President forms five-step strategy for improvement

by Frankie Olito / Beacon Staff • September 20, 2012

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Pelton said his goal is to make Emerson the leading college in communication and the arts.
Pelton said his goal is to make Emerson the leading college in communication and the arts.

President M. Lee Pelton said he will push to make Emerson the leading college in communications and the arts by enacting a five-step process, focusing on academics, innovation, global relevance, civic engagement, and finances during his inaugural address last Friday. 

Pelton’s speech to over 200 audience members and 76 delegates from colleges and universities around the world in the Cutler Majestic Theatre focused on his plan and changes he wishes to implement. Pelton is the 12th president of Emerson College and the first African American to fill the role. 

“It’s as if there is something in Emerson’s metabolism to change and evolve and then to change and evolve again,” Pelton said in his speech. 

Pelton said part of his plan for innovation is to create a more extensive online course curriculum in partnership with the Berklee College of Music. 

Emerson currently offers eight online courses, three of which can be taken for credit. For two years, the college offered Novel into Film, Dress Codes: American Clothes in the 20th Century, and Speech and Language Disorders Across the Life Span online, according to Hank Zappala, executive director of the department of professional studies and special programs. Berklee has a 10-year-old online course platform which offers over 150 courses to students, according to Pelton.

Pelton said the EdX program, an online instruction system including Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California, Berkeley, is the most notable type of online course platform. Emerson will use EdX’s model for a humanities and the arts, communication, and music curriculum, according to Pelton. 

“We’re at a tipping point in using technology to deliver instruction,” Pelton said in an interview. 

Current faculty and new part-time faculty will instruct the online courses. 

“We [Berklee and Emerson] will be a leader in providing online instruction in the humanities,” Pelton said.

Linda Moore, vice president of         academic affairs, said the online courses will give more opportunities to students.

“The new online approach is important for those who do not have an opportunity to formally enroll in an undergraduate degree at Emerson,” Moore said. 

Pelton said he plans to make an Office of Enterprise Development and Innovation that will create different sources of revenue and a creative laboratory so students and faculty can develop new ideas and products. He said he hopes to increase Emerson’s finances by designing a fundraising campaign and raising the school’s endowment by 50 percent. 

To increase Emerson’s global presence, Pelton said he will create an Office of Internationalization of Global Engagement. The office will work with universities around the world for program partnerships and research. 

“Our graduates  — wherever they live  — will encounter the increasing diversity of these United States,” he said.

Pelton said he also wants to replace and redesign the Institute for Liberal Arts & Interdisciplinary Studies. 

“The goal of this process will be to make clear that interdisciplinary studies are not the province of a dedicated few, but rather a common good to be encouraged, represented, and supported with institutional resources in all departments and across the entire curriculum,” he said.

Along with a stronger global presence and academic reform, Pelton said he wants to increase civility in Boston with the new Elma Louis Center for Civic Engagement and Learning, named after an Emerson alumna who was known for her work within the arts. 

The center will bring current civic engagement programs at the college together and create partnerships with the community, according to Pelton’s speech.

In an interview, Pelton said he has been thinking for a year about the plan he outlined, but the five steps came into place this summer.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick briefly spoke to the audience before Pelton’s address, stating that he and the president have known each other for many years. 

“You don’t know just how good you got it,” Patrick said. “I look forward to working with him to lift Emerson College to even greater heights.”

Throughout the address students and faculty shared reactions and photos of the event on Twitter, making #Pelton2012 a trending topic on the website in Boston. 

Among the many speakers during the ceremony was Student Government Association President Tau Zaman.

“Students here are industrious, enterprising, and talented as are you,” Zaman said in his speech.

Pelton said this plan and his presidency is focused on the students.

“To the students — my students, our students — I wish, more than anything else, for you to make your own carols when you graduate,” Pelton said in his speech. “If you do, I promise you that the world will hear you, and having heard you, will be a better place for it.”


Xakota Espinoza, Beacon Staff, contributed to reporting.