A message from Dean Ted Kohn

It will come as no surprise to many of you that, in high school, I wrote for my school paper. I did this in lieu of dating, excelling at sports, or being popular. My column was cleverly called “Kohn’s Korner.” For some reason, both editor Isabel Nielsen and the Office of Communications have rejected this as the name of the message from the CoLA Dean. We are all poorer for this decision.

For the past month I have been feeling a tension on campus between great aspirations on the one hand, and on the other hand, things not quite working out the way they should. In particular, I feel this in two areas: the reopening of Ainsworth Hall, and the university’s efforts at internationalization.

There is no doubt that Ainsworth is a brighter, more modern, and more comfortable building that will be conducive to work and study – eventually. But wrinkles need to be ironed out, and creative solutions found to problems, such as too few bookcases, too large tables, and too shallow wardrobes. The spirit of the work does not yet quite gel with the day-to-day experience.

The same can be said of efforts to “internationalize the campus,” one of Norwich’s strategic goals. A visiting Russian scholar returned to Russia for the holidays, and has yet to return. For various reasons, our large cohort of Nepalese students has been halved in numbers for the spring semester. And our efforts to send students abroad seem stymied at many levels: ROTC requirements, financial requirements, and academic requirements. We agree on the necessity of students acquiring cultural agility, but have yet to find a way to send large numbers of students abroad.

In my first six months at Norwich, what I have enjoyed most is the willingness of different campus entities to come together and collectively work toward solutions. Many people may not know that due to the disruptions caused by campus construction projects, accommodations have been made for faculty in terms of classroom assignments, office assignments, and parking based on individual needs. Efforts continue to get faculty the appropriate office furniture. Moreover, based on current concerns, discussions are beginning now to include faculty in the decision-making about the interiors of the new Mack, Dewey, and Webb Halls.

Similar discussions are taking place about internationalization. How do we build an ESL program for foreign students? How do we support international students after they arrive on campus in rural Vermont? And how do we foster study abroad, while remaining mindful of students’ financial needs, curricula needs, and the unique Norwich careers of the cadets? These are all serious concerns, but not insurmountable obstacles. And as with Ainsworth, I am happy to be part of constructive discussions as we seek to make internationalization work.

There is a question I keep hearing on campus in discussions about new initiatives: “What problem are we trying to solve?” But to me, that is too narrow a question. Should a new idea, a new program, or a new enterprise only be attempted as the solution to a problem? Or does attempting new things to benefit students, faculty, and the wider campus community have value in itself? I would like to think the answer is the latter. With the provost discussing a new Academic Strategic Plan in the months to come, we will frequently hear the word “entrepreneurship.” There is great value in all of us being Norwich entrepreneurs.