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Behr says changes ahead for universities

Michelle Behr, a candidate for chancellor at the University of Minnesota Morris.

Preserving the liberal arts at the University of Minnesota Morris is critical but so is adapting to meet the future challenges in higher education, said Michelle Behr, one of three candidates for chancellor at UMM.

Behr is the provost and dean of academic affairs at Birmingham Southern University in Birmingham, Alabama. She talked with the community during a meet and greet on Oct. 25. The other candidates are Robert Gregerson the dean of the college of arts and sciences at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, Florida, and Bart Finzel, the vice chancellor of academic affairs and dean at UMM. Gregerson's meet and greet was Oct. 31 and Finzel had his meet and greet Nov. 2.

Behr believes in the power of a liberal arts education because it prepares students to be critical thinkers, to be engaged and to lead lives as good citizens.

"Higher education is changing because the students are changing," Behr said. "Legislators are wondering how we are spending our money. Parents are wanting to know if their kids are getting their money's worth."

Universities will need to think creative, differently to sustain and be viable, Behr said.

"The challenge UMM has and many institutions will have, is how do we preserve that which is the heart and soul of a liberal arts education," Behr said.

Behr is a leader on a team that is making changes at Birmingham Southern.

Behr has a deep understanding of the landscape of higher education, said Susan Hagen, the associate provost at Birmingham Southern.

Behr joined the private university in 2014 while it was planning for academic changes, Hagen said. Behr has been part of moving from general education disciplines to outcomes, Hagen said.

"It's student-centered," Hagen said. At liberal arts institution it's typical to require a student to take a lab science class to demonstrate an understanding of science. With the change, the student can reach the outcome through a variety of science and science related subjects, Hagen said.

Liberal arts institutions can't "keep doing business the way we've been doing it for the last 50 years," Behr said on Oct. 25.

She challenged faculty to provide proposals based on ideas discussed at regular meetings between herself and faculty in 2015. Thirty-five proposals were submitted and six are moving forward, Behr said.

Changes, the addition of new majors and collaborations between disciplines of study need to be done in a collaborative manner with input from all and a shared vision, Behr said.

Behr does work collaboratively with faculty and staff, Hagen said. "She has a tremendous amount of integrity," Hagen said.

Hagen wanted to return to teaching when Behr joined the university as provost. Hagen agreed to stay in the role for three months in 2014. Hagen hasn't returned to the classroom because, in large part, of Behr.

While the chancellor has a role on the campus there is also a role in the community.

"I know UMM is here because of the community," Behr said. The campus and the community can work together to make the college stronger, Behr said.