Page 9 - 2012 Lycoming Summer Magazine

Dr. Phil Sprunger transitions
into the role of provost
New challenges
For Sprunger, who has spent nearly 20
years in the classroom at Lycoming, the
administrative move has brought a mixed
bag of challenges. The biggest, he says, is
that he is now in an active and influential
position for filling a variety of faculty
positions on campus. While it’s important
to have qualified people on the job, he
acknowledges that the key is recruiting
well in the first place and then serving as a
mentor, either directly or indirectly.
He also has had to learn new time
management skills. Gone are the larger
blocks of time he became accustomed to
as a professor, as he now finds himself
multitasking and shifting gears on an
hourly basis.
And he is fully embracing his newfound
role as one of the campus’ primary
I have to often try to do troubleshoot-
ing and find creative ways of solving
problems that other people have found dif-
ficult,” Sprunger said. “If there were simple
solutions, they wouldn’t be in my office. A
lot of what I do is problem-solving, and I
enjoy that because most resolutions don’t
just happen – you have to work on them.”
While Sprunger is adjusting quite well
to the demands of his position, he is quick
to point out that his new livelihood also has
given him a unique opportunity.
As provost, one part of the job that
I’ve enjoyed is that it’s a college-wide
position,” Sprunger said. “I’ve been able to
interact more with students from a broader
variety of majors and interests than I used
to as an economics professor. That’s been a
refreshing change.”
As the chief academic administrator,
Sprunger is charged with oversight of
curricular and instructional affairs and
supervision of the faculty, all in support
of the College’s mission. He’s had a leg
up on the ever-important role of building
relationships with the faculty, because
many of those relationships were forged
through years of working side-by-side with
his colleagues in the Academic Center and
elsewhere on campus.
Those relationships that I built among
the faculty made my transition easier
and now give me some insight into our
programs as well as their challenges and
issues,” Sprunger said. “I think faculty
members approach me knowing that I’m
someone who understands where they’re
coming from. I thought there’d be a
greater transition than there actually has
been. I do wear a lot more ties now, so I
look much different than I used to.”
Internal examination
At the forefront of Sprunger’s to-do list
is guiding the College’s “blueprint com-
mittee,” which consists of a representa-
tive from each academic department. The
group is tasked with carefully examining
Lycoming’s course distribution system
and related graduation requirements.
The committee has already begun
to look at how the system fits into the
College’s vision for education. This fall,
it will begin reviewing the distribution
or general education programs at other
private, liberal arts colleges to see
where Lycoming is doing well and
where it might want to make minor
or significant adjustments. Once that
process is completed, the committee
will draft a general blueprint for the
graduation requirements. The following
year, a smaller committee will take that
blueprint and develop a detailed proposal.
Ultimately, the faculty and board of
trustees will have to approve it before any
change is implemented.
Sprunger says Lycoming’s current
distribution system is fairly traditional and
very flexible and that there are not a lot
of specific courses a student must take;
English composition is the only required
course. All others are part of a group that
students can choose from based on their
interests and talents.
The idea of the program currently, and
I expect into the future, is that in addition
to the major, where students are focusing
on a particular subject, the distribution
system requires them to distribute the
courses that they take across a broad array
of disciplines and areas of study. Math
majors have to take courses in the hu-
manities and fine arts. And fine arts majors
have to take courses in math, while busi-
ness majors have to take courses in all of
those areas. We want everyone to build a
broad base, because you never know what
area you’re going to need later in life.”
Embracing human interaction
New technologies are continually
emerging on campuses across the country.
As a result, the standard of a professor
lecturing behind a podium is fading
away. Printed textbooks are fighting for
survival as classrooms become much more
interactive. But even with these changes,
Sprunger believes the host of benefits
associated with attending a private,
residential college will never die. While
the burgeoning information technology
world will continue to play a major role
in the ongoing learning process, he says
it’s paramount that students have the
opportunity to mix technology with human
Is the future where students will just
go home and sit in their parents’ basement
after high school and spend four years
taking online courses and come out a well-
rounded and well-educated person? I don’t
think so,” Sprunger said.
He strongly believes that for students to
successfully transition into the workplace
and the world around them, they must
learn to interact with others. There has
to be that “back and forth and back and
forth relationship,” which is developed
through activities such as living with
fellow students on campus, being involved
in clubs and organizations, participating in
varsity athletics and having the opportunity
to play ultimate Frisbee on the quad in
between classes. These types of actions, he
says, recharge the batteries.
The residential experience, the fact
that everyone is in one place, allows
people to move from activity to activity,”
Sprunger said. “You can move from
those activities in a way that could never
be achieved in an all-electronic world.
Electronics are going to open a lot of doors
for us learning-wise, and we will certainly
embrace them, but an all-electronic based
education can never replicate the full
experience that you get at a residential
college such as Lycoming.”