Provost Debra Tervala shares how programs regularly change to keep up with their evolving industries.
August 2016—Dr. Debra Tervala insists that she has the best job on campus even if people don’t always know what it means to be provost. For Tervala it means an unwavering focus on quality in everything that takes place in the classroom. Quality is viewed (and reviewed) internally and externally, and its definition shifts with the creative and business sides of the art world.
“Our programs change because they have to be contemporary,” Tervala says. “What’s needed in various industries and careers changes over time, so we need to ensure that we are educating students with the skills, knowledge, and competencies they need to either enter the workforce or go on to graduate school.”
How programs change is a complex, inclusive, and faculty-driven process that she has facilitated during her two years at Santa Fe.
“Our faculty are academics, but they are also practicing artists. Through their colleagues, their affiliation with professional associations, and through their own work, they see what kinds of changes are necessary,” Tervala says. “They put together a proposal for the change and present it for consideration and deliberation at our faculty governance entity.”
One example she offers is the recent changes that Jack Sprague brought to the design programs. When he came out of retirement to chair the program, he brought extensive experience, deep industry connections, and new faculty to the program. “They spent an intense semester reviewing the program and doing a tremendous amount of work to align the learning outcomes with industry standards and create more specific options for students.”
The university also has an annual assessment process that examines specific learning outcomes for each program. With Tervala, faculty review the types of assignments and assessments students are given, as well as industry requirements, to see if they need to make adjustments that will benefit students. A deep dive in The Film School last fall resulted in learning experiences being moved from individual concentration areas to the main program so that more students could benefit from them.
If the internal process significantly changes which courses are offered or where or how they are taught, that can trigger an external review by an accreditor or regulatory body. Tervala also leads that process for the university, including last fall’s reaffirmation of accreditation for 10 years from The Higher Learning Commission. That followed two-and-a-half years of self-study and a site visit.
“Accreditation is the external validation of the quality of an institution and the programs it offers,” says Tervala. “Having worked at a number of other institutions both public and private, nonprofit and for-profit, I’m proud of how we exceed the standards; we don’t just meet them.”
What makes provost the best job on campus for Tervala is the collaboration across schools and departments. “Because of the faculty and because of the department chairs, this university is unique in its ability to be incredibly collaborative and interdisciplinary,” she says.
As an example, she cites Artists for Positive Social Change, which recently included a course with students from all programs. They recorded the series’ final concert on film and for Arroyo Records, the student-run record label.
Which brings Tervala back to why she has the best job on campus: “To help create collaborative opportunities for faculty to engage in their passion and to see students benefit from it is an extraordinary experience.” —Eric Brosch