By Carl Creasman, President, Collegewide Faculty Association
Recently, I led my last Faculty Council meeting as your president. It was a wonderful time engaging with our current work, reviewing outstanding efforts still ongoing and then, handing the gavel to Suzette Dohaney, professor of speech. She, along with Neal Phillips, professor of English, will take the helm and lead us through summer 2016.
This has been a wonderful year, at least to me, and I have enjoyed working alongside each of you. People have asked about my takeaways from the year, and there are a few things, but one that really stands out is just how much work, energy and activity goes on throughout the College.
I’ve tried to highlight the good work of many of you, but that has only scratched the surface. When we’ve asked for volunteers, you put your name forward. We have more than 130 different faculty members working on various collegewide work groups, and that’s not counting people involved in work on their campus, in their division or for their discipline. We have a great team of peers in our Association, eagerly hard at work, with our common aim of student success. And yet, it is clear that landscape in which we do our work is changing, in deep and perhaps disruptive ways.
It was in 2011 that I first began to realize my own discomfort with this transformation. For the previous six months or so, I had felt a level of frustration and discontent as never before. I was unhappy with my students, frustrated with leaders in the College, annoyed with relationships and overall upset at myself and within myself. And, worse, I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t like the person I was becoming.
Then, I realized what was causing my discontent. The world had changed. I simply hadn’t noticed. In fact, the way I said it to myself and then to others, was even starker; it was as if I had woken up to discover that I had been whisked away to another planet. Everything was different here. While I could still breathe the air, at every juncture of my life, especially in how I processed life compared to others, it was starkly clear that I was no longer in a familiar culture or world. I wasn’t on my planet; everything had changed.
I even constructed a long list of things or moments that made it clear to me, for example, on my planet, people read for comprehension, particularly obvious in the realm of instructions. Everything came with instructions in the world that I grew up in, but here, on this new planet, that isn’t the case. Either it’s pictorial, à la Ikea, or its extremely truncated as to be unhelpful, at least if looking for deep knowledge, for example, Apple’s iPod/iPad/iPhone little “instructional booklet.”
The realization was that if I continued to create written instructions, placed in a deep document like a syllabus or even for graded assignments, then my own frustration would remain high as students would continue to not comprehend and thus not do well. Since, I can’t force them to fly back to my planet, I realized that I must change how I do things in order to survive on this planet.
Since then, while I may not always like the things I have found “on this planet,” I am more content as I now realize how best to approach my work. That is critical, I believe, in order to best confront the forces that wish to bring even more change to our work. To me, in that changed world, there are groups, people, research institutes, citizens and government leaders, usually outsiders to our work, who are determined to bring alteration. A new level of scrutiny has come our way, and the evidence is clear that this focus is not going away.
We’ve seen it here in spades, whether in demands to create common course outcomes, change how we choose our instructional materials or forced changes to both developmental education and general education. One could claim the effort is to redefine what we do and then measure us on that new definition.
To meet this challenge, I believe we do best when we openly invite scrutiny, and confident in our own pursuit of excellence, claim our right to suggest and implement our own changes for these times. Moreover, as we confront ideas of change, it is critical that we continue to seek excellence in our work as professors in order to best earn the right to be heard as we engage others ideas about education.
During my time as the faculty president for East Campus, we passed a statement of “Good Practice” that reflects these ideas, with simple notions, such as valuing good communication strategies with our students, being quick and consistent with our feedback on assessments, treating all with respect and even what should be obvious, like coming to the class on time.
While we may think these are so clear as to not need mentioning, if you listen to the outside public, their perspective of us indicates that we aren’t necessarily doing as well as we think. If we hope to have a platform to suggest our own changes to things like general education or choosing the best textbook, we must have a level of professional excellence that can stand scrutiny.
Other ideas I shared with the Council include the following:
- We must cease or limit internal struggles between the administrators and ourselves. We simply must pull together more; they too care greatly about student success.
- With the changes in our culture, we must maintain an openness to change in terms of technology, especially within our pedagogy.
- I worry that the administrative side of the house faces issues of bloat with perhaps too many people being hired in administrative roles.
- Morale issues continue, in my opinion, most often related to personal financial concerns of making ends meet and as a result, a continued concern for appropriate salary changes is critical.
- Further, equity issues for our adjuncts and non-tenured, full time, annual contract professors exist, including concerns regarding how they are treated at the College.
Let us continue to pull together, remembering that together we are “The Association.” It is all of us. Every tenured, tenured-track and annual contract professor who works here IS the Association. The work of the Association is every type of work that is constantly ongoing throughout the College. We are all engaged in fulfilling our common mission, student learning.
Stay connected to the information sent. Check your email often and engage in the conversation. We are stronger when more are involved. Take the role of representative seriously, whether you are the one representing the rest of us, or you are wishing to know more about the work. Reach out to those reps, whether a Curriculum Committee member or someone on a short-term work group.
Our work isn’t complete and probably never will be. Even in a “Year of Reflection,” we have many tasks ongoing. I hope you read through the rest of the Faculty Insight to see the review of the work currently underway.
Thank you for working alongside me this year. It’s been a blast. I look forward to more chances to partner with you in future work.