Sunday, March 20, 2011


For the past two years I've served as Chair both of our university's Writing Intensive (WI) Subcommittee and of its Integrative Liberal Studies Oversight Committee (ILSOC; the body of which WI is a component). I was on WI for two years before chairing it, and during that time did a good deal of assessment and faculty development work for the body before coming to its head.

I've enjoyed all of this work: as anyone who reads this blog even casually (or anyone who's talked to me for more than a few minutes about my teaching) knows, I'm passionate about writing across the curriculum in all of its manifestations, and I consider myself duty-bound to evangelize and elegize.

I've enjoyed the work, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm tired of it. I'd estimate (if I had to pull a number or two out of a hat) that I've put an average of 5-7 hours a week towards WI during the past four years, and probably 3-5 hours a week towards ILSOC during the past two. This includes the summer months, for much of the assessment, faculty development, and reporting I've had to do for both bodies has taken place over the summer. In all this adds up to well over 1000 hours of work...and this is likely a conservative estimate.

I'll be rotating off of WI (my term is up) at the end of this academic year, and thus off of ILSOC, for it's my chairing of the former body that places me on the latter one in the first place. I've had a few good innings, and, to further that metaphor, I might say I've bowled several centuries. It's been fun.

What'll I be doing with my free time come next Fall, or even sooner? Lest you think I'll be languishing in a non-administrative lull, I might let you know that I've been placed on the "Curricular Sustainability" subcommittee of the latest chimerical beast dreamed up by our Provost and Faculty Senate Chair, the Curricular Review Task Force, or CRTF, for short.

To be clear: I volunteered to be on CRTF when the call went out a few weeks back. I even asked specifically to be placed on the subcommittee I've been placed on. (I'm delighted to find that several colleagues whom I respect deeply will be on the same subcommittee...many of whom have roughly my tenure, and many of whom I've worked with before.) I'm actually not complaining about this new assignment, as I believe it'll prove interesting, challenging, fulfilling, and (yes, I'm going to say it) fun.


...there's something wrong here.

The Curricular Sustainability Subcommittee (CSS..."cascading style sheet"?) will be tasked with mapping out a proposal to make our school's curriculum deliverable by the current faculty (read: "without the adjuncts we cannot at this time afford") without driving them insane or further abrading their already red, rubbed, and raw morale. Sounds simple enough, right? During the CRTF's organizational meeting this past Friday, I began jotting down a list of related issues as they came to me. One after another they came, a few here, a few there, all interlocking and interacting, one popping up as another is squeezed down, like the flesh of a bulbous balloon.

What's involved?

  • Class size
  • Number of classes
  • Frequency of class meetings
  • Physical space available for class meetings
  • Student enrollment
  • Funding supplied by students' tuition
  • "Down time" (release time and sabbatical...the latter now euphemistically called "professional development leave," and before that "off-campus scholarly assignment"; heaven forbid we call it "sabbatical": that would make us sound lazy!)
  • Comparability with other institutions' policies
  • Accounting of courses (cross-listing, "double-dipping," other accounting tricks)
  • Meaningful co-teaching and related pedagogical practices
  • Relation of our mission and goals to those of the UNC system as a whole
  • Time to perform research
  • Time to perform service to the department, university, and community
  • Use of technology (especially regarding distance learning and hybrid course designs)
  • Faculty development (cost of, and targets of)
  • Support for curricular development efforts, for faculty development in general
  • Reassessment of the roles of graders, UG teaching assistants, and other opportunities for student engagement in pedagogy
  • The university's identity and mission as a liberal arts institution
  • Et cetera
As some sample interpenetrations, working off of the unwritten (but widely stated, including over and over at this past Friday's meeting) aim of ensuring a 3-3 load:

Moving to a 3-3 load without the help of several dozen more faculty will lead to...larger class sizes, creating...greater demands for more (and more frequently unavailable) physical space, requiring...further renovations to existing physical structures, or perhaps extending hours during which regular courses are offered...unless...

...enrollment is forced downward, leading to...a decrease in the tuition monies available to fund the university's efforts across the board, raising...the school's dependence on other sources of funding...or, unless...

...a move is made to offer more and more online and hybrid online/face-to-face courses, for which...faculty will need more professional development (to better acquaint themselves with this pedagogical paradigm) and preparation time (you can teach an old dog new tricks, but not overnight), assuming we can all get over...the damage this move might do to the university's identity as a liberal arts institution, in which meaningful student-instructor engagement and student-led learning (undoubtedly harder to orchestrate from afar) are highly prized.

The astute reader will noticed that I've not yet followed up on the "something's wrong here" I threw out above.

In asking faculty to take on the job of resolving this and other equally immense issues involved with overhauling our curriculum, the administration is adding yet another duty to the already vertiginous tower of tasks it's performing (like QEP design and delivery, assessment for SACS, day-to-day operations of the Humanities, Arts and Ideas, Intensives, Clusters, and ILS Colloquia, and various and sundry other sickeningly corporatized bureaucratic functions). Faculty, most of whom are already teaching three or four increasingly large sections every semester, many of whom are facing increasingly great expectations for service and scholarship, are more and more frequently being asked to take on administrative roles.

Like it or not, we're being turned into quasi-administrators, all of us.

Halfway through Friday's CRTF meeting the question was raised: "well, once we've put all of our recommendations together, then what?" Clearly, as it stands, no single body will have the authority to make all of the changes we're likely to suggest; whatever the faculty can't do on an informal basis will have at least to go through Faculty Senate (or at least its subcommittee, the Academic Policy Committee), if not General Administration (GA) itself, far away in a semi-mythical place called Raleigh (a place where the public liberal arts university is not well-, if ever at all, understood). I imagined the scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, in which the ark is trundled off into the bowels of an immense warehouse, presumably never to be seen it would be with our report, no doubt: how many months would be wasted in trying to coordinate the several separate bodies whose work it would be to try to implement whatever suggestions we could come up with?

In a delightful moment of daydream, I thought: "Rebel. Revolt. Take over. Throw the Senate out, screw GA, and rewrite the rulebook, starting with page 1. If we've got the backing of the faculty as a whole [there are some 50 or 60 of us on CRTF, by the way], who's to stop us?" It was a childish thought, to be sure, but it was nice while it lasted.

Just minutes before the meeting on Friday I'd been sitting in the Math Lab working with Didi and Belle, two of my favorite new students this semester. They were working at trying to make their submission for the Calc II Integral Insanity miniproject more fiendish (the goal is to make as difficult an integral as possible, while still making it doable). We were trying to figure out how to build a reasonably challenging integration-by-parts problem backwards, through reverse engineering. I don't think any of the three of us had had much sleep this past week, and we were all slap-happy and silly as hell. Progress was slow, but I think we eventually got there.

It's moments like these that make me remember why I do what I do. I'm a teacher (and scholar) first, and an administrator second...distantly second. As important as WI, ILSOC, CRTF, and all of the other academic acronymic entities are in the abstract, there's nothing more important in concrete terms than making sure that a future mathematician understands induction, or that a future engineer or public health official knows how to analyze a simple mathematical model, or that I keep playing an active role in the generation of new knowledge, for my own sake and for my students'.

I can't lose sight of this.

No comments: