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Episode 48

transformed: Preparing Citizens for Success in our Digital Democracy

In this episode, Dr. Elaine Maimon – former President of Governors State University – explains why critical thinking and communications skills are so important to healthy participation in our rapidly evolving and increasingly digital democracy.


Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation, by Elaine P. Maimon

Article emphasizing that AI is merely another technology that can advance the writing craft, and should be taught accordingly: “CHATGPT IS NOT THE END OF WRITING,” The Philadelphia Citizen, 2/8/23

“Dual Degree Program Guidebook” focused on community college partnerships, printed June, 2019, (electronic version updated September, 2019) with the generous support of The Kresge Foundation

Article highlighting a local TV news station’s use of a fact-checking service: “VERIFY THE NEWS,” The Philadelphia Citizen, 3/2/23

Article lamenting the exploitation of graduate students at colleges: “THE REAL PROBLEM AT TEMPLE … ISN’T JUST TEMPLE’S,” The Philadelphia Citizen, 2/16/23

Joe Gottlieb: (00:01)
Welcome to Transformed a Higher Digital podcast focused on the new why’s, the new what’s, and the new how’s in higher ed. In each episode, you will experience hosts and guests pulling for the resurgence of higher ed, while identifying and discussing the best practices needed to accomplish that resurgence. Culture, strategy and tactics, planning and execution, people, process, and technology. It’s all on the menu because that’s what’s required to truly transform. Hello, welcome and thanks for joining us for this special presidential series episode of Transformed. My name is Joe Gottlieb, President and CTO of Higher Digital, and today I am joined by Dr. Elaine Maimon, advisor for the American Council on Education, and former President of Governor State University. Dr. Maimon has literally written the book on education reform, Haply named Leading Academic Change, vision, strategy, transformation. She has also been a leading advocate for writing across the curriculum, having developed and directed one of the first such programs at Beaver College back in the 1970s, and is about to celebrate the seventh edition of her co-authored textbook, a writer’s resource. Elaine, welcome to Transformed

Elaine Maimon: (01:21)
Thank you, Joe. I’m happy to be here. And what would you like to talk about? 

Joe Gottlieb: (01:25)
I’m glad you asked. I wanna get into the very heavy topic that, that we’ve talked about a bit before on the subject of preparing students to be successful citizens in our digital democracy. But first, tell me a bit about your personal journey, how you got into higher ed, and, and how it has shaped the passion for the work that you do. 

Elaine Maimon: (01:45)
I’m a Philadelphia girl, uh, K through 12 in the Philadelphia public schools. Uh, one thing I remember, uh, the patriotic assemblies we had on Tuesday morning where we would sing my country TK and all the patriotic songs. And from that point on, uh, I have been patriotic, uh, and I really resent the fact that the radical right wing thinks that it owns patriotism. Um, I then, uh, with scholarships and fellowships, so I’m very grateful, uh, was able to attend the University of Pennsylvania for all three of my degrees, bachelor’s, master’s, and a PhD in English. I received my PhD when I was 25 years old. And so that gave me a chance to have a long and productive career. And I have always, from the gratitude I feel for the support I had for my own education, I’ve been a great believer in paying it forward, uh, to make it possible for everyone to have opportunities for quality education. 

Elaine Maimon: (02:50)
I started teaching English at private colleges in the Philadelphia area, first at Haverford College. Uh, all male at that time. Many tales to tell, but not at this broadcast, maybe later . Um, and then, uh, onto what is now called Arcadia University, and then was called Beaver College. Uh, well, I had no institutional power or security, um, at, uh, beaver at those days. I was young, but I was passionate about things I wanted to accomplish, and I was able to, um, lead the Arcadia Facul faculty to implement one of the nation’s first programs in writing across the curriculum. My lesson learned there was that if you are passionate about what you are doing, you can lead from any institutional position. After 13 years at Arcadia, I became the associate Associate Dean of the college at Brown University. And what I learned there at that wonderful Ivy League school, and, and Providence was a lifelong commitment to find ways to bring the advantages of elite private education to students in the public sector. 

Elaine Maimon: (04:02)
I then became, I moved to the public sector. I became a dean at Queens College to the University of New York, and then I spent 24 years leading regional public universities, the west campus of Arizona State University of Alaska, Anchorage, and Governor State University. I started at Governor State in 2007 in time for the Great Recession. Uh, we then weathered the Illinois budget debacle. And not many of you, uh, the listeners know about this. We certainly know about it. In Illinois, there were no state funds for two years, 2015 to 17. And then for Grand finale, I led the university through the first months of an international pandemic lesson learned reform and innovation depend on making principled decisions. Now, as an advisor at the American Council in Education, I assist universities across the country with educational reform. And as a journalist, I try to communicate higher education values to the general public. 

Joe Gottlieb: (05:10)
Well, thanks for that background. What a journey. And, um, in our time today, we’ll only have an opportunity to touch on some of it, but perhaps we’ll, uh, we’ll get into more of it at another time. So I’d like to, I’d like to crack this thing wide open with something that’s quite topical right now before we get into the whole digital democracy prep topic. You know, as an educator that has deeply experienced vested and acted, uh, sorry, vested and active in the importance of writing craft, what is your impression of chat G p T, the AI powered chat bot that has gotten pretty good at writing that writing essays 

Elaine Maimon: (05:47)
Chat. G p t is a tool, it is not the end of writing instruction. In fact, it’s a wake up call for instructors who have not been paying attention to the writing revolution of the last 40 years. We can now focus on thought made visible as Professor Julia Mackenzie Moon Nemo has said. And I just think this quotation should head up any discussion of Chachi G P t. In a world where students are taught to write like robots, it’s no surprise that robots can write for them. Hmm. I would say we have to stop teaching students to write like robots and start teaching them to find their own voices in a democratic society. 

Joe Gottlieb: (06:40)
Well, that’s, um, I like that position, and it, it builds on something that, uh, I tend to agree with, which is technology is all about advancing what we can do with the gifted gray matter between our ears. And until such time as that is truly replaced, and, and we need to keep that debate going and, and to be mindful of that. But until such time, um, we should keep looking at technology as ways to elevate what we can do. And I, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there, where, where, a we could make students better at writing, and you’ve been a part of that for a long time, but, but you haven’t, you haven’t fixed the entire problem there yet, but I know you’re determined. Um, but b, we, we shouldn’t be threatened, uh, by tools, the evolution of tools. We’ve, we’ve mastered tools before and they have elevated our craft. Um, so I suspect more of that will follow. 

Elaine Maimon: (07:36)
Absolutely. And you know, when I’m reading about, for example, how real estate agents are using chat G p T to describe their properties, good for them. Mm-hmm. , uh, let them do that. Uh, and that gives them more time to focus on building relationships with the buyers, uh, explaining, uh, things to the buyers about, uh, morg mortgage and houses and so forth and so on. I mean, uh, the chat g p t is a great tool, uh, but human expression is something that I believe only humans can do. 

Joe Gottlieb: (08:11)
Yeah. So true. And I suppose, I suppose the scrutiny and the attribution gets more important as you get closer to writing that, that is looking to receive recognition as, as pure writing, whether it’s fiction or otherwise. Right. I mean, the, the example you just gave is, you know, real estate agents writing up, um, the descriptions of properties. They’re, it’s not as if they’re acknowledging credit for that massive, you know, massively important pros. They just need to crank out descriptions of properties that are accurate. Right. And ideally, they are quite consistent. And that’s something that a robot can do quite well. Uh, it’s a great example. So let’s shift gears a little bit here. And, and, well, 

Elaine Maimon: (09:00)
Before we do, I, I do wanna ahead say some, I do wanna say something about your point of acknowledging the help of Chachi PT in a classroom that is exceedingly important. Uh, and in fact, that’s why instructors have to be very open about the use of chat. G p t instructors need to bring it in if they, they start on a, uh, a, a topic or a question, bring in what cha G p t wrote, and then challenge the students in terms of a, a definition of audience, a definition of, uh, purpose to, uh, do what only a human can do. And it’s also essential, and it should be part of the honor code in any university that students acknowledge any help they receive from anywhere or anybody. Uh, I’ve always been a great believer in writing a page of acknowledgements at the beginning of anything you write, uh, where you are very explicit, uh, and in this case how you use chat G P T, how it helped you, uh, so forth. And so maybe even reproducing what chat G p t, uh, sent to you, and then showing, you know, what you did beyond it. And that’s, that’s essential in terms of classroom instruction. 

Joe Gottlieb: (10:14)
I like it. And wow, we could go on and on about this one. There’s lots of, of derivative, um, topics here. But, but let’s, I wanna ask you a question about liberal arts education and, and in particular, let’s talk about why a liberal arts education is still so relevant and enriching in our modern society. And in particular, how is writing a microcosm of that same importance? 

Elaine Maimon: (10:41)
If we just look around us, it’s very clear that students want to reflect on the big questions in life, guiding them to do so. And writing is a great tool for reflection. Guiding them to do so might help address this teenage mental health issue that is now inflicting society. I think what we have now are teenagers and, oh, you’ve, you’ve seen the stats. We’ve got teens all over the country with this generalized anxiety. They don’t know what to do with, uh, the liberal arts education. Thinking about questions from a philosophical perspective, a literature perspective, it’s going to help. Mm-hmm. Uh, and but more than that, liberal arts education can also make students connect their vision, their thoughts and reflections to practical problem solving and career preparation. Now, that’s not something they can do on their own. Uh, and universities have to find ways. Uh, it sometimes it’s called immersive education, where students are so actively engaged in the study of English, the study of philosophy that they can then connect it to, um, work, let’s say for a social service agency or for a business enterprise. Uh, and then this, the, a very important part of this is that liberal arts education is also absolutely committed to higher education as a public good. Uh, we’ve had too much emphasis in the last several years about, uh, get a degree and you’ll get more money. Mm-hmm. Uh, and, and seeing college simply as career preparation. And, and I’m all for students having better careers cause they’ve going to college, but it’s not this sole purpose of higher education. And one very important purpose is higher education as a public. Good. 

Joe Gottlieb: (12:41)
Well, and arguably, just to play on that, that stark point you just made, which I agree with in the long run, the, the better employability and frankly, the higher wage potential exists in those individuals that have built a strong foundation of skills, a strong, including writing that will serve them, uh, through multiple stages of their career, rather than optimizing for the, the value of their first job at a college because they’ve punched the car, gotten the degree and gone through recruitment, a recruitment that traditionally, but it is evolving, has mostly looked at the institution that they graduated from and perhaps the program, and decided to award people for that. 

Elaine Maimon: (13:31)
Yeah. I mean, I, in, in, uh, my day when I was in college, uh, there, there were many people who were training, I don’t know if you’ll even remember or know what this means as key punch operators. Yes, I do. And and there they were with their key punch operator skills. What are they doing today? 

Joe Gottlieb: (13:52)
Yeah. Great example of, uh, a very nice paying job, right. At a college, but not something that was going to then develop or even require, uh, uh, a broad variety of fundamental skills 

Elaine Maimon: (14:06)
Unless they could combine that initial skill with the ability to problem solve and to think things through. So they’re, they’re sitting there in what was then a computer company, but they are able to ask the next question, take the next step, and that’s what, why you need a liberal arts education. 

Joe Gottlieb: (14:24)
That’s right. So people that wound up in that job, but had those skills were certainly able to survey where they were and figure out what would be next and how to apply themselves. It’s a great example. I’m quite proud to be able to reference in my long career in Tech that I started on, uh, yes. Key punch cards. Uh, and that is a very, very manual way to produce an edit code, I can tell you. Okay. 

Elaine Maimon: (14:49)
Exactly. And let me just say it, it did sum up this, this part of our discussion that I believe that traditional degrees should encompass both practical learning and the larger picture. And let me just summarize it by saying that the students should study coding and Confucius 

Joe Gottlieb: (15:11)
A nice combo there. And, um, you know, I, I think, and I imagine that your work in, even in writing, well, you know what? I, I, I wonder, let, let, let me make that more open. So I’ve, I’ve become, um, of the belief that teaching application before theory accelerates learning. And I’m not alone. I didn’t come up with this, but I’m, I’m discovering that this is being discovered more broadly. And, and, and I see a great example of this in the video gaming industry actually, where they figured out how to put you in a non-threatening situation to learn the way to operate a game. And they cracked the code. And a lot of software companies were figuring out how to emulate that based upon the frontier that was set by the video game companies. Um, you might have bet on the software companies beforehand, but it didn’t work out that way, right? Because they were making their money on complex software, and that was being thrust upon people. But adoption was low, and so gamification and improved in application learning, uh, w w was a new frontier to to master. So, in writing, do you see that that playing out, uh, a as true as sort of helping students to get into simple exercises before you try to bore them with a lot of theory? 

Elaine Maimon: (16:33)
Yeah, I mean, I, I think the, the Greeks knew about this 2000 years ago. Mm-hmm. , they called it Praxis, P R A X I S, . And it’s the idea that that practice comes from theory and theory comes from practice. And so when you’re teaching students writing and, and one of the most important things you can teach students, and I’m not a great believer in simple exercises, I think challenging students, uh, from the start is a good thing to do, but to challenge them to reflect mm-hmm. . And that is to stop and think, you know, for example, um, I, I, for years, you know, I, I was at, uh, institutions where nearly every student was working, uh, to help support tuition. And so, uh, I taught a seminar at Queens College, for example, city University of New York, where one of the first assignments for the students, uh, was to think about the job they had and to think about what, what they were learning about people, about society, about customer service, about, you know, what whatever the larger issues were. 

Elaine Maimon: (17:39)
And then to use our course catalog and connect what they were learning to various courses in the curriculum. And it was always a very successful assignment because I, it, it’s all these were freshmen, and it was also a way to help students to select majors. Uh, so I, I’ll, I’ll, I, some of the essays just continue to stand out in, in my mind, there was a women’s, uh, dress store called Lomans in New York at that time, I don’t know if listeners I remember. Yeah. Uh, where, uh, great prices, great styles, but there was just a, a shared dressing room. And so, uh, women were in this shared dressing room, and the people who were selling them the clothes were observing the interactions, the conversation. And one of my students wrote, wrote, wrote about it and reflected on it. And it was really quite wonderful. And I think it was a way, if she decided to go into sales later on, uh, she was going to have learned a great deal about how to observe customer behavior. 

Joe Gottlieb: (18:37)
Awesome. All right. Well, let’s, let’s talk about this digital democracy prep thing. Well, you know, uh, we frame this as, uh, looking for the critical points of emphasis that are needed for education reform to properly prepare students to become healthy and successful citizens in our digital democracy. So let’s, let’s start to get into that. What, let’s, first of all, what do you, does that make sense? Is that, is that what we’re talking about here? 

Elaine Maimon: (19:06)
It definitely is. Uh, you know, if we look at the whole tradition of, uh, higher education in the United States, we have to, you know, we have to look at Thomas Jefferson, uh, on his tombstone. He wanted that he founded the University of Virginia, not that he was the third president. He thought the founding of the University of Virginia was much more important. Uh, and it was, um, because, uh, if democracy is to, uh, survive, it depends on informed citizens that university, college education is, is not simply job training. And as I say, I’m, I’m all for, you know, helping students, uh, be prepared for, uh, fulfilling jobs. But it has to be connected to university education as a public good. 

Joe Gottlieb: (19:54)
And so what is the new, there’s a, there’s an equivalent then if, if, if Jefferson was all talking about, um, the public good of education to be a functioning citizen in a democracy, which of course was top of mind for the founding fathers and, and in particular Jefferson as he helped found and shape, um, the early days of the University of Virginia. How can we think about this new context of the digital democracy and what might be required to participate in it? 

Elaine Maimon: (20:28)
Well, I think that, as we have been saying all along in our conversation, uh, the, uh, technology provides us with more and more effective tools. Uh, and, uh, it actually, if it’s used appropriately as, as I see it, it frees us up, uh, to focus instruction on these larger issues and to connect, uh, the larger issues to, um, ways that students can move forward in the world and be aware of the tools that are available to them. 

Joe Gottlieb: (21:02)
Okay. I, I, I accept that. So now let’s identify a few things. We probably need to stop things that might be getting in the way of our ability to nurture effective citizens of a digital democracy. 

Elaine Maimon: (21:18)
Well, I think there’s still two great, an emphasis on memorization of, of material that you can find with a click of the key. Uh, I mean, give me a break. Uh, and, and, you know, why in the world are we doing that? And, and, uh, and you know, why one, and why are we still, uh, getting 300 students in a room, uh, breathing on each other, uh, masked or unmasked and, and lecturing at them when they could so much more easily be sitting at home, uh, wa listening to the lecture, uh, on Zoom and, you know, interacting with it. Uh, and the, and we haven’t yet done enough with the flipped classroom where the student can listen to a lecture and then come and interact, uh, in small groups with the material later. So we have not really tailored our curriculum and instruction, uh, to making use of the technology we have. 

Elaine Maimon: (22:17)
You know, it’s very interesting. I mean, the pandemic was a great blow in the gut in so many ways, but it actually ha should have opened up and accelerated our movement toward hybrid instruction, uh, where we are using, uh, the, the, uh, the computer and we’re using at home, combined with bringing students to campus for strategic purposes. And we haven’t done nearly enough, um, other things that we have to really be rethinking, and that’s going on now. And that is standardized testing. Uh, standardized testing is, is too much built on memorization. Uh, it’s not, uh, really getting at what we have to get at. And I’m so happy to see that, uh, a a uh, large, larger and larger number of universities no longer requiring the S A T or the A C t. And that’s a good thing. So, uh, that gives you some, uh, parts of a, of a menu of things we have to stop doing or, or do differently. 

Joe Gottlieb: (23:21)
I like it. What about, um, how about some of that, uh, the snobbism that we have in the system? Uh, I, I know, I think you’ve mentioned to me before that while, and, and I can relate while being a product of the Ivy League, um, we need to, we need to check ourselves a bit and, and avoid, um, pushing this snobbism that might alienate the broader, broader fundamental of education for all and, and lifelong, for that matter. 

Elaine Maimon: (23:53)
Well, I have an Ivy League education because of the generosity of philanthropists, uh, who made it possible for me. Uh, and so, you know, I, that’s a very important to note. And, uh, you know, so, uh, I, I could have not had an Ivy League education if, if I hadn’t been supported in the way that I was. But you know, what I see in higher education today is, uh, that snobbism gets in our way at every juncture. I call it the Maimon hierarchical fallacy. And it goes like this. Uh, if I teach graduate students and you teach freshmen, I must be smarter than you . Uh, if I teach at a university and you teach at a community college, college, I must be smarter than you. We have to get over that. Hmm. Uh, we have to see, uh, all of us in the educational community as colleagues mm-hmm. , 

Elaine Maimon: (24:52)
Uh, and we have to learn from each other. And, you know, I’ve, I’ve, uh, been, I’m very proud of the, uh, community college university Pathway Pro projects that I’ve been involved in. And one, uh, that, um, we did at Governor State University involved, uh, governor State University and 17 Chicago community colleges. And it went so far beyond articulation agreements. It really had to do with faculty to faculty, staff to staff, getting to know each other, planning together, uh, respecting the work that the others did. Um, and if for the resource section of this, I have a handbook on how to do, you know, that, that kind of work. And we can, if you want to, you can put it on, on the, uh, the web, cuz not enough of that has happened. And then the, the fundamental growing, uh, ground for our problems is in PhD, uh, preparation, particularly in the humanities and in English. 

Elaine Maimon: (25:53)
Now, I was lucky, uh, I, I was at the University of Pennsylvania at a time when, um, I was supported by the National Defense Education Act, if you can believe it, because it was at a time when it was believed to be in the National Defense to create more English professors. Uh, and so, um, I was in a special program, uh, where it was meant to be four years to the PhD. And I completed in four and a half years, uh, even though I got married and had a baby during that at the time. But it was a beautifully structured program, and it was non exploitative of the graduate students. If you look around the country at the various graduate student strikes, and I’ve written an article about this also, which you can put on, on the, uh, resource, um, that the problem is this long exploitation of graduate students, and nobody wins from this because the graduate students are then assigned to teach the most important courses in the undergraduate curriculum, introductory composition, uh, introduction to the, the various humanities courses. They’re exhausted, they’re underpaid, they’re miserable, uh, and, uh, the student, the undergraduates don’t win. The graduate students don’t win. And in my book, leading Academic Change, I have a whole chapter devoted to how we should reform PhD education. 

Joe Gottlieb: (27:14)
Interesting. I know there’s another area that, uh, that is important and that is thinking about how to teach media literacy. Uh, there’s been a, the media has really, over the last several years now, counting become often very polarized, politicized. And it’s become quite difficult for many, perhaps even all to distinguish fact from fiction, uh, true objective journalism and, and reporting and analysis. And, uh, and I know that, um, this, this feels like something really, really critical that, uh, like we, like we try as parents to give our kids good judgment versus dictate all their behaviors so that when they’re not within our nest, they can make those decisions on their own. Uh, I feel like media literacy is an area where we need to, we need to churn out stronger skills, uh, to properly cope with what’s happening in this digital democracy. Does that, does that resonate with you? 

Elaine Maimon: (28:16)
Absolutely. In fact, I, uh, I had an article that just was published yesterday called Verify the News and I’ll send it to you. And, uh, it, it’s really fascinating. I, I learned from doing research in this article, uh, something I wouldn’t have predicted. And that is tv local news stations do a better job of probing and verifying, uh, stories than the print media do now. It used to be the opposite. And, um, you know, many, um, local television stations are part of a network of local stations where they use something called verify the news. And we happen. We we’re in, uh, we happen to see it on a local Arizona channel, and I was really impressed by it because they take a story and then they show all the different ways that they’ve either verified it or countered it and they get either a check or an X. 

Elaine Maimon: (29:07)
And, uh, you know, that’s, that’s just really helpful because you’re not even choosing to verify the news. You’re sitting there watching the local news and it’s being done for you. And I think that’s, uh, part of the culture change that’s needed. Also, it’s a really important to note that so far three states have passed laws in media literacy instruction, Illinois, New Jersey, and Delaware. And, uh, that’s also very important in terms of, uh, having, um, explicit instruction in the classroom about how to make judgments about the media. And then, uh, I also believe that, uh, it’s too late to wait to, when the child’s in kindergarten to get that instruction, you really have to start in the home, uh, with toddlers. And believe me, kids can understand it. I mean, let me just give you an example. Um, let’s say that, uh, one kid, uh, broke a jar and the, the big sister saw it and, uh, the one who broke the jar is gonna have one story and the the witness is gonna have another story. And I think that right there, and then kids can understand the whole point of, of considering the source. Hmm. And considering the source is one of the most important ways that we make media judgements. 

Joe Gottlieb: (30:27)
Right. On, you know, you’re, uh, to, to now I, I think that’s a great reminder that the source is so essential to understanding the, the veracity. Uh, cuz it, it teaches your mind to challenge and say, okay, what would this person want you to believe and, and why? And, and going through that calculus, um, helps , I can think of a few conversations with my wife about, about how each of us have been duped by salespeople not thinking about the source of, of, of their amazing ideas for us. Um, but now, you know, when you were talking earlier about the snobbism and in particular the, the hierarchy, uh, the hierarchy fallacy, I love that it made me think about sports teams and different roles on sports teams. And actually I would give, I would give some credit, uh, although the, for example, the the National Football League, um, which is the pinnacle of, of, of professional American football. Go 

Elaine Maimon: (31:30)

Joe Gottlieb: (31:31)
What’s that? Go Eagles. Go 

Elaine Maimon: (31:32)

Joe Gottlieb: (31:33)
. I hear you must have been, that was a tough Sunday. But, um, yes, it 

Elaine Maimon: (31:36)

Joe Gottlieb: (31:37)
, but, but you know, the skill positions have always been the glory position and, and have paid the most. But the n f NFLs evolved, I think, towards a construct that is more able to recognize the value of, and, and also, um, tell the stories of, uh, even, even the lineman, for example, that we’re often left out of this glory discussion. Uh, the blindside, the movie, the blindside and protecting the quarterback was perhaps helpful in all this. But, but I want to come back to your point, which is, you know, when you’re a team, all of the players are important because the team is necessary to function in a capacity that the rules of the game have organized. Right. And so, when we think about education and, and particularly teaching, we’re all on a big, big, big team that has a big, big, big thing to do a big job. And so I wanna bring this conversation now to the role of community colleges, cuz I think we both agree they are a very, very important part of this and fits right into your fallacy, by the way, in terms of traditional perspective and treatment. Um, but all the more reason to think about how they are a workhorse across a very, very broad part of this network, uh, that we need to advance. What are your thoughts there? 

Elaine Maimon: (32:56)
Well, absolutely, I mean, uh, the, uh, the quality work done in community colleges, uh, uh, really needs to be recognized. I think that people in the universities, uh, can be really snobby and, you know, they can say, oh, they’re not gonna be as well prepared. I mean, one of the problems is that students who start a community college swirl around, they won’t go to just one community college. They’ll work, they’ll go part-time. They don’t realize that it would be more economical for them to get Pell Grants and go full-time, uh, rather than what they’re doing. And they don’t have a coherent education. So the program that we developed at Governor State with the 17 Chicago area community colleges was one that provided incentives from the university for the univers, for the community college students to go full-time, meaning, uh, fall, spring, and summer, because we know they work and so forth. 

Elaine Maimon: (33:47)
But they can do it. I mean, if you, they, they do the 30 credits over the, um, fall, spring, and summer. And then we pro we provided financial incentives for the students after they got the associate degree. We encouraged the completion of the associate degree at the community college. And then the student would have, um, available a debt free university education if they, uh, were part of this pathway. We called it the dual degree program. I’m sorry, we gave it that name cause everybody confuses it with dual enrollment. Uh, it was called dual and, uh, degree because it was, uh, associate degree, bachelor’s degree pathway. Mm-hmm. . Uh, we also, the university paid advisors, uh, who spent four days a week on the community college campus Wow. Working with community college advisors. And so you talk about the team effort, uh, very focused on the students who also then had a, had a group of, of peer advisors. So community college students who had gone through the program would go back to their community colleges and help students make choices of courses and complete the associate degree in two years. And then, you know, move on to the university so that they could graduate in four years. Uh, and, and it’s a program that should be rep, I, I believe it, it’s scalable. It’s something that could be rep replicated everywhere. Uh, but it’s not happening. Uh, and I just, uh, think we have to find ways for it to happen. 

Joe Gottlieb: (35:13)
I like the, the structure of that. I’m gonna, uh, I’d love to follow up on that because I do see lots of community colleges for year programs, state systems, wrestling with this problem. And, uh, to the extent that there’s a model that, as you say, and on the surface it sounds like, um, um, a, a wise construct. Um, uh, the devils in the details, of course with funding and the like, but, but, but it, it, that seems like an attractive way to, to proceed. 

Elaine Maimon: (35:40)
Uh, well, lemme just say we did this through the various kilometers that were going on that I referenced in, you know, my, uh, introductory statement. This is possible to do. You, you can figure it out. It’s a question of how you choose to make your investments. I also wanna give a shout out to the Kresge Foundation because, uh, they, uh, they helped us get started with it. But part of the whole, uh, grant program and, oh, see, this program’s been in existence for 13, 14 years now. Mm-hmm. So this is a program that was very well sustained and they made it so that it was, uh, diminished funding and, and we had to take on more and more of it in our budget. And we did. And then Kresge gave us, uh, some funds to disseminate the program. And that’s how we developed this guidebook that I’m gonna send you, you know, for, um, publication, uh, and, uh, so forth. So this is very doable, um, interesting. And very doable. And, and also you raise your enrollment at the university and you raise your completion rates. And so in terms of the whole economics of it, uh, not only is it the right thing to do from a human point of view, but it’s also the right thing to do from a financial point of view. 

Joe Gottlieb: (36:53)
Yeah. Smart synergy. So, alright. We’ve talked a lot about skills and the roles of different parts of the system, uh, helping to advance, uh, all students throughout their stages, uh, and, and, and allow helping them to become, um, more capable of understanding media, more capable of, of writing and critical thinking. Um, and, and ultimately we’re, we’re getting to this place where we wanna now make the connection to digital democracy. So let’s now attach all of those forces to how this could advance the public narrative that is so critical to the functioning of, in this case, a quote, digital democracy. 

Elaine Maimon: (37:35)
Well, I think that, uh, universities have to, uh, reward, um, faculty members who are what we call public scholars. Mm-hmm. , uh, we have to encourage, uh, faculty to communicate in a way that the general public can understand. Uh, it’s very frustrating, uh, to me to look around and see the incredible misunderstanding of higher education that is just rampant in the land. Uh, why is this? And I think, again, we grow our own problems, uh, that, that, you know, we we’re snobs. We say, oh, well, you know, if you publish something, uh, in, in a, uh, general public, uh, read, uh, uh, publication, rather than in a, uh, scholarly journal that’s read by five people, uh, that, you know, you’re not as smart as the person who writes, uh, something to be read by five people. Uh, and, you know, I think that we have to change that. We also have to encourage, um, faculty and, and everyone in the u the university and community college setting to be out there in the public at libraries on podcasts, uh, you know, doing the kind of thing that, that we’re doing now. Uh, because, uh, when I, when I see the, the incredible kind of distortion that is presented about higher education, uh, it’s, uh, really, um, kind of disheartening, 

Joe Gottlieb: (39:05)
Interesting. So I think that’s, uh, that’s a good way to state what’s going on and how there are still challenges to address. And, um, I think that this is going to take time, right? I think where things are today in the public narrative, we’re, we’re, we’re in a posi, we’re at a point where we’re suffering a bit and we’re, we’re looking for ways to recover. And there’s, there’s, there’s lots of activities and, and depending upon the day, right, depending upon what you wind up reading , you can feel some good hope about the folks that are pulling in a good direction. And, uh, and however, you might also have an experience where you can feel that, um, that, that that polarizing, uh, poison that exists out there. Um, but digging in and, and developing a new, a new equivalent of sort of the liberal arts, the digital democracy feels like, uh, feels like a step in the right direction. Uh, getting into the enhanced media literacy starting earlier, uh, addressing all parts of the system, addressing all, all students, uh, throughout their journey. So, and so we haven’t talked much about it, but, but I think we would both agree that lifelong learning, um, beyond the traditional college age stage of learning is also important, particularly for employability. And depending upon where you started, uh, ways to advance, uh, both your development as well as, um, how you function in society. 

Elaine Maimon: (40:34)
Lifelong learning has to be one of the key goals of education at any level. And let me sit talk very specifically about the recruitment of, uh, adult students. We have millions of students in this country who have, uh, some college and no degree. Uh, these are also students who are weighed down by debt. And, and we can talk about, uh, the, uh, the whole debt proposal, because I have a lot to say about that. And I really would like to see, uh, biden’s, uh, uh, proposal going through. Uh, and we can, we can talk about that. But, uh, you know, let’s just focus on the lifelong learning for a moment. Um, and that means that coll community colleges, liberal arts colleges and universities who are beaning, the fact that the, there, there’s a diminishing birth rate in traditional aged students. I mean, give me a break. 

Elaine Maimon: (41:27)
You have to, these adults are people that, you know, we should be educating, uh, you know, that, that are just the natural constituency. And, and they’re not just gonna, you know, come because we’re there. Uh, you have to develop strategies, uh, to reach out. Uh, and because there’s a real crisis of confidence on the part of a number of these students, uh, they tried it, they, for one reason or another weren’t successful many times it was finances. They, they just couldn’t, uh, do it anymore. Uh, we know that cuz we, in, we, we, when I was at Governor State, we called students, we reached out to students, we, we, uh, asked why they left. And, you know, we found out that much of it had to do with finances. And then the other point, uh, there are some adults who, who haven’t, who don’t have any college at all mm-hmm. . 

Elaine Maimon: (42:17)
And who are they? Well, uh, when, when I was at Governor State and people asked me, who is your biggest competitor? And is it Illinois State? Is it the community colleges? No. Our biggest competitor was nowhere, uh, qualified students going nowhere. Uh, and again, for a really functioning democracy, we have to find these students and we have to do better by them. I mean, you know, we, when we look at the divisions in this country, one thing that should be really clear to us that higher education has hasn’t done nearly enough for the rural student, uh, for the rural and small town student. Uh, and in terms of making sure that students in, let’s, excuse me, Eastern Kentucky, for example, you know, have, uh, good options for higher education. My daughter-in-law is, is a, uh, coal miner’s daughter. And the struggles that she had to go through to, um, get a four year degree, I mean, god bless her, uh, and not everyone could do it. 

Elaine Maimon: (43:26)
And she, she is saddled with debt now, years later. Uh, and, uh, you know, again, uh, but higher education hasn’t done enough. They haven’t provided affordable public opportunities. They haven’t been in the rural high schools. You know, basically, uh, helping students see that they have the capacity, they can do the pathway and they’re sure they’re gonna have to get a job right away, but there, there’s gonna be a way to connect the job to their further study. So, so let me just say, to summarize this point, we are at a true pivotal moment in higher education, uh, not only for higher education itself, because there’re gonna be a lot of schools that are gonna go out of business if they don’t start recognizing the, the need for some fundamental changes. But we’re also the fundamental point in the democracy. I mean, when, when we have large numbers of people who believe that that elections are stolen, when there’s no justification for that, and they believe that f d A approved vaccines are lethal, something is really deeply wrong. You know, we have to, you know, be able to, to address this. 

Joe Gottlieb: (44:39)
Well, I think that, um, the reference to Eastern Kentucky and the, the, the example of your daughter-in-law is, is a, a reminder that much like we’ve been talking about increased cooperation and effectiveness between four year and two year institutions, we have to keep reaching downward, uh, be from, you know, whether it be from the community colleges and or the four year programs to the high school programs. And there’s more of that going on. But it has to continue. Right. And so, and, and the community college system is the one that’s more dis well, it, it is effectively distributed as a public, as a public, um, network. Uh, but thinking about how we don’t leave folks behind, uh, and, and, and reach all the way down, and it’s actually gonna come up on a future podcast. I know, cuz I’ve done some, uh, free conversations with another one of my guests coming up. 

Joe Gottlieb: (45:31)
But one of the, one of the elusive things, and you alluded to it, um, Elaine, is that it’s not enough to build the programs and have the, the, the, the evolved programs that will be compelling to students of different ages and of different circumstances, let’s say they have to keep working and they can’t take off full-time. But you also have to frankly, cut through the very, very challenging marketing cha uh, exercise. I mean, it takes really good effective marketing to get the attention of these folks and create a situation where they can really give it strong consideration and make the call to join the program that you’ve worked hard to make fit their lifestyle and their situation. Right. You not only need to do that, you have to make the connection so they, they get back on that on-ramp and you make it easy for them to do so. And, and honestly, I I’ve, I’ve done a fair amount of marketing in my background. Marketing’s hard, , you know, getting people’s attention. They are digitally connected, that helps. But we have to find ways to bring this home 

Elaine Maimon: (46:29)
And you have to go where the students are. I mean, let me just give you an example. Um, we have this, um, teacher, uh, K through 12 teacher shortage in the, uh, country right now, which is very scary. Uh, and, uh, you know, there are lots of things we should do to, um, address that. But one thing that we, that I did when we were, um, in Arizona, um, we did a two plus two plus two program with, uh, junior, senior high school in a, in a fairly, uh, low income area of Maricopa County, uh, called Australia. And, uh, we, and then we had Australia Mountain Community College and then governor, and then, um, Arizona State University West. And we started with a very old idea. And that was the, uh, future teachers of America. I mean, when I was in high school, you know, that that was an important club mm-hmm. . 

Elaine Maimon: (47:21)
Uh, and so we, as we had the high, we worked with the high school to establish reestablish future teachers of America. We then then mapped out a pathway from junior, senior high school to two years at the community college to two years at Arizona State University West, with the hope that the student would return to the Australia High School and teach there. And it worked. Wow. Uh, I don’t know if that program’s still going on or not, uh, now, but it was a really successful program. And again, it doesn’t cost a lot of money. Mm-hmm. It, it’s basically very scalable, very replica replicable. It means, you know, it means physically going into high schools and building relationships. Mm-hmm. , I’ll give you another example. Um, in Illinois, uh, there’s something called the Ames Scholarship, which, um, was addressing the students who were not p eligible, but they weren’t wealthy. 

Elaine Maimon: (48:17)
Mm-hmm. , they were, you know, lower middle class students. And so there was money available for them. And you were, you were allowed to recruit students, uh, on, on, um, the basis of merit. So at my institution at Governor State, we defined merit as to include talent. And we had our, uh, theater arts people going into the high schools and working with theater arts students. We had our art faculty going in and working with, uh, the painters and the sculptors. And, and we had a debate faculty going in and working with the debate team in the high school and, you know, showing them that these talents that they had were something that could help support, you know, their, their education. I mean, look, we do it in sports with sports fellows. Right. So, you know, to, and that was, but that meant physically relation building, walking into the local high school mm-hmm. and, and basically, you know, just work. Can, can, can we take the theater arts faculty to lunch? Uh, you know, what, what can we do to, you know, make sure that the students in your program see that they’re not gonna be starving actors, that they can major in theater arts and learn a lot and, uh, go into business if they want. So it’s, it’s that kind of thing. 

Joe Gottlieb: (49:32)
So building on the, your time there at Governor’s State, um, you were president there from 2007 to 2020, and that meant that you had to navigate, and we, we talked about this in the very beginning, the great Recession in 2008, the Illinois budget crisis, um, in, uh, 2017 ish and the early days of the pandemic in 2020. So during that period, uh, and, and particularly during, during those challenging times, how did you balance strategic, operational and organizational change at Governor State? 

Elaine Maimon: (50:06)
Well, first of all, you know, I guess I, I’ve always had a, a lot of what they call chutzpah mm-hmm. , uh, which some people call courage. Uh, and, uh, you have to have it because not everyone’s gonna love you, uh, especially if you’re, you know, trying to lead change and, and, you know, you have to just be able to deal with it. Uh, but then, uh, you have to really lead from values and principles. Mm. Uh, and I think that is extremely important. I mean, just, um, to take the pandemic as an example, um, it, it came upon us so suddenly mm-hmm. , uh, and, uh, but the first thing that I knew we had to do was, uh, to that I had to work with faculty leadership in the cabinet and, uh, and such to establish a group of, uh, uh, a set of principles. 

Elaine Maimon: (50:58)
And then any, then we would use those as a touchstone, you know, for, uh, deciding on, you know, any of the multitude of decisions. I mean, I, here I was , I announced my retirement in August of 2019. I was all set, you know, July 1st to have this new life that I was looking forward to. And, you know, thank goodness they had a search going on. They had, you know, uh, they, I was going to have a successor, but I was still the president, uh, on, on March 13th, 2020 when, uh, you know, when the, the, the whole world turned upside down. Yeah. Uh, and so our principles were that, that we all agreed on, one, we will protect. And, and, and you know, this whole idea of protection is so important. I believe that what, whether there’s a pandemic or not, when you accept a student, when you employ a faculty member, a university has an obligation to protect that student and that employee. 

Elaine Maimon: (51:56)
Uh, and that of course pertains to DACA students in which we didn’t get into, but, you know, we have to protect our, uh, undocumented students. It’s one of our absolute core values in the economy. But with the pandemic, it was protect faculty, staff, students, and the surrounding community. I mean, we had a virus that was, uh, rampant. And so we had to figure ways that we were gonna protect people’s health and there were no vaccines. Uh, secondly, uh, we knew that we were going to have to make changes in delivery of instruction. Uh, and so the principal was however we deliver instruction, whether it’s by telephone or computer, or by going door to door as some of our art faculty did, to pick up students, uh, ceramic, uh, bowls and fire them on campus, quality of instruction is going to be absolutely essential. It has to be quality no matter how we deliver it. 

Elaine Maimon: (52:51)
And then third, and this was one that I persuaded, you know, my, um, campus to, uh, go along with me on, because I believe that given the circumstances, the economy, all that was happening, uh, we made a commitment to full employment mm-hmm. . And so that we were going to make sure that if people had to change their job descriptions because they were doing something that depended on being on campus and they couldn’t be on campus, we were going to find work for them to do remotely. Uh, and we were certainly on, in terms of student work study, um, students, we were gonna gonna make sure that, uh, they had their full work study, uh, paid and that they had valuable employment. So that establishment of values and principles is so important. Um, then the next thing in, just in terms of the strategic way that you go about all of this, um, I think it’s very important, you know, cuz you don’t want these things to be top down. 

Elaine Maimon: (53:48)
I mean, I had my early experience with writing across the curriculum in a grassroots movement, and you have to recognize the importance of the grassroots. And I learned early on when, you know, I, boy did I need advice when I was 25 years old in trying to do a writing course curriculum program. It’s amazing when you ask people for advice and genuinely listen, they’re gonna give you not all good advice. A lot of it’s gonna be good advice. Yeah. And you know, the, the, the simply that reaching out and saying, help, let’s work on this together, can really, uh, develop, um, you know, a good sense of comradery. I have some other points to make, but let me stop and, and see if, if you you wanna comment on anything I’ve said so far? 

Joe Gottlieb: (54:30)
Well, I think that the, the leadership behavior that I’m hearing you articulate, uh, Elaine is this set of principles that helped you make decisions and be they strategic or operational or organizational. You, you were a aligning with the principles and that probably, you know, it, it informed, and I’m sure there were various discussions amongst your team and teams about how to make choices with finite resources. But at the end of the day, you were, you were upholding those principles. And I think that that leadership behavior is, I, in my experience, the elusive key to navigating strategic and operational change, even in under normal conditions, right? Like, like you probably had to suppress some elements of progress on your strategic plan because of this crisis. Uh, you had to, you know, divert resources to do new things that you weren’t doing before that were suddenly necessary. But it was all in support of those principles and that was your guiding light. And that allowed the team to align and get things done. And so you were able, I imagine, to accomplish things because of that alignment and that structure that you had set up. Did, did, and am I putting words in your mouth or does that No, 

Elaine Maimon: (55:45)
You’re absolutely right. And, and of course I, I wasn’t quite frankly surprised that we were gonna get some fed that, you know, federal help was gonna be available. Uh, but we knew how to use it that when we got the federal resources, we were very well prepared for, you know, how we wanted to use those resources. We knew that they were not gonna be resources that we would get every year after the pandemic was over, but we knew how to use them. Uh, and, and it, it was very interesting the way those resources were allocated. And we can talk about that maybe at another time. But one large amount of, of the resources had to go directly to students. And in fact, the, the law said you couldn’t even in a cover note say, gee, you might think about, you know, paying your tuition bill with it. 

Elaine Maimon: (56:34)
You couldn’t do that. You had to, you know, just, uh, deposit the money in the student’s bank account, uh, or you had to send them a check. And I was very proud about the way we handled those funds. You know, it’s interesting to note, I I just should say, uh, you know, for a good, um, call out for higher ed, uh, now that they’ve been doing analysis of how the, uh, covid money was used by various parts of, uh, the so of society, higher ed comes out with really high marks, you know, for, uh, using the funds very responsibly. Uh, and I’m proud of that. And, uh, we were one of those institutions that did use the funds responsibly. 

Joe Gottlieb: (57:15)
I agree with you. I’ve, I’ve, I’ve had the benefit of hearing many stories of that, uh, of how that all went. And so I think this is a good place to, to bring this to a close. So let’s summarize for our listeners three takeaways that we can offer them on the topic of preparing students to become successful citizens in the digital democracy. 

Elaine Maimon: (57:36)
Well, lemme just say that the invention of the printing press led to a new agent education, but we live in more revolutionary times. A click of a key brings a torrent of information, much of it, false or misleading education, grade school through grad school must help students sort through this flood of fact and opinion. Secondly, never has it been more important for citizens, no matter their income level or zip code to assess the validity of information and to be critical thinkers. And finally, democracy depends on our support for high quality education for all students starting in preschool and continuing throughout life. 

Joe Gottlieb: (58:32)
Elaine, great points to end a great conversation. Thank you so much for joining me today. 

Elaine Maimon: (58:38)
Thank you. This was fun. 

Joe Gottlieb: (58:40)
And thanks to our guests for joining us as well. Hope you all have a great day and we’ll look forward to hosting you again on the next episode of Transformed.

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As president of Higher Digital, Joe supports customers with strategy development, change management, and strategic operations. He is energized by the complex challenges and profound opportunities facing higher education and is motivated to have and share discussions around these topics.

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