

Drexel’s recent inroads into civic engagement are another forward-looking aspect of our mission, added Dean Cohen. “An in-depth involvement with the community seems to reflect a new kind of university model, one fully engaged in the wider society. The university can no longer be an Ivory Tower.“

 “We wanted some of our Deans, particularly those connected to the traditional mission of the university, to weigh in on what they see as the challenges and opportunities facing their disciplines in the years ahead,” Cohen said.

Panelists included: Joseph B. Hughes, Dean of the College of Engineering; Frank Linnehan, Dean of the LeBow Collegel of Business; Donna M. Murasko, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences;  Nancy Butler Songer, Dean of the School of Education; and Kristen Betts, Clinical Professor, Drexel School of Education.

The Pennoni Honors College intends to host a series of such events over the course of this academic year. These events will encourage faculty and students to think about big issues, develop possible solutions, and find sites where the solutions can be tested.

“The great pragmatic philosopher John Dewey is our inspiration,” said Dean Cohen. “We want to connect ideas to practice, learning to experience, and to make education a pleasure, not a chore.”