Brenau Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs James Eck speaks during the White Coat Ceremony for members of the Brenau Doctor of Physical Therapy Class of 2020. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau ‘multiversity’ extends vibrant mission

Laurence Veysey’s book The Emergence of the American University reminds us that contemporary and innovative postsecondary institutions serve more than one purpose. Veysey’s reference to the “multiversity” signals a more complex learning paradigm that meets the needs of students across the lifespan. At many colleges and universities, inertia and stagnation cause significant challenges, but Brenau is in a constant state of motion, always pondering how best to extend our vibrant mission that “challenges students to live extraordinary lives of personal and professional fulfillment.”

Brenau, as a whole, is unique. We teach undergraduate and graduate courses online and on-ground at several regional campuses, and we have a distinctive and highly regarded women’s college that is steeped in the liberal arts tradition with a heightened emphasis on scientific inquiry and global awareness. College rankings primarily focus on inputs, but our focus at Brenau is on outputs. If the nationally and well-publicized college rankings were based on learning outcomes or the changes that occur among our students during college, where would Brenau rank?

In collaboration with my colleagues, those elusive college outcomes are our focus. We will continuously improve upon the learning enterprise, ensuring that our students have the practical skills and the core competencies necessary to lead their “generation of creativity.” Our curriculum moves away from learning outcomes such as remembering, understanding and applying and toward analyzing, evaluating and creating. Rather than focusing primarily on teaching, we are turning our attention to learning and how best to meet the academic demands of our students across generations and course delivery platforms. At Brenau we have one mission, one student body, one faculty and one level of learning outcomes that will continue to distinguish us as a premier university.

I have always considered the academic mission of a university as e pluribus unum – one out of many. The academic mission is that component most likely to sustain the institution and make it a going concern well into the future. The Brenau faculty are the stewards of our academic reputation, and we will further extend and fortify it during the years ahead. Brenau will be that premier multiversity – malleable, nimble and flexible – when it comes to program offerings and course delivery; vigorous and active when it comes to our learning environments on-ground and online; and practical and utilitarian when it comes to ensuring that our students have a pragmatic liberal arts education that leads to lives of significance.

The first half of my career in higher education spans 20 years. My time at Samford University focused on undergraduate curriculum innovation, professional school accreditation and working with the faculty to demonstrate the achievement of student learning outcomes in vivid ways. There were opportunities to lead institutional research organizations at the state and regional levels, working with colleagues to develop best practices related to assessment and institutional effectiveness.

At Rollins College, we focused on educating students for responsible leadership and global citizenship. We formulated a learning enterprise committee that met regularly to evaluate student retention efforts, including an innovative first-year experience called The Rollins College Conference. Working with the Association of American Colleges and Universities, Rollins was a founding member of the Core Commitments initiative that called upon leading liberal arts colleges to identify those principles of excellence (e.g., taking seriously the perspective of others and developing a strong commitment to personal and social responsibility) that will define contemporary college graduates.

Most recently, at Louisburg College, we delved into the scholarship of teaching, acknowledging that engaged teaching precedes engaged learning. As students become more diverse and higher education becomes more accessible, faculty members must also hone a wide array of teaching strategies so as to foster learning among all students.

At Brenau, we’ll continue to envision an innovative curriculum. We’ll highlight significant student learning outcomes and prepare our students to serve in leadership roles within their generation of creativity. Opportunities for distinction abound, and we shall bring even greater fulfillment to this multiversity’s promise to prepare our graduates for a lifetime of intellectual accomplishment. It is an honor and a privilege to serve Brenau University as provost, and by working collaboratively in innovative ways, we shall accomplish much during the years ahead.

James C. Eck joined Brenau University as provost and vice president of academic affairs in June 2017. A nationally recognized expert on the nexus of professional teaching and meaningful learning in higher education, he previously served as provost at Louisburg College in Louisburg, North Carolina, and held various posts at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, and Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. A native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, a Master of Business Administration at Samford and a Ph.D. in higher education at the University of Georgia.

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