Legislative forum in Washington

Patrick S. Osmer — April 13, 2011

Pat Osmer

On April 5, I participated in the Council of Graduate Schools' legislative forum, which underscored the need to support graduate education and its role in maintaining and enhancing U.S. competitiveness.

The legislative forum included policymakers, business leaders, and higher education, including several graduate deans. I gave concluding remarks and moderated the question and answer session.

The value of the forum was how it showed the strong partnership among graduate schools, federal support, and the private sector.

We also talked about the impact of last year's The Path Forward report, which called on the federal government, universities, and industry to work together to ensure that graduate education remains a viable option for a growing and increasingly more diverse body of students.

In addition, I had a full afternoon of visits to the offices of Ohio's senators and representatives. I made these visits with Stacy Rastauskas, Ohio State's assistant vice president of federal relations in our Washington, D.C., office.

It was a remarkable time to be in Washington with so much attention being focused on the possibility of a government shutdown. It's clear that we have to be there and part of the mix if we are to make our case about the importance of graduate education. We're extremely fortunate to have the Council of Graduate Schools and Ohio State's federal relations team there to help lead in this advocacy effort.

Pat

Patrick S. Osmer is vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School at Ohio State. He is also currently serving as chair of the board of directors for the Council of Graduate Schools. Osmer was chair of the Ohio State astronomy department from 1993-2006.

Comments

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BDM
My story - continue your efforts!
Sat April 23, 2011, 12:01:57
Dear Dean Osmer,
I would like to applaud and encourage your efforts to increase the number of professionally oriented graduate programs. In fact, I would propose that virtually all the academic departments should explore and would benefit from actively encouraging experienced professional to apply. I would like to share my experience at OSU to help put a human face on this effort and, hopefully provide a case study that may be useful as you move forward. I know this appears wordy, but I hope you will read it.

Prior to moving to Columbus for my wife’s medical training, my family and I lived in the Washington DC area. There I worked, broadly speaking, in the international security area. I was fortunate enough to have attended the US Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) for a Master’s degree and worked in analytical and investigative roles where I directly applied what I learned. In the DC area, I also attended George Mason University (GMU), where I was working part-time on a second Master’s degree as a prerequisite for a doctoral program. In my field, a doctoral degree would have A) given me additional research and analytical experience, and B) opened doors to additional professional opportunities. Both of my programs were what I would term “traditional,” in that at most universities the disciplines would be a core part of a School of Arts and Sciences. At NPS, though the curriculum was rigorous and academically sound, the atmosphere was professional and collegial. The courses benefitted both from the professors’ academic training and the students’ extremely broad experience. Courses were focused on giving the students the research tools and knowledge they needed to make an impact in a national security-related job.

When I was at GMU, almost the entire graduate program, again, a “traditional program,” was at night. There were very few graduate programs that did not offer part-time options. Here again this stimulated a very diverse student body. In this particular program, the department even offered a “professional track” for students who needed the PhD for professional reasons, not to be a university professor. I sat in courses where the range in ages was 22-70. There were traditional students and non-traditional. I was a government analyst, others were lawyers, and one of my classmates was a retired Army colonel and medical doctor whose career spanned Vietnam to the Gulf War. Unfortunately, I had to leave that, though fortunately it was so my wife could finish her training and begin her career.

Now the OSU end of this. When I arrived, I was thrilled at the opportunity that OSU offered to continue work toward my goals. I found employment distantly related to my prior job and then made a bee-line to the same department I was in at GMU. I made an appointment with a senior professor who I would have necessarily been working with due to his specialization. I left that meeting extremely discouraged. He was condescending and obviously not interested in my story at all. I attempted to explain my preparation. His reply was “Well, I am sure that this Navy center business was fine, but there is no way you would be competitive with our incoming honor students from prestigious universities and programs.” That is very nearly a quote. I left his office slack-jawed.

I applied to a second program somewhat related to what I had studied before and was accepted. However, from day one the department made it clear to me that A) they did not know what to do with me, and B) I would have to follow the same schedule as their traditional students, which was 15 hours per quarter, even though I was not funded by the department or the university. Recall that I was working full-time in a professional job and my wife was in medical training. I asked if I could temporarily lighten the load until she was done, but the answer was no. I had no choice but to withdraw. Later, once my wife graduated, I contacted them, within the graduate school window of time to re-enter a program, to request re-admission. They said no and went on to state point blank that they were not interested in any student who had outside commitments. Not once did anyone there offer to help me find a way to continue. I simply turned in my key and left. I ultimately applied for a transfer to the first OSU program I mentioned, but the end result was predictable. In fact, I never even got a letter thanking me for applying, telling me the field was tough, and that decisions had to be made, etc. I had to call the department and was told that if I had not heard, I was not accepted.

I share this not seek out sympathy or to cast aspersions – that is why I am not naming the departments in question. I do not blame the traditional OSU departments - in fact, I take responsibility for not fully investigating what was required and for not timing my applications well. In the case of the second department, I am not sure I would have hired me either, for even though I was again self-funded, my OSU record was fairly well tarnished after the first experience.

My hope is that my story helps focus the effort to build your professionally-oriented graduate programs and attract people who already have successful careers to ALL of your programs. It is my impression that some programs are so focused on looking like a so-called “elite” program, that they have lost track of what is truly important. As I am already running long, I will leave it to you to define what is truly important – I think my view on the subject is pretty clear. I assure you that had I been given a chance, I would have been extremely successful and the training would have had an impact at the national and international level. As it is, I am lucky that I received the graduate training I did at NPS and GMU and will make the most of it.

Again, I am pleased that you are undertaking this initiative. Like some other commenters, I encourage you to expand it. I believe there is room at OSU for both traditional and non-traditional students in all areas. I hope someday that actually happens.
Vijay
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