Porter, outgoing GSE dean, renewed focus on research
Porter drew criticism over a 2012 scandal involving a vice dean's falsified credentials
April 17, 2014, 10:25 pm · Updated April 22, 2014, 12:19 pm·
Yolanda Chen | DP
Andrew Porter , the outgoing dean of the Graduate School of Education, will leave behind a legacy of increased emphasis on research and innovation.
Porter, who will step down in December after serving as dean since 2007, made several changes during his tenure to faculty and the admissions process that have changed the culture of GSE.
Porter’s initial strategy to encourage research — which had worked for him in past positions — was to “talk to people with talent, get them excited and help them find resources and support,” he said. He pushed for faculty to pursue research funding, but he “couldn’t get them interested.” So he turned his focus to hiring new people who were. All of the five new professors Porter has hired in the last two years have submitted research proposals.
“We have not been as successful as I thought we would be,” Porter said in an interview in his office two weeks ago. “I would give myself a C,” he added, in terms of results from a push for research funding.
“But we’re going to do better,” he said. Porter expects GSE’s research to expand in years to come as a result of the changes to the faculty.
Ed Boe , co-director at the Center for Research and Evaluation in Social Policy , identified Porter’s “most important achievement” as “leav[ing] behind a more highly qualified faculty.” Porter observed that he has hired 40 percent of GSE’s current faculty. Boe said the changes will have a long-lasting impact because faculty have “a more enduring academic life” than administrators.
Porter has also made efforts to support research amongst existing faculty in the school, particularly in terms of technical support for grant funding, Marybeth Gasman, director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions , said in an email.
Porter hired a professional editor to facilitate grant-writing — a “really valuable” addition, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Stanton Wortham said.
Porter has “really pushed” for writing grants and publishing, adjunct professor Herbert Turner said. The consequent “strengthening of the research agenda” has led GSE along a “path of growth,” he added.
GSE has opened three new research centers in the last year, including Gasman’s Minority Serving Institution Center and professor Shaun Harper ’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.
Porter does have “one big thing” which he regrets during his tenure, however.
In 2012, it was made public that former GSE Vice Dean Doug Lynch had made false claims about possessing a doctoral degree he hadn’t yet completed. Porter became aware of this on March 2, 2012, but did not initially remove Lynch from his position until a Philadelphia Inquirer article brought the issue to significant attention on April 26, 2012.
Many people were dissatisfied with the handling of the situation. One faculty member was concerned that “[Porter’s] version of what academic integrity means seems to differ from a lot of the faculty,” according to a Daily Pennsylvanian article at the time.
“My mistake was that I thought it was forgivable,” said Porter. “I said, ‘Well, OK, your job doesn’t require you to have this degree, we’ll take back your pay and make it all right. ... I should have known that at a university [lying about a degree] is the kiss of death.” After the controversy gained substantial attention, Lynch resigned.
Several faculty members declined to comment at all on Porter’s time as dean for this article, and others declined to comment on the Lynch controversy. But on the whole, the majority of GSE faculty interviewed seemed not to consider the issue as having a long-standing impact.
It was “basically a hiccup,” said Joni Finney , practice professor and director of Institute for Research on Higher Education. “A lot of things were indiscreet,” she added, but she emphasized “the importance of judging the legacy overall.”
“I am in no way happy about the way it happened on all fronts,” said professor Susan Yoon , but “I don’t necessarily want to put it on Andy.” It was “an unfortunate event that could have been handled differently, but we’re not privy to all variables,” she explained. “Andy learned from it.”
Ultimately, Porter said the Lynch controversy was “a big event for a short time.”
“I don’t think it had any influence on my deanship,” said Porter, explaining that the standards he hoped to achieve have been met.
Porter repeatedly emphasized setting standards for the school. During his seven years as dean, the school’s ranking has risen from 11th to 7th place in the U.S. News and World Report graduate school rankings. Alongside the rankings, faculty have noted an increase in the quality of students attending the school. “Every year the students just get better,” said Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs Lois MacNamera.
Prestige and quality are a “chicken and egg” phenomenon, said Executive Director of Academic Innovation Bobbi Kurshan. In addition to the rankings increase, changes Porter made have helped attract students to the school — GSE typically sees between 500 and 600 applications per year for 18 spots and has a yield rate of 75 percent.
Porter increased doctorate student support from three to four years and added summer financial aid. He took “a risk” that “could have had big financial consequences,” said Wortham, but it has paid off.
Porter also removed the application fee and introduced an opportunity for faculty and prospective students to meet. Every February, about 40 of the year’s top Ph.D. applicants to GSE — roughly double the number of spaces available — are invited for a fully funded visit to Penn. “It enables us to get to know them and them to get to know us,” Porter said.
The weekend has “made a world of difference,” Yoon said. It’s a way “to understand who you’re looking at really.”
Another defining feature of Porter’s legacy is the reconceptualization of Penn GSE’s degree programs, Boe said. Porter assisted the faculty’s clarification of the differences between the perceptions of Ph.D.’s — which focus on research — and Ed.D.’s — which emphasize practice. Before, the Ed.D. “was like a second-class Ph.D.,” Porter said. “Second-class doesn’t even belong at Penn.”
Under Porter’s deanship, the faculty reworked the curriculum to reaffirm the different skills each degree provides. Penn GSE is now “the only place that offers both degrees with a clear distinction,” Porter said.
Conceptualizing the roles of these degrees in this way is something “no previous dean had ever been able to pull off,” Boe said. It’s something which sets GSE apart, as the distinction is “not generally clear in other schools,” he added.
One key factor many faculty and staff agree on is the innovation Porter has brought to GSE. There are many “cutting edge” new programs, said MacNamera, such as the Chief Learning Officer doctoral program.
Porter has created a “climate ripe with optimism and growth,” said Annie McKee , a senior fellow and director of GSE’s Chief Learning Officer program. “[He has brought] all the things we need to be able to keep changing.”