June 10, 2011
By Doug Carroll
In the blink of an eye, Dr. Mark Wooden signed on for one of the busiest summers of his life.
Barely two weeks before convocations and Commencement, GCU announced that it would merge the colleges of Liberal Arts and Health Sciences effective May 9 and that Wooden, the dean of Health Sciences, would become dean of a new College of Arts and Sciences.
Wooden moved swiftly to schedule half-hour meetings with each of 40 Liberal Arts faculty and staff, and he threw a party for faculty and their families at his house on May 5.
It was a start toward bringing together two very different academic orbits, and the work continues this summer.
"Faculty initially were shocked," says Wooden, who was at GCU in 2005 when the two colleges were joined for about a year and a half. "There was this unknown. But I think everyone now understands I'm here to support them with structure and processes.
"I think they feel confident we can bring this together and make their lives easier, so they can serve students better. That's where I want to go with this."
Many COLA faculty have been stretched thin, struggling to manage a heavy course load. Wooden hopes to bring some of the efficiency of COHS to the new college, which will have a campus enrollment of about 2,000 students and an online population of about 10,000 in the fall.
Wooden estimates that the college will encompass 75 percent of the class sections being taught on campus - and as many as one-third of those taught online.
"The College of Health Sciences ran really smoothly," Wooden says. "We had processes for managing adjuncts and standardizing curriculum. This (merger) is doable."
Wooden says he hopes to have a second assistant dean in place by June 1. Dr. Antoinette Marks, his assistant dean in Health Sciences, was appointed dean of Associate Studies for online at the same time as Wooden's promotion. The creation of a College of Christian Studies is expected to be the University's next move for fall.
Wooden says he wants the College of Arts and Sciences to work intentionally at creating a sense of community for its faculty, staff and students. He says things that have fared well for Health Sciences, such as a strong mentoring program and an active campus chapter of AzHOSA (Health Occupations Students of America), can help show the way. He says he also will push for faculty to be actively involved in their own professional development.
"GCU is about becoming a new type of university," he says. "We have to think innovatively. This is a different set of students from 10 years ago. They come in here having had information at their fingertips from an early age. They've grown up being able to find whatever they want to know about anything."
Part of the difference, also, is in what students seek from college. Not so long ago, large numbers were interested in a broad, liberal-arts education. Times have changed.
"People go to college now to get a job," Wooden says. "It's seen as a steppingstone to a career. There will still be some who want the deep thought and broader understanding of society and the world. But (liberal-arts instructors) need to be creative to keep their discipline alive. There has been a paradigm shift."
Wooden says he wants the new college to "find ways to create a more contemporary curriculum that will embrace those values and at the same time provide improved opportunities for employment of our graduates."
The college will blend some natural commonalities, he says, such as justice studies (from Liberal Arts) and forensic science (from Health Sciences). But the biggest payoff, he says, will come from the intermingling of different perspectives.
"The humanities and the sciences tend to think differently," Wooden says. "There will be synergy where they discover things they hadn't thought about before."
Dr. James Beggs, who was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, says Wooden - his former assistant dean - is the right person at the right time.
"I think this merger is a win-win for students, faculty, the college and the University," Beggs says. "Mark has served the University in many capacities and through some significant change. Without a doubt, he is one of the most skilled problem solvers I know. His integrity, candor and good humor will serve him well."
Anissa Rowe contributed to this article