A Winner of MacArthur Award Brought Liberal-Arts Education to Ghana

October 25, 2015

Liberal Arts in Ghana

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Patrick Awuah
When Patrick Awuah founded Ashesi University in his native country, Ghana, in 2002, he had a plan: Identify the nation’s future leaders, and give them a liberal-arts education. Classes started that March, with 27 students enrolled.

Over a decade after Ashesi opened its doors, Mr. Awuah was selected as a 2015 MacArthur fellow for his work at the institution. Awarded annually by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the fellowships include a $625,000 stipend, and they go to creative people in a range of fields. This year Mr. Awuah was the only leader of a higher-education institution to be recognized.

When Mr. Awuah was growing up in Ghana, he learned mostly by rote. He thought learning was the same as studying, he says — that it meant cramming facts, and then repeating them to a teacher. When he moved to the United States to study at Swarthmore, he was exposed to a liberal-arts curriculum for the first time.

"In kindergarten we were allowed to play and tinker with stuff, but after kindergarten my education didn’t really involve open-ended exploration," he says. "At Swarthmore, I could tinker."

Ashesi’s liberal-arts curriculum, which was designed in part by a group of American professors, is modeled on Swarthmore’s. So is Ashesi’s honor code: Students at Swarthmore complete closed-book take-home exams, a practice Mr. Awuah had never seen before coming to the United States.

"This was unheard of in Ghana, that students would be that trusted," says Mr. Awuah, who worked as a program manager at Microsoft in the United States before returning to Ghana. "It is extremely important in developing countries — where so few people get access to the highest levels of education — that those people who do are deeply ethical."

Today, just under 700 students are enrolled in Ashesi. Twenty-five percent of students don’t pay any tuition — normally around $11,000, including room and board — while another 25 percent get some form of financial aid, Mr. Awuah says. Almost all of Ashesi’s graduates are employed, in graduate school, or starting their own businesses within six months of graduation, the university’s Career Services Office reports.

Mr. Awuah thinks that ineffective leaders contribute to many of Ghana’s problems, and he hopes Ashesi will help change that. "Almost by definition," he says, "the people in the universities and colleges are going to be future leaders of the country." — Ellen Wexler

Further Disruption

After years of preaching "disruptive innovation" for higher education, one of the most visible proponents of the theory is going to try a little disrupting of his own. Michael B. Horn, a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, stepped down this month as director of its education program to begin working more directly with companies in the education market.

Mr. Horn will also become a principal consultant with Entangled Solutions, an arm of a San Francisco-based company that advises colleges on innovation strategies. "I want to make a deeper impact from the ground," he says.

In the new positions, he also hopes to continue to promote Mr. Christensen’s notions of disruption — which have come under increasing criticism — in a more hands-on way. He calls disruption a "theory of competition" that can help leaders better understand what’s happening around them.

The term has been "bastardized" by Silicon Valley and venture capitalists, and overused in higher education as well, says Mr. Horn, who was a student of Mr. Christensen’s at Harvard Business School in 2005. (Later the two became co-authors.) "Every newfangled thing that comes out is framed under that guise," he says.

But Mr. Horn insists that overuse hasn’t discredited the theory, which argues that established companies or organizations with high-priced offerings can lose out to competitors that take advantage of new technology, even if their products are of lower quality. Mr. Horn sees it as a useful way for colleges to understand the significance of developments like low-cost, competency-based degree programs offered by Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America. "That’s classic disruption," he says. "It looks unattractive to the mainstream."

The theory also helps explain how for-profit colleges attracted millions of nontraditional students through the convenience of distance education, he argues.

At Entangled, Mr. Horn will join the founder Paul Freedman and others, advising colleges on matters such as commercializing educational innovations developed by their faculty members and incorporating competency-based education into their program mix.

Julia Freeland Fisher, a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute, is the new director of education there. — Goldie Blumenstyk

Emphasis on Pediatrics

Danielle Laraque-Arena
Danielle Laraque-Arena had two seemingly contradictory reasons for wanting to lead State University of New York Upstate Medical University. First, she wanted to branch out from pediatrics and influence health care at a broader level. Second, she wanted health care at a broader level to focus more on pediatrics.

Dr. Laraque- Arena, who is currently chair of the pediatrics department at Maimonides Medical Center and a professor at Yeshiva University, will be the first female president of Upstate Medical. The university’s last permanent chief, David R. Smith, stepped down in 2013 amid questions over his compensation.

Dr. Laraque-Arena says her new position, which begins in January, is unusual because the university’s academic units, including the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Health Professions, and Graduate Studies, and its hospital are under the same leadership. "This kind of arrangement helps us learn how to align the academic mission with the health-care-delivery mission," she says.

Research shows that the "antecedents of adult health are in childhood," says Dr. Laraque-Arena, who was born in Haiti. So it is important for all medical professionals to consider an individual’s health across a life span, she says.

"There are adult professionals in medicine and nursing who do get that connection, but the way that we train and focus our services tends to be very segmented," she says. "If you have someone who focuses on adult care, it’s not clear that they’ll be looking at the environment and antecedents and childhood to give the best care."

Dr. Laraque-Arena plans to evaluate the curriculum to find ways to "have everyone in the same room" and develop a more integrative way of teaching medicine. She will bring in experts to judge the current success of the university and scout opportunities for further university-industry collaboration, such as with the Central New York Biotech Accelerator. She wants the institution to be "broad in our thinking, and specific in our actions." — Angela Chen

3 New University Chiefs

Ana Mari Cauce, who became interim president of the University of Washington in March, was named to the post permanently this month. A native of Cuba who grew up in Miami, she is the institution’s first female, first openly gay, and first Hispanic permanent chief.

Ms. Cauce was provost and executive vice president at the university before becoming interim chief. She succeeds Michael K. Young, who stayed in the post for less than four years before leaving to lead Texas A&M University.

People associated with the university had grown weary of turnover at the top as leaders were lured away for other jobs. Ms. Cauce, who joined Washington’s faculty as an assistant professor of psychology in 1986, says she plans to remain at the university until she retires. When she grew up, she said during a visit to The Chronicle, home was a longed-for, seemingly mythical place. "Home means something to me."

Two other major state universities have selected external candidates as their next leaders. Mississippi’s governing board for higher education this month named Jeffrey S. Vitter, provost and executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas, as its preferred candidate to be chancellor of the University of Mississippi. He will succeed Daniel W. Jones, who stepped down after losing board support for his continued leadership.

Mr. Vitter, a computer scientist, had also been one of three top candidates to be chancellor of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, but he withdrew. Last week Arkansas chose Joseph E. Steinmetz, Ohio State University’s executive vice president and provost since 2013, to fill that post.— Ruth Hammond

OBITUARY: Former Chancellor Dies

Karin Higgins
Larry N. Vanderhoef
Larry N. Vanderhoef, chancellor emeritus of the University of California at Davis, died on October 15 from complications of strokes. He was 74.

He led the institution as chancellor from 1994 to 2009, when he retired, though he remained active on campus as his health allowed and wrote a memoir that was published this year. He was the university’s provost and executive vice chancellor from 1984 to 1994.

Among the accomplishments during his tenure were the creation of the Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts on the main campus and the development of the UC Davis Health System on the Sacramento campus.

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