MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
Dear Members of the Koç University Community,
Every day as I go through the ‘Portal of Knowledge’ to arrive at my office, I think about the great opportunity that we have here at Koç University for shaping the brightest young minds of our country and our region. However, I also do worry as to whether we are creating the best environment for them to learn or whether we are teaching too much or whether our curriculum is too structured for Generation ‘Z’.
My view of university education is that it is an appointment or a rendezvous between generations. What we have at our university and others now is the ‘appointment’ of Generation X (Born before 1980s) with Generation Z (Born after 1995). The way the ‘teachers’ learned what they know is dramatically different from the way the ‘students’ are poised to learn or are ready to absorb. Technology is advancing rapidly, so much so that customized instruction tailored to individual students, based on their past histories of learning (or not), may soon become possible. So how important is the syllabus? Should there even be one? How much of university education should be based on departmental curricula?
As we cannot really know what lies ahead for Generation Z, in terms of lifestyles, job opportunities etc., it would seem that providing them a broadly based education is the only thing to do. Too much specialization at this stage may limit their opportunities in the medium or long run, even though some (maybe most?) potential employers may still prefer graduates who are specialized experts in their narrow areas.
It is in this context that our Liberal Arts Core program is such a crucially important part of what we do on this campus. The Core Program requires that each of our students must have at least one course in each of our seven ‘Knowledge Areas’, unless they already do so in the context of their own Department. The Knowledge Areas consist of Humanities, Social Sciences, Aesthetic & Interpretive Understanding, Economic & Strategic Analysis, Ethical Reasoning, Empirical & Quantitative Reasoning and Natural Sciences.
The underlying goals of the Core Program are to instill appreciation of ultimate unity of human knowledge, to foster interdisciplinary collaboration, to foster critical and analytical thinking, to equip students with ethical reasoning skills, to instill a culture of free inquiry and intellectual exploration without the limitations of vocational concerns, to serve as a bridge between university and society, to instill appreciation of the artistic and cultural heritage of Turkey and the World, to facilitate and encourage collaboration with individuals from diverse backgrounds and to empower students as effective leaders & communicators. These are mighty high goals indeed, but I believe this core program differentiates our graduates from their counterparts who mostly receive a narrower education, limited to their own disciplines.
The interdisciplinary excellence at Koç University of all of our Colleges and Departments also allows our students to broaden their education by exploring their wants & wishes in areas well outside their own. We are pleased to observe that a truly remarkable 20% of our students are doing double-majors, constituting almost half of all students with a GPA>2.8, as required by YÖK (Council of Higher Education). It is especially pleasing to see students double-majoring in areas that are ‘orthogonal’ to one another.
Furthermore, providing a broadly based education to our students requires a different approach to teaching; it is clear that the days of one generation ‘teaching what they know’ to the next are long over. It is now time to learn & teach together with our students so that we can maximize the dialogue among the generations in this ‘appointment’ of ours, for the benefit of both generations. Surely, there should be some syllabi and curricula to guide the flow of our appointment days during the Semester, but I would wish that the communication in our classes are more and more in the form of a two-way dialogue rather than a one-way delivery.
The incredible richness and diversity of teaching/learning on our campus is further enriched by the fact that most of our faculty members have had international experiences at some point in their careers and many of our students take advantage of diverse range of exchange programs that we offer. In addition to many partner schools in the Americas and Europe, we are the first university in Turkey that has established partnerships with several universities in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and India. It is important that our faculty and students do not just look to the west but that they also have an appreciation of the east, with its rapidly rising importance in the world. In this connection, we are proud to have formed one of the first Centers for Asian Studies in Turkey (KUASIA)
Internationalization is so important for us that we are launching a new Strategic Internationalization Plan, representing a more aggressive, focused and highly ambitious effort based on key performance indicators, that I believe can elevate our institution and its faculty and students to a substantially higher level globally.
Our plan will help us improve the quality of our academic programs, the impact of our research and the standing of our university amongst the best in the world. We expect all our colleges, graduate schools, senior management and key administrative units to collectively undertake a coordinated effort to ensure that by 2020: (i) more of our students have a meaningful international experience by the time they graduate and have classmates and professors from many different countries around the world, (ii) more of our faculty members engage in rich exchange with colleagues from key regions such as Asia and (iii) our international community feels truly integrated on campus.
You will see more information in the coming months about this plan and I invite you all to play a part in making this a reality from your respective roles.
February 25th is the 21st anniversary of the passing away of the Founder of our university, the late Vehbi Koç. He was at the same time an incredibly successful business leader, an outstanding philanthropist and a visionary person who, above all else, loved and believed in his country. Even during the hardest times, he said 'he exists if his country exists' and continued investing and working hard on his projects. Every time I lift my head from my monitor, I see his portrait on my wall and I cannot help wondering whether we are doing justice to his vision and his tremendous investment in our university. I strongly believe we indeed are and that he would be very proud of us if he were with us. Nevertheless, 'what he would think of us' should always be our key measure of success as we try our hardest to excel in education and science.
In closing, I would like to briefly refer to my January Newsletter, in which I raised the question as to why the building that houses the Student Center is not completely parallel to the library building? In case you are curious, I refer you to Piazza San Marco in Venice.
My best wishes and regards to you all,