Citizen dialogue focuses on higher education

Jackie Valley

Junior Emily Schmidlin’s trip to Europe in middle school inspired within her a “passion to learn language” — a passion she pursued entering college as a French translation major.

Schmidlin said people often ask her what she plans to do with her major, but despite its lesser-known status in higher education, she remains confident there is a need for her major and others within the humanities.

“I think you can graduate college with a stellar set of technical skills, but if you graduate college without people skills, you’re not going to get anywhere,” she said.

The importance of a comprehensive higher education systems versus economy-driven systems was just one of several topics discussed during the By the People citizens’ dialogue Saturday at Kent State focusing on higher education.

About 60 citizens representing different groups throughout the region attended the forum, which sought to deliberate the purpose of higher education for democracy in the 21st century by examining three approaches:

-Maintain the state college and university tradition to renew the civic purpose of higher education.

-Organize state systems of higher education focused on higher standards for workplace effectiveness.

-Make private higher education more accessible to promote personal choices for life-long learning.

The deliberations began with small group discussions in the morning, followed by a joint discussion in the afternoon via video conference with participants at Bowling Green. Cleveland’s WVIZ/PBS reporter Dan Moulthrop moderated the Kent State side of the conference.

Kim Sebaly, professor of educational foundations and special services, who helped coordinate the project, said the higher education forum was one of 11 throughout the country called “Dialogues in Democracy: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” a partnership between PBS and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Sebaly said PBS will air a program anchored by Jim Lehrer on Jan. 3 combining the clips from the citizen dialogues.

State Rep. Kathleen Chandler of Kent’s district, a member of the Higher Education Subcommittee, said while she feels comfortable with Chancellor Eric Fingerhut leading the Ohio higher education changes, she still believes in the importance of a broad-based education.

“My first fear was that there were a number of the legislators who saw the university as a job-training site,” she said. “We mustn’t ever lose sight of the coordination of the universities to produce broad-based students.”

During the small group discussion, participant Gloria Rookard echoed Chandler’s thoughts.

“The more you know, the more you can do, the more places you will go and the broader your perspective is,” she said.

Aside from higher education’s purpose in the global economy, participants also discussed issues related to the affordability and funding of colleges and universities during the forum.

In partnership with Cleveland’s WVIZ/PBS, Kent State TeleProductions helped organize the event, which was sponsored by the League of Women Voters.

Sebaly said the citizen participation added a key component to the forum discussions.

“This is not the end of these dialogues,” he said. “The thing we do is keep talking.”

Contact administration reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].