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Jon Sterngass course on Constitution relies on mock trials

Posted on Jun 14, 2002

Jon Sterngass doesn't consider himself a great teacher. In fact, he uses the word “atrocious” to describe some of his courses. “In most of my classes, I could be replaced by a head of broccoli with little or no change in outcomes,” he says.

But that all changed recently, when the assistant professor of history at Union College, in Schenectady, N.Y., hit upon a new way of teaching his course “American Constitutional and Legal History.” And Mr. Sterngass, a man normally given to self-deprecation, is almost giddy about the results.

Instead of sitting through lectures and discussions, students each week stage a mock trial that re-enacts a Supreme Court case. He chooses the cases, which take up issues including civil rights and free speech, because they are interesting, not necessarily well known.

The class's 18 students are divided into four teams. One represents the plaintiff, another handles the defense, and the others serve as witnesses. Anyone left over is stuck in the jury box. Mr. Sterngass is the sole justice (in one of several liberties he takes with the Supreme Court's makeup and procedures).

While he forgoes a robe and a gavel, he does issue a verdict at the end of each trial. Sometimes it matches the court's original verdict; sometimes it does not.

“I get into a more formal, authoritative persona as the judge,” he says. “We have objections, and I declare students out of order. I like to stick it to people a little and keep them off-balance.”

While mock trials are nothing new, Mr. Sterngass says building the course around them was a risk. “I wasn't sure it would work, but it definitely has,” he says.

The professor credits students' competitive drive with helping to make the course a success. “They can't help themselves. They want to win.”

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Vice President Dan Lundquist discusses admissions profession

Posted on Jun 12, 2002

Daniel M. Lundquist used to be the guy who poured the drinks for a college president. More than 25 years later he's head of admissions under one.

In his office at Union College in New York and at colleges around the country, the hiring season for admissions counselors is well under way. Although most of these new recruits will only work on campus for a few years, some of them, like Mr. Lundquist, make a career for themselves in the admissions field. His behind-the-bar entree into the world of academic administration is by no means standard, but it does typify the way many deans of admissions get to where they are today — by falling in love with a job they simply fell into.

The admissions career track starts with admissions counselors, or “road runners,” who travel for months out of the year to sell their institutions to high schools across the country. They can work their way up to assistant or associate dean of admissions before landing the top job, referred to as dean of admissions at some institutions and director of admissions at others. According to experts in the field, admissions counselors can expect to earn anywhere from $22,000 to $30,000; assistant or senior assistant deans make $30,000 to $35,000; associate deans, $37,000 to $60,000; and deans or directors, $62,000 to $180,000.

No association tracks the admissions job market; the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers only recently started posting job ads on its site. Barmak Nassirian, its associate executive director, says some admissions offices have halted their hiring because of the recession and budget cuts, but he expects hiring in admissions to increase over all since applications to college are expected to rise over the next decade, which would, in turn, mean more work for those in the field.

It's safe to say that few children dream of being a dean of admissions when they grow up. Many people end up in the field by happenstance, like Mr. Lundquist. In the summer of 1974, he was the personal bartender for John William Ward, then the president of Amherst College, now deceased. “I had the incredibly good fortune to be a fly on the wall,” at everything from large formal events to informal gatherings, says Mr. Lundquist, who earned a bachelor's degree in American studies from the college in 1976. While he tended bar, he developed a friendship with Mr. Ward and began to watch how he operated. One night, after a party was over, he served Mr. Ward his favorite after-dinner drink — Balentine Ale — and confessed his interest in campus administration. “He said he thought I'd be good at it,” Mr. Lundquist recalls. So Mr. Ward gave him some names of people who might be helpful, among them Ed Wall, then Amherst's dean of admissions.

Mr. Wall advised Mr. Lundquist to make a list of colleges he'd like to work for in admissions and, while he was at it, to send an application to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Mr. Lundquist blanched at the thought of leaving the East Coast. But, he recalls, Mr. Wall “shook his finger at me and said: 'You don't know how parochial you are. The best thing to happen to you would be not going to Princeton to work but going to Coe. I know they have an opening because I just hired someone from there.'” So Mr. Lundquist interviewed at Princeton University and then at Coe, where he was offered the job of assistant director of admissions on the spot.

After a couple years at Coe, he left for Harvard University, where he earned a master's degree in education in 1980. While Mr. Lundquist was in graduate school, Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania, hired him as director of upper-class admissions, handling transfer and international students. Nearly four years later, he was promoted to the office's No. 2 post, director of admissions. After seven years in the job, he felt like he had hit a wall. So he took a job in Penn's fund-raising office for three years. But after two years there he began to miss what he loved most about admissions — students.

Mr. Stetson told him, “You're a small-college guy,” Mr. Lundquist recalls, and alerted him that the head of admissions at Union College was retiring. Mr. Lundquist says that Roger H. Hull, the president of Union College, always told people that he had hired Mr. Lundquist not because he went to Amherst and Harvard, but because he had worked at Coe College.

For 11 years now, as vice president of admissions and financial aid, Mr. Lundquist has been persuading people to enroll at Union. “I have to try to interpret this institution to the outside world and interpret the outside world to people here,” says Mr. Lundquist.

Open-mindedness, he says, is critical to doing his job, or any job in admissions, well. “You have to relate to a really broad range of personality types and levels of sophistication,” he says. Being “culturally fluid and fluent” helps admissions officers perform their jobs better.

Just ask Stephen A. Byrn. His career in admissions has enabled him to travel to more than 47 countries, and permitted him to establish one of the first exchange programs between an American university and a university in Hungary in the mid-1980s when he was associate director of admissions at Graceland University in Iowa.

But for the past two years, Mr. Byrn, director of admissions at Eastern Kentucky University, has been getting to know the culture of Appalachia — whose population the regional state university serves. “Eastern Kentucky is a different type of university than I've worked at previously,” says Mr. Byrn, a former associate director of admissions at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Seventy percent of Eastern Kentucky's students are first-generation college students, and the majority of them “come from a socioeconomic background that is pretty similar to what I've seen in developing countries that I've worked in,” he says. “I'm finding it to be a challenge trying to promote higher education within the demographic population we serve.”

Even without Mr. Byrn's particular challenge, Nanette H. Tarbouni, director of admissions at Washington University in St. Louis, says the job is more complex than people realize. Besides bringing young people to their institutions, deans of admissions also perform a mix of marketing, public-relations, and budget-management roles. “It's never boring,” Ms. Tarbouni says.

It's also something she never planned on doing. After she graduated from Tulane University in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in classics, Ms. Tarbouni worked for the dean of arts and sciences on the campus as an academic adviser. She moved to St. Louis in 1983 and worked as an academic adviser at the University of Missouri at St. Louis for a few months, before joining Washington University as an admissions counselor. She's been there ever since, moving up the ranks to her current post. “Like everyone else I just fell into higher education,” Ms. Tarbouni says. “My thought was I'd do admissions for two years then go on to student activities.” Instead she stayed in admissions.

William R. Fitzsimmons, dean of admissions and financial aid at Harvard, has a B.A. from the institution as well as master's and doctoral degrees in the sociology of education. Like Ms. Tarbouni, he never planned a career in admissions. He had planned to become a professor but after earning his doctorate, wanted to try something else, so he did “the usual thing young people do,” he says, and sent out hundreds of résumés. When he ran into someone on the street in Cambridge who told him that Harvard was looking for admissions officers and that the job of reading applications and traveling was one of the best ways to learn about the country and the world, Mr. Fitzsimmons was hooked. “It sounded irresistible,” he says, so he became an admissions officer at the university in 1972.

Asked if he got the top job because of his alumni status, Mr. Fitzsimmons says it's hard to say. “It's certainly not a requirement,” he says. “A fair number of deans of admissions at the Ivies didn't attend that institution.” Of the roughly 35 people on his staff, more than half didn't attend Harvard, Mr. Fitzsimmons says.

As for whether deans of admissions need master's or doctoral degrees to do the job, having a Ph.D. in sociology and having undergraduate degrees in anthropology and psychology as well “certainly has been helpful,” he says, because “we're trying to reach out to every community.”

Many in admissions leave the field long before moving up to the dean's job. Kelen Barr, assistant dean of admissions at Union College, is leaving this month after only two years in the field. She began her career there as an admissions counselor in July 2000 shortly after she graduated from the college.

This fall she'll begin her new job as the assistant director of academic and college counseling at St. Mary's School, an independent girls boarding school in Raleigh, N.C. Her move to North Carolina is partly for personal reasons. But she opted to switch to what those in admissions call “the other side of the desk” because she wanted more contact with students throughout the academic year. She thinks her insights into the college application process got her the counseling job. “I know what students need to do to help them get into college,” she says.

For those who do stay in admissions, their climb up the administrative hierarchy doesn't necessarily end with the dean's position. On average deans of admissions spend anywhere from three to eight years in the job, and then move on to similar positions at larger or more prestigious universities. Some become vice presidents of enrollment management, overseeing admissions and financial aid. And a few deans of admissions have landed presidencies. John T. Casteen III, the president of the University of Virginia, was once its dean of admissions, and Paul B. Ranslow, the president of Ripon College, was once vice president for admissions at Pitzer College.

Ms. Tarbouni, who has no plans to move any further up the academic hierarchy, highly recommends the admissions profession itself. “It will definitely keep you young,” she says.



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President Hull urges new passenger rail

Posted on Jun 9, 2002

Benjamin Franklin said it, echoing the 17th-century poet George Herbert: For want of a nail, the shoe, horse and rider were lost.

In upstate New York today, for want of a nail, potential train passengers are being lost to a business-government bottleneck. Gov. George Pataki proposed doing something about it two years ago, and the fact that lawmakers have yet to act should concern anyone who cares about the state's economic future. With a new CEO at Amtrak raising hopes for a rail revival, now is the time for action.

The nail in question is 12 miles long the distance between Albany and Schenectady. Between them lies a single railroad track, a situation one would be hard pressed to find in many Third World countries.

People who enjoy the beautiful ride up the Hudson River from New York to Albany may wonder why they often have to sit in Albany for a half hour or more before proceeding to Schenectady and points west. To a considerable extent, the delay is dictated by the need to wait for an eastbound train from Schenectady to reach Albany. Meanwhile, riders going from Schenectady to Albany commonly experience a similar delay as their train pulls onto a side-rail and sits, waiting for a westbound train to pass.

Why does this incredible situation exist? Although it is Amtrak that runs the trains, the tracks are owned by the CSX Corporation, a Virginia-based freight line that took over Conrail's New York routes in 1999. CSX has no need for a second track, and the enhancement of the rail bed would only increase the company's property taxes. However, CSX is doing more than resisting a tax increase; it is using its leverage to try to reduce its taxes either through legislative or court action to cut its tax assessments.

In other words, efforts to advance New York's upstate rail service beyond its current primitive state are being held hostage to a tax squabble.

A second track between the two cities would immediately reduce upstate travel times by at least half an hour. And that could be just the beginning, because adding a second track would open the way to improving the rail bed and move toward higher-speed rail service. By that I do not mean futuristic technology like magnetic levitation but improvement in service comparable to what already exists elsewhere on Amtrak.

A little arithmetic suggests how revolutionary such a change could be. The Acela Express from New York to Washington takes about two hours and 40 minutes, with stops along the way. At that rate, a trip from New York City to Schenectady would take less than two hours, instead of the three hours and 15 minutes it takes today. New York to Syracuse would be a little more than three hours; rather than the five hours and 30 minutes it takes today; New York City to Rochester would be roughly four hours, not the current six hours and 40 minutes.

Such savings were highly desirable a year ago. In view of the questions Sept. 11 has raised about short-hop air travel, they are now all but imperative. Indeed, the governor included funding for a second track in the assistance he sought from Washington in the wake of Sept. 11.

Some people asked then how 12 miles of track between two upstate cities would help New York City. Yet anyone who saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibit two years ago about the revolutionary effect the Erie Canal had on the making of the Empire City knows the answer: Speeding transport between the city and upstate yields huge benefits for both. Upstate's rich array of colleges and universities and its growing high-tech sector make this as true today as it has ever been.

Unfortunately, the state budget passed by the Legislature last month did not include a proposed cut in rail taxes that would clear the way for the second track between Albany and Schenectady. Such action is still under discussion, however, and remains a possibility for this session.

The single rail between Albany and Schenectady is hardly the only problem with Amtrak service in New York, but there is no better place to start. It is time for public officials and CSX to put this first nail in place for the rail system New York needs and deserves.

Roger Hull is president of Union College.

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Bevelander earns New York region “Coach of the Year” honors

Posted on Jun 8, 2002

Fifth-year head coach Linda Bevelander was honored as the New York Region's “Coach of the Year” after leading the 2002 Dutchwomen to an overall record of 14-2 and into the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Linda Bevelander, who successfully completed her fifth year as the head women's lacrosse coach by guiding the Dutchwomen into the second round of the 2002 NCAA tournament, was named the New York Region's “Coach of the Year” it was announced recently by the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association. It is the first time that a Union coach has ever achieved this honor.

“This is quite a thrill,” said Bevelander, who was named the Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association's “Coach of the Year” after leading Union to the conference championship with an 8-0 record.

“I'm honored to have received this award from the IWLC, but to me this is much more of a recognition of how hard our team worked together to achieve the goals we set for ourselves.”

Bevelander, who has guided her Dutchmen into four postseason tournaments in five years at the helm (including two NCAA berths and the only NYSWCAA championship in the program's 28-year history), is 54-27 overall (a winning percentage of .666) and 26-8 (.765) against UCAA competition, including two league championships.

A three-time winner of the UCAA's “Coach of the Year” honors, Bevelander guided the 2002 Dutchwomen to a 14-2 overall record (the 14 wins ties a Union standard first set by her 1999 squad) and set a program record for best winning percentage in a season (.875). The Dutchwomen's only two losses came at the hands of Middlebury, which went on to win its second-straight NCAA title, and to Amherst, which advanced to the final four for the fourth time in the last four years.

Union, which had several of of its players receive all-league, all-state, regional and national recognition, will graduate just five players

Bevelander's selection as the regional coach of the year puts her in position to win the national award, which will be announced in July.

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