Thursday, January 24, 2013

Whither? Wither?

Today we (the members of the Curriculum Review Task Force) offered the faculty their first plenary opportunity to share their views on the current CRTF proposal, in the form of a "faculty listening session." I joined my colleague Warren in making a few short remarks to lay out the context for the meeting, but said little else. As I put it at the meeting's outset, I truly wanted this to be what we claimed it to be: a faculty listening session.

I listened, and said little.

The sense I get from the faculty who did most of the speaking today was that they're profoundly dissatisfied with the plans we've drawn up. I'm chagrined by this, and more than a little frustrated. My chagrin and frustration don't stem so much from quality of the resulting proposal or the specific recommendations it makes; I admit that I'm not entirely happy with much of the proposal myself. (I think some of the recommendations, though offering efficiency and sustainability, are facile and reductionist and make too many assumptions about the nature of our students and faculty.) Rather, my chagrin and frustration stem from the failure of the process. I feel like the faculty who are objecting are objecting too late in the game for their objections to make any difference. One of my colleagues in political science expressed reservations so severe that if we were to follow his recommendations we would jettison the whole of what we've done for the past 22 months (yes, it's been that long) and start over again.

If such a move were to guarantee us a superior result, then so be it: I'm all for a process that yields an optimal product. But who would step up to take part in this process if we were to start it from scratch? Probably the same damned people (or a subset of them) who were involved in the process this first time around...and how would this change things? I doubt my dissatisfied friend would involve himself meaningfully in the groundbreaking discussions that got this process moving, that he would have spent the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of poring over data, comparing curricula, engaging in conversations with colleagues, drafting documents, etc. that I and many others involved in this process have done for the past nearly-two years. It's much easier to sit back and let someone else do the work and criticize it when they're nearly done than to get involved meaningfully early on and work to make the product a better one.

As I see it, there aren't many courses of action left to us here. Generally speaking...

1. We push on with our proposal and manage to make a few incremental moves, dropping the controversial components. In my view some of the proposed moves, even those with strong consensus, are steps back (I've blogged about some of my reservations in the past), and taken as a whole I don't think the incremental changes we would make would be all that salutary. I'm honestly not thrilled with putting our plan into action at this point.

2. We scrap it all and start again. In this case, as I said above, who'll involve themselves this time? I would volunteer myself to take part in good-faith discussions...but only if I could be assured that those discussions are indeed in good faith, and that something good will come of them. I don't know that such assurance could be given. It's not worth the gamble.

3. We scrap it all, period, and stick with what we've got. I think this is the course of action many of today's naysayers favor, given the conservative tone of many of their comments.

Yes, there I said it: I said the "c" word. So many of my colleagues would bristle to hear that word applied to them, but it's often so apt. There is, for instance, this pervasive belief that the Humanities Program as it exists now, that lumbering dinosaur, is the best model for interdisciplinary engagement we might ever devise. The true believers resist calls to rethink, reexamine, or rearrange the program; they resist attempts to embed more truly interdisciplinary material into it; they resist attempts to make it more sustainable. To hear one of my colleagues today you'd think that the Humanities Program is the only insurance we have that interdisciplinarity will survive on our campus, that if we remove but a single course requirement (that's all we're recommending, after all...we're not even dropping the course, just its requirement) from the sequence then we will all retreat into our dark, dank disciplinary silos and never again interact. As you might suspect from my tone here I have no interest, have never had any interest, in teaching in the Humanities Program...but I think I can safely say that I might offer myself as a model for interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching. I've chosen to make my career an interdisciplinary one; I've not been forced to by an artificial crop of courses. Honestly, I felt personally insulted by my colleague's comments.

But I digress.

So, whither? We'll see. We've got another few weeks during which faculty have been invited to give us their feedback. I honestly don't think we'll hear anything we've not heard before, and I think the more useful ideas we might hear will be drowned out in the sound and fury coming from the other side.

I should relax. It might not matter much in the end if the state legislature ends up forcing a uniform core curriculum on every last campus in the state's system.

And that's a story for another day.

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