By Elizabeth Walztoni, Editor-in-chief
After Dr. Stephen Barrows’ abrupt departure from the college for a position at the Acton Institute in late 2019, a nationwide search brought Dr. Stephen Germic, formerly of Rocky Mountain College, to Aquinas. He hoped to return to Michigan and enter another small college where it was possible to have close community relationships.
Germic emphasized that his role is not to command the faculty. He approaches the position collaboratively, and has focused on getting to know professors and the curriculum personally. “Coronavirus added some urgency,” he said.
However, the fall semester has “exceeded my best-case scenario,” Dr. Germic said. As many other colleges shut down or transition to fully online learning, Aquinas has remained open for six weeks as of this article’s publishing time. Germic attributes the success to what he calls the “quality of the people and the college.”
Germic began some work with the college in April, though his position technically began on July 1. He said that more than half of this time was devoted to the management of “COVID-related circumstances,” though he came on board when much of the plan was already developed by leadership and faculty at the college. For example, a number of Aquinas’ policies are more generous than those of other colleges: students and faculty can request to do their courses remotely without having to pass an investigation [like at the University of Michigan]. These remote accommodation options were not developed by Germic alone but the Academic AQ Opens Committee, a subcommittee of the general AQ Opens Committee.
The body of this plan was the college’s initial COVID-19 response plan, which was then built out in anticipation of the fall. The hybrid model is one that Germic believes is being executed as well as it can be.
Outside of pandemic response, Germic said his goals center on “growing the institution towards greater sustainability and ultimately long-term prosperity.” The specifics of what this may look like is not up to him alone, however. “The nature of a provost position is always collaborative, working with the faculty,” he said. “The faculty are the ones who control the curriculum, as it should be.”
This is his primary goal because “all small colleges are under fairly intense pressure to attract more students and keep the students,” much of which depends on the college’s academic offerings. There is some danger in trying to be or do too many things at once, which creates a need to review the number of academic offerings.
This could involve exploring Aquinas’ unique strengths: For example, its location near downtown Grand Rapids and its close relationship with the University of Detroit Mercy’s nursing program may provide more opportunities in pre-health and health science education.
The college’s graduate programs may be revisited as well, particularly its master’s in counseling. These could be developed into what Germic calls “destination programs” that attract specific students. However, any changes would ultimately be made by the faculty, not the provost.
The goal of any changes to the curriculum would be, in Germic’s eyes, strengthening the curriculum and student experiences.
“We need to work together to build an academic program that serves our traditions, preserves our present faculty, and also prepares us for the future,” Germic said. “That might mean a combination of trimming majors but not programs, maybe focusing on some high-demand opportunities, in particular new majors or modified majors.”