SOE News

Dedication by many made this a good year

Photo of Bill McDiarmid

Bill McDiarmid


Despite the substantial cuts to our budget and a subsequent dramatic reduction in staff, 2011-12 was a very productive year for the School of Education.

The remaining staff stepped up to assume expanded responsibilities and the faculty is adjusting to reduced levels of support. Faculty members are teaching larger sections, thereby reducing teaching assistantships for graduate students – a very unfortunate consequence of the budget cuts. Going forward, funding for top graduate students and the lack of raises for faculty and staff over the past three years are perhaps the greatest threats to the School’s vitality, productivity, and reputation.

At the same time, however, the School celebrated a range of heartening achievements this year. Bill Ware became the first McMichael Term Professor. Other faculty were also honored, including Eileen Parsons, who was awarded an American Association for the Advancement of Science & Technology Fellowship; Catherine Marshall, who was recognized for contributions to women’s issues by the Mary Turner Lane Award; Steve Knotek, who won the Provost’s Engaged Scholar Award for his work with the Madres para Ninos program; Rune Simeonsson, who was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Public Health Association; and Gerry Unks, who was initiated into the Order of the Grail-Valkyries that recognizes those who enhance the campus’s intellectual climate. These awards speak to the continuing excellence, contributions and prominence of our faculty.

Honors were not limited to the faculty. Current students and alumni were also recognized. Domonique Garland, an elementary education major, was chosen to introduce President Obama before his speech in Carmichael Auditorium. Middle grades student Elaine Townsend and alumna Cathy Rumley received the 2012 University Diversity Awards. Another alumna, Nicole Pfleger, was named National School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselors Association. Ph.D. student Marta McCabe was tapped as a member of the Royster Society of Fellows and received a $20,000 fellowship. In short, we continue to attract some of the best students in the country who contribute significantly to the University, the state, and their professions.

In addition to these individual achievements, we also had several notable achievements as a School. In collaboration with the College of Arts and Sciences and with the support of two donors, we established Carolina’s first Minor in Education. The faculty responded enthusiastically, creating a new course for the 2012 spring term and eight courses to be offered during the next two years.

The minor enables undergraduates who are interested in educational policy issues both to take courses on educational topics and gain experience in school classrooms and other educational settings. The idea had obvious appeal to students:  Although we had anticipated admitting 25 students for the first year, we received 70 applications and accepted 40.
We also created an ensured admissions program for entering freshman. This enables these students to choose education as their major when they apply to Carolina, with the understanding that if they maintain a 2.5 grade point average, they will be admitted to a program in the School as juniors. This allows us to identify and begin working with potential teachers much earlier in their careers at Carolina.

The faculty also made significant progress on our strategic plan, faculty governance, and revision of the Ph.D. program.

As a School, we identified four strategic directions to guide our activities:

  • Increasing access to essential educational resources and school success for all students, especially those from marginalized communities.
  • Increasing the number of academically able and socially committed students entering and leading the educational professions.
  • Infusing both policy and practice with research-based ideas that inform innovation and improve learning opportunities and outcomes for all students.
  • Improving the quality of educator preparation.

These directions address the greatest needs both in the state and in the nation. Our next step is to develop indices to measure our progress for each of these and to regularly review these data as a basis for decisions on resource use.

We also implemented a new faculty governance structure and process. The Faculty Executive Committee, under the leadership of the new faculty chair, Patrick Akos, reviewed and revised school policies – none more important than the  revision of the Academic Promotion and Tenure policy to ensure alignment with University policy and acknowledge new forms of scholarship such as blogs, online journals, and app development.

Perhaps the most significant achievement for the faculty this past year has been revision of the Ph.D. program. The faculty worked to identify the intellectual communities within the School as these are the foundation of any Ph.D. program. In the end, the faculty organized themselves into five overlapping communities: Applied Development Science and Special Education; Cultural Studies and Literacy; Educational Leadership and Policy; Learning Sciences and Psychological Studies; and Teacher Education.

This, we believe, will enable potential students to more readily identify the intellectual communities with which they might affiliate. The curriculum revision includes a set of core courses – particularly research methods – that all students would take before specializing in their fields of interest.

In all, it was a remarkably productive year. This isn’t to say it was an easy year – few of us in public higher education could say that. That we could accomplish so much speaks to the resilience, dedication, talent, and creativity of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who make the School such a vibrant and exciting place to work. It’s a privilege to work here.

Bill McDiarmid is dean of the School of Education at UNC-Chapel Hill.