A Conversation with Dr. Betty Siegel
Dr. Betty Siegel, president emeritus of Kennesaw State University in Georgia, has been logging many miles in her retirement, in many cases to promote and help implement First-Year academies. She spent three months in South Africa and most recently traveled to Hawaii to attend the 20th International Conference for the First-Year Experience. Long a proponent of diversity before it became part of higher education’s lexicon, Siegel says, “Diversity is ethics in action. It’s ethical to treat people as equals, to believe that everyone has untapped potential, that all of us are able, valuable and responsible and should be treated accordingly.” Siegel speaks with Diverse about her recent trip to South Africa and what she’s up to next.
DI: You spent three months as a visiting scholar at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. What were you doing there?
BS: I came to work with Dr. Ludolph Botha, the director of academic support, on all aspects of implementing the First-Year Academy. As a former rector, psychologist and teacher, I’m convinced that the first-year experience is critical to the overall success of university students. We have found the program enormously successful in our efforts to align student success with academic success.
DI: Do universities in South Africa have a desire to adopt any features of the U.S. higher ed system?
BS: Yes, we can learn best practices from each other. My colleague from Stellenbosch and I recently presented at the International Conference on the First-Year Experience on “Using the FYE As a Vehicle for Institutional Transformation: An African-American Perspective.” In addition, the universities in South Africa are being encouraged to become well integrated; yet they’re struggling to attract high-quality Black academics. Another big issue they’re dealing with is how to produce the highly skilled people that they’ll need to play a role in their growing economy. They have a lack of skilled people in the math and sciences.
DI: What do you see as the top challenges facing universities in South Africa?
BS: Diversity is a critical concern of higher education in South Africa, and universities struggle with the mandate to serve previously underrepresented and denied populations. Progress is being made, and ever-increasing numbers of different kinds of students faced with different kinds of needs are streaming into the universities.
At the same time, the universities have an obligation to create a campus culture and environment that is committed to accommodate these varied students and their needs. The need is to be concerned, not just with access, but with meaningful access.
DI: What’s next for you?
BS: From the South African experience, Stellenbosch University is going to take the lead on developing a national conclave on the first-year experience. Also, a group of U.S. college presidents are going to meet Sept. 23-27, 2007, in Sundance to discuss the best practices in ethical leadership at U.S. universities and the lessons we learned as presidents that can be helpful to universities worldwide. And next year in South Africa we want to meet with their country’s education leaders to discuss global ethical leadership and social responsibility for the common good.
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