Faculty Governance Update — November 2021

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Message from Michael Robbins, President, Collegewide Faculty Association

Hello Valencia Faculty!

I always get into a reflective mood at the end of the semester. It starts around Thanksgiving, like clockwork.

I appreciate the cyclical nature of education; it invites an opportunity to think about ways to improve, and to really think about the practices that will most benefit student learning. I typically spend the end of November and most of December brooding at my desk, really contemplating what worked and what didn’t work, and then making plans to address those concerns. That might just be the training Valencia has ingrained in me: Be a reflective practitioner, assess and revise outcomes, think of best practices. After 12 years, reflection has become my default intellectual mood.

That reflective mood has gotten me thinking about faculty’s role in creating an equity-minded learning experience for our students. I genuinely believe in equity at colleges and universities. It’s helpful to frame this in the definition of equity that was created by our Developing Equity-Mindedness in the Employee Experience Work Team: “Every person is provided with the necessary resources and opportunities unique to their individual needs, resulting in fair and inclusive outcomes that eliminate imbalances of power.”

As an educator, I think I can strive to eliminate those imbalances of power. I know I’m not there yet — saying I am would be a false pretense, an effort to be equitable for appearances. Making changes requires me to really look at the conditions in my classroom, across multiple modalities, and to assess the outcomes in each assignment compared to all my students’ needs.

This requires all of us to be reflective practitioners. Change, of course, can be difficult. It requires us to approach our work from a place of inquiry, to borrow a phrase I frequently hear at Valencia. I often tell my students that the challenge of research is overcoming our inherent biases … the old adage that it takes only a sliver of evidence to confirm a value, but a mountain of evidence to change it. My most recent brooding is born from that concern, specifically considering how faculty may be able to engage in a difficult conversation about how to improve on current practices.

With this reflective mood in mind, I’ve recently asked the Faculty Council to start thinking about the work of our Equity Focused Inquiry Team. For those of you who are not aware, Valencia’s Learning Council convened a Focused Inquiry Team to “investigate the hypothesis that ‘students will benefit from intentional equity-minded pedagogical and curricular practices.’” That team developed our Equity Focused Inquiry Team Research Brief, a document that outlines some recommendations for equity-minded practices and indicators.

Full disclaimer: I participated in the curriculum sub-team for the Equity FIT work teams. But even if I hadn’t participated in the work, I’d still see a value in this document, one that I wanted to express to all of you. The recommendations presented are evidence-based practices that I sincerely believe will benefit our students.

Still, I was particularly intrigued by two areas the work team considered for future focus:

  1. Purpose and Scope of Faculty Work: Specifically, discussion of what inhibits us from engaging in equitable work, to borrow from the language in the brief.
  2. Fear of Disrupting Practice/Effectiveness/Student Understanding: That fear that we’ll get something wrong, or the discomfort inherent in these conversations.

I don’t yet have any specific recommendations on next steps. That’s part of that reflective practitioner model; we identify a need first, then develop an outcome, then implement, then assess. I do know that Valencia is developing data-driven conversations around equity, and that this brief is a good starting point to help incite thought and give us opportunity to question. I’ve asked the Faculty Council to review this document and to start thinking about how it will impact our role in the governance of the College and our role as faculty leaders.

I’m asking all of you to review the document too, and to start reflecting with me. How might we as a faculty engage in this work? What cognitive biases might we have that block us from having conversations around equity? I want us, as a faculty, to take some time to not just believe in these values, but to eventually practice them in our classroom. Our call is to review the document and to really think about what’s presented here. I know it’s uncomfortable work, but it’s necessary work, and work that aligns with Valencia’s core philosophy and mission.

I know this is asking a lot right before a holiday. Take your time — it’s a stressful time, and I’m not asking you to start making changes. I’m just asking that you start to sit (or stand, whatever makes you comfortable) and think with me.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me via email at mrobbins9@valenciacollege.edu.

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