Learning Council Revisits Priorities, Discusses Equity

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Learning Council met on Thursday, September 3, 2020, via Zoom. John Niss, professor of mathematics and now interim executive dean of the Winter Park campus, kicked off the meeting by requesting that the Council vote on commissioning a standing committee on instructional materials. The formation of this group was one of the recommendations of the Instructional Materials Committee he co-led with Linda Neal, dean of communications. It was approved unanimously.

Isis Artze-Vega, vice president, academic affairs and Learning Council co-chair, thanked John for serving as her co-chair during the last academic year. Several council members jumped in to describe what they had appreciated about John’s leadership — from his candor and deep knowledge of the organization to his wit and discernment. Vasudha Sharma, professor, chemistry, put it this way: “John is a source of limitless wisdom.”

The council then welcomed its new co-chair, Stanton Reed, professor, business/accounting and past president and interim president, Collegewide Faculty Association.

Revisiting Learning Council Priorities 

The first agenda item entailed re-visiting the fall priorities that were determined during the May meeting and was facilitated by Katie Tagye, director, organizational design and development. The individual efforts in question were the Academic Integrity Committee, the focused-inquiry team on course attendance and withdrawal, and the Start Right: Late Start work team.

Wendi Dew, assistant vice president for teaching and learning, shared that faculty representation requests for the Academic Integrity Committee would be reviewed by Faculty Council during the Thursday, September 10, 2020 meeting. She also assured the council that the committee would explicitly consider the role of racial equity in the College’s academic integrity processes and explore data to identify any racialized patterns.

With respect to the focused-inquiry team on course attendance and withdrawal, council members noted that Instructional Affairs Committee planned to discuss contradictory language in the Academic Dishonesty and Withdrawal Policies in the September meeting, following an earlier review of this matter with Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Bill Mullowney. In terms of timing, Brandon McKelvey, vice president of analytics and planning, suggested that we wait until mid-October to revisit this focused-inquiry team. And Executive Vice President and Provost Kathleen Plinske shared that, in the meantime, the Academic Integrity Committee could explore the specific contradiction within the academic dishonesty and the attendance policies.

The group determined that a helpful next step for the Start Right: Late Start focused-inquiry team is for Isis to connect with group Co-chair and Campus Director of Advising Evelyn Lora-Santos to determine her capacity to continue the work and share her thoughts on an appropriate timeline.

Supporting the Impact Planning Process 

The discussion then shifted to the fall impact planning process and how the Learning Council might best support this work. Kathleen and Brandon described the Impact Plan meetings and surveys, and their intended goals. They also reminded the council that institutional plans will be developed in the spring, including a Learning Plan and an Equity Plan, such that the Learning Council’s fall efforts may help lay the groundwork for these plans and should connect directly with the Learning Plan, in particular.

The Council’s Equity Journey Continues

To begin this portion of the meeting, the group debriefed the July Learning Council meeting, which had been devoted entirely to the topic of racial equity. Leonard Bass, campus dean, learning support, shared that he was struck by one of the principles that had emerged — specifically, that we will not wait for students to fully articulate their needs before taking actions to advance equity. Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Richardson mentioned the human element of the ideas shared in July; notably, our commitment to sharing without shaming, and indicated that we need to preserve this as we continue to move forward.

Next, Stanton facilitated a discussion of the article “Faculty Accountability for Culturally Inclusive Pedagogy and Curricula” by Shaun Harper and Stephen Quaye, which had been shared as meeting prework.

Key ideas shared included:

  • The work will take patience and understanding; it’s going to take time for students and faculty to grapple with the fact that their own education is being questioned;
  • We should use structures we already have in place to advance this work (e.g. Peer Review, Faculty Professional Development, TLA processes);
  • The burden should not be just on the faculty; and
  • Some disciplines may manage this more easily than others.

The group then turned its attention to the evolving focused-inquiry team proposal on equity-minded practice, which had been updated based on the feedback shared in July. After a bit of discussion on which roles should be represented in the focused-inquiry team, there was a strong consensus for the updated version, and the group agreed that the next step is to send out the call for participants.

During the last part of the meeting, Wendi facilitated a conversation on how the Learning Council might advance equity definitions and language, a longstanding discussion topic. Wendi drew on Ibram Kendi’s work to describe why we must be clear and have shared meaning/a shared understanding of key terms, particularly as we work toward the Equity Plan to be developed in the spring.

Among the ideas shared were the relationship between precise language and accountability and the recognition that our language will change over time. As a Council, we will review our work plan templates and be much more intentional in our own language use. In addition to our own continued work in this area, we will ask the focused-inquiry team to consider language and definitions within the literature they explore that might be helpful to this conversation.

Finally, Stanton informed the council on #ScholarStrike, scheduled for the following week, an invitation to engage in purposeful, professional and personal development, expressions of our commitment to supporting Black Lives Matter and protests against police violence, racialized violence, racism and white supremacy.

In October, the council will welcome new faculty and staff members and continue discussing Kendi’s book “How to be an Antiracist.”

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