New Book Features GSU
A story without conflict is no story at all. Struggle develops character and, ideally, leads to growth. This is a basic principle of good narrative writing, and in Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation, GSU President Elaine P. Maimon—a woman who knows a great deal about good writing (she’s a professor of English and authored one of the most-read writing handbooks on American college campuses)—uses the struggle and growth of Governors State University to tell the larger story of modern higher education and where it needs to go.
The book, published by Stylus Publishing and being released at the end of January 2018, takes the reader through a series of academic principles and best practices, but instead of rolling out dry concepts, Dr. Maimon demonstrates how these ideas actually work by telling her university’s story. From instituting the university’s first freshman class to guiding it through the Illinois State Budget Crisis, Dr. Maimon’s lessons abound, and throughout the book, Governors State emerges from the text as the lead character in the story.
The book has already garnered press, with an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and a chapter on foundation-level courses published in Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning. In a series of interviews with GSU News, Dr. Maimon discussed the principles and elaborated on her core beliefs about education.
GSU Newsroom: Dr. Maimon, you often talk about the value of working from a strength-based model as opposed to the traditional deficit one. Why did we need to make this shift?
Dr. Maimon: Here’s an analogy: What if we taught kids to play baseball by sitting them all down in the locker room and saying, “We’re not going to let you get out on the field. For three weeks, we’re going to tell you everything that can go wrong, how you can get hurt, all the bad things, all the mistakes that players make.” The students would be paralyzed. Instead, let them play, and then show them what they’re doing well.
In education, we have taken the easy way out by focusing first on what students are doing wrong. Well, you do that all the time and students will want to escape. And that in a nutshell is the deficit model.
GSU Newsroom: As seen in your new book, ceremonies play a significant role in the student experience at GSU. Where does your commitment to ceremony spring from?
Dr. Maimon: Ceremonies are important to creating a sense of shared culture. Anthropologist Dell Hymes says, “A culture is defined by people who know the same stories.” And many of those stories have to do with ceremonies.
Our DDP students receive cords in the main color of their community college when they enter GSU as a sign of respecting what they have learned there. When they graduate from GSU, we present them with cords braiding the community college color with our colors. That creates a living symbol of the cooperative endeavor of guiding the student from community college to university graduation. It’s memorable.
The hooding ceremony for our doctoral students symbolizes the honor and continuity of receiving the highest academic degree in the land. It’s a memorable moment to share with family and friends.
GSU Newsroom: Transformation is a main theme of Leading Academic Change. In its pages, you point out a trend of viewing higher education as a commodity instead of a transformative experience. Can you point to the when and why of that shifting point of view?
Dr. Maimon: It’s hard to say historically when these changes occurred. Was there a time when everybody thought about education as transformation? I do know that in the latter part of the 20th and the early 21st centuries, we have gone way too far on the side of looking at education as a commodity.
GSU Newsroom: You talk about the value of a liberal arts education—and certainly GSU is known for its commitment to providing that in a public square setting—and you use the example of children’s stories. You say essentially that all children would benefit later in life if they learned the story of The Three Little Pigs not only from the pigs’ perspective but also that of the wolf. As you led Governors State University through two years of budget crisis, did you step into the wolf’s perspective, so to speak?
Dr. Maimon: Well of course, then you have the question of who’s the wolf? What I will say is that for anybody in a leadership position, it’s absolutely essential to be able to see issues from different points of view. It’s actually essential for everybody. We’re talking about being able to see reality from different perspectives and to understand that people look at the same phenomena in very different ways.
I think that the budget crisis, for example, was an instance of many people applying deeply held principles. The challenge was to find common ground.