Most college deans do not list tailgating on their professional resumes. But then again, Lewis-Clark State College Dean for the School of Professional Studies Fred Chilson is not the average dean. Beyond his colorful sport coats, extensive academic credentials, charming personality, and the leadership he provides at LC State, Chilson sets himself apart thanks to his penchant for out-of-the-ordinary research topics.
“My research has been in a variety of areas with things that interest me at the time,” Chilson says. “I think that it’s important that it’s fun because I want to enjoy myself while doing it, while also providing qualify information when I’m done with it.”
Chilson usually has a colleague helping with the research and together, they publish their results, usually collaborating on a book.
The most recent book was called “The Demallifcation of a Nation: The Death of American Shopping Malls.” The research focused on what is happening with shopping malls in the United States, especially with the increase in online purchases. The research shows there is a shift from the traditional concrete mall structures to a new two day delivery design.
“There is really a shift in cultural perspectives as far as what people go to enjoy at the mall,” he says. “Back in the day when I was a kid, you had arcades and those kind of things. And now we are shifting back to more of a downtown-type approach, more outdoors green spaces with things like grocery stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and activities for the children.
“These monster concrete structures that we created several years ago are going by the wayside. We looked at what they are doing with these malls as they sit vacant. One mall was turned into a homeless shelter with personal living quarter pods throughout the complex. We’ve seen them turned into condos and a many other things. It is actually quite intriguing the amount of money we’ve spent to build those things, and now we are just moving on to the next best thing.”
Chilson and his colleague recently presented their findings at Santa Monica College in California, and he says it was very interesting to hear student perspectives on the malls. “They have such a different mindset on malls than previous generations,” he says.
Chilson, however, also brings a different mindset to LC State. Hired in the summer of 2018 to fill the newly created dean position, which oversees the Business, Teacher Education, and Nursing & Health Sciences divisions, as well as the library.
“I love it,” he says about his job. “It’s awesome. My goal was to learn things over the first year. I realize that tends to be everyone’s original goal when they come into a position like this, but there are things you see and have to modify right away, or there is a direction change at the institutional level and you have to implement those changes and make sure they are done the right way.”
A key why he’s such a good fit is his experience with accreditation. The divisions that he oversees all must meet external academic standards and go through evaluations by various accreditation agencies. Accreditation is important because it determines if a division meets or exceeds minimum standards of quality. The findings of an accreditation can show both something that excels or where improvements must be made. The accreditation agency can also refuse to give accreditation to a division, which could put it in jeopardy. Colleges and universities that lose their overall accreditation will often close.
When a division or college goes through an accreditation, it must do a self-study, report the findings to the accrediting agency, host a site visit by the accrediting agency, receive and respond to the site visit report by the agency, and then review and update the assessment plan.
Chilson has been involved with accreditation for more than 14 years and currently is the Executive Chairman of the Board of International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE). That is the external accreditation program for the LCSC Business Division.
In his IACBE position, Chilson works with institutions around the world to both promote the organization and to help them with their outcome assessment plans in order for them to be accredited.
“I enjoy the networking opportunity,” Chilson says. “I’ve done more than 30 site visits all over the globe and work with institutions that aren’t accredited yet. I enjoy the opportunity to work with schools and see what they are doing, what’s new and innovative, and then have the opportunity to bring that back to our institution.”
Before he started at LCSC, Chilson went to various parts of Europe, including Spain, and also visited institutions in China.
“China is a very interesting country because it’s very political within the education system,” Chilson says. “It is really hard to get your foot in the door in China, but they really look up to the U.S. as far as educational processes go. It was a great opportunity to meet with a delegation and have that discussion about how do we continue to share our expertise and experience in outcome assessment accreditation with other institutions in China.”
Because a program or division needs to be accredited every 5-7 years depending on the accreditation agency, Chilson’s experience is valuable. LCSC is constantly going through some type of accreditation.
“Accreditation and outcomes are critically important because it ensures that we are providing the education to the student the way that we say we are, and that we can prove it,” Chilson says. “We have made some changes here that have been beneficial and makes us more efficient. I am fortunate that I work with such a great group and I look forward to coming to work every day.”
LCSC also has been very successful with its accreditations. The Business Division had its accreditation reaffirmed in 2017 after a yearlong process and received two commendations, one for its leadership role on campus and the other for its excellent strategic planning process. The Nursing & Health Sciences Division is currently going through an accreditation process with a site visit fall of 2020.
“I have stacks of projects that I’m working on, but a lot of them are efficiency things,” Chilson says. “We want to make changes that benefit everyone. But it truly comes down to the quality of education that we provide. We are not willing to sacrifice the quality. And I would put our programs up against anybody. Any of our programs.”
Chilson says he is starting to work on the next book because he tries to publish every 1-2 years. He didn’t do much with the book last year because he wanted to focus on his new position.
Chilson and his colleagues have published books on higher education as well. One book focused on how higher education has shifted some emphasis to creating partnerships with major corporations to provide income to the institutions. He says the research did produce some interesting results, especially with marketing successful athletic programs in the recruiting of new students.
“Universities and Colleges are still focused on education, but athletics has caused a bit of a shift in the decision making process when deciding what institution to attend. Students are now looking at the success of the athletic programs when making decisions of what school to attend. An example he used in class is brining up solid academic institutions such as Notre Dame. I would ask them, ‘What makes Notre Dame great? What are Notre Dame’s best academic programs?’ Students more often then not had no idea, but historically knew Notre Dame has a great history of football.”
Perhaps the book he had the most fun with was “The Subcultures of Tailgating,” which focused on athletic events. He and his colleague received a grant sponsored by the European Soccer League to study tailgating. Within the research collection he traveled across the world to attend tailgate parties to look at the cultural and financial perspectives. During the year long data collection, he went to seven college football bowl games, many college and professional football and baseball games, the Kentucky Derby, European soccer matches, and a NASCAR race. “We had a great time with that book,” he says, “it is quite amazing how people can become so affiliated with a team or institution”.
During his travels, Chilson also has been able to enjoy one of his favorite hobbies, skiing. He says he has a bucket list of places he has skied, and to complete the list, he needs to ski at a couple of places in the European Alps and South America.
“I enjoy going to new places, experiencing new cultures, and having new experiences,” he says. “I have been extremely fortunate in my life to have done the many things I have, and being able to share those with others, especially developing programs is what I am very proud of. “If we can help make other institutions better, especially those that historically have not had the same opportunities and standards that we take for granted in the U.S., then we are taking our responsibility to the betterment of our global society.”
One of his favorite new places is LC State.
“I have to say the people at LCSC are genuine,” he says. “I’ve just really enjoyed my time here and am looking forward to the future. The folks here are friendly and go out of their way to be helpful. Since I walked on campus my first day, I have felt a sense of belonging. Everyone is so collegial and I appreciate that because I have seen places where it’s not that way. I can absolutely see why people want to spend their whole careers here. It’s an amazing place.”