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Friday, October 24, 2008

Additional Reports on L.A. Roundtable

Below are posted for your convenience, mainly, two other reports of roundtable impressions/experience. These two have already gone around by email within the College, but perhaps you missed them. David Tucker's most excellent and complete report follows this entry. Additionally a great boggle of information was shared at the ASC meeting on 10/23 which may be reflected in the minutes when they are avaliable. Bloggy is hungry and would like other accounts from other perspicacious people, so please post them or send to

Account 1.

Preliminary reflections on the roundtable discussion:

Renee Heberle

If I were to offer an overview of what happened at the roundtable I’d summarize it by saying that the faculty there talked about what we have been doing and trying to do in and through the College of Arts and Sciences for as long as we’ve been around (whether for one year or for 20 years). We identified, sometimes quite bluntly, the obstacles and the opportunities we experienced, including those put out by administration but also those created by general institutional demands, workloads, and strangled resource flows.

I would identify the opportunity the roundtables offer, if any, as a model space for faculty to put on the table their particular perceptions, desires, and goals in a place where judgment was suspended and the facilitator was a fully neutral party—so “neutral” in fact that it did not seem necessary (to me anyhow) to hold back criticisms and challenges to the process or with reference to the situation we find ourselves in under the terms of the merger and the current administration.

The first evening was spent with Robert Zemsky offering back to us the Learning Alliance summary of predominant themes in our interviews, words and phrases that characterized sentiments of interviewees, and suggestions about how to proceed.

How to proceed was described using the analogy of climbing the mountain and making sure we are always climbing and not second-guessing, looking down, or worrying about “the holes in our backpacks.” When someone asked if the mountain was defined in advanced, Zemsky replied that we are inventing the mountain as we climb. One of the stipulated facts he insisted we not have any doubt about is that there was no hidden agenda on his part, he does not do work with administrations who have hidden agendas and that it is no skin off his nose what happens at UT, he and his team are here to help us identify some ideas, goals, plans, and to develop a common awareness of where we stand.

Words he listed as negative: neglected, self-important, uncertain, process oriented, incoherent.

As positive: diverse, student centered, scholarly, democratic, creative, interdisciplinary, dialectical, innovative, good outreach, undiscovered.

He also said that there is a strong sense of attachment of faculty to the College and to UT.

Other words that may be neutral or merely descriptive: complex, competitive, resistant, growth, instability, trust, shift away from Humanities.

Zemsky did comment that there were noticeably more negative words than anywhere else they had done roundtable in 15 years.

Stipulations that were made and repeated through the discussions: this is not an exercise in comparing us with other Colleges here at UT; splitting the College is not on the table; vocationalizing our educational mission is not on the table.

He first named our problem as a morale problem and was promptly challenged—we don’t have a “morale” problem. Our morale is a consequence of problems we’ve faced over the last ten years. Let us not take the consequence as the cause—we don’t have to fix our morale, we have to create a better environment in which strong morale can be a good possibility. It is material and structural issues we are up against, not “morale” problems.

A important theme that developed throughout the two days was that the College should come to be seen as a HUB of the University (as opposed to a service College, a last-chance major, or a remedial space for students to circulate until they can make it in other Colleges). It should be a DESTINATION OF CHOICE.

There was an enormous amount of discussion about the relationship between the University and the economic life of the region it serves. Many very profound things were said about not drawing one to one relationships between our efforts and job creation, or our projects and economic outcomes, or our efforts and whether the City of Toledo rises or falls.

Restructuring of the bureaucracy came up as well as the issue of being significantly underfunded.

Analogies of how to characterize our College: as family? (we protested that one), a public collaborative project (Zemsky’s summary of what was said), a community?

We need public spaces for discussion. The faculty “club” is no longer and nothing has replaced it. Could Council be such a space? Not as currently constituted.

The lack of any transparent hiring strategy was emphasized. That positions are continually lost to the College, absorbed by central administration, and re-allocated without any clear rationale is a problem for planning, for making decisions about renewal, tenure, and promotion (don’t be firing even inadequate faculty if you are going to lose the line…), and for developing any sense that curricular plans we make could possibly be realized.

Wednesday morning:
In response to a question of what has happened at other campuses where these roundtable were held Zemsky said it was mostly a matter of giving the participants a common language with which to describe their efforts, goals, issues, etc. to develop a “problem-solving” language, to develop a “sales” language about how the College understands itself and its role in the University.

There was a huge amount of discussion about the relationship between Toledo, its self-image and economic status, and University of Toledo as an “engine of economic development” or as a facilitator of success in rendering Toledo a healthier and more vibrant city. Is our success linked to the success of Toledo? The answer seemed to me for the most part to be “no”—we do what we do as a University and while it should be in relationship to Toledo and the region, it should not be determined by it. The excellent point was made that some of us see Toledo as a kind of laboratory for research, that we can study it, study the region, study the Great Lakes, study our context, and through that study perhaps have an impact on the self-understanding of the City. But we should not think about it as a cause and effect relationship—ie. UT transforms = Toledo recovers.

Mention was made of constant references at the state level to UT as the agent of change, the exemplary space wherein state planning for the University system may come to fruition in a real way (reference to the merger, etc).

If Arts and Sciences is to be foundational, a HUB in the University and a destination of choice, how are we going to deliver our education in ways that mark us out as having something unique and do what is necessary in light of the state strategic plan.

Discussion turned to the responsibility of the administration to raise the money and raise the profile of the University and the College effectively, so we can do our work. How much responsibility is at the door of the faculty and programs to do the recruitment, fund-raising, and community interaction work necessary to sustain a strong University? How much is on the administration? Is the administration doing too much administering (micromanaging) and not enough fund-raising, community work, or promotional work at the state level to advocate for the University and College?

The discussion of interdisciplinarity/integrative initiatives took up much of the time on Wednesday. Zemsky kept asking whether it is true, at least among those faculty, community and student representatives he was looking, that we wish to move toward being a more integrated, interdisciplinary College with more “functional flexibility” in how it is that faculty work together across departments, and particularly across the STEMM/Social Science/Humanities divides. The consensus each time he brought it up was that yes, we do agree, in that room, that this is where we should be headed. We knew not all faculty would agree, but that we thought it is a necessary developmental direction.

Core curriculum issues came up repeatedly in terms of how to deliver a more integrative education, to help students understand the educational experience they are being offered and are expected to flourish with at the University.

The point was made that students come from high school and they are “still going to school” – hence questioning the core requirements and not seeing the connections between what they think they are interested in and all we ask them to accomplish while here. “Getting an education” is different from “going to school” so we need to do a better job with students generally in the College, who are majors, but who are more than majors, helping them see what they are getting out of their four years here.

Faculty/administrative relationships were brought up intermittently, with reminders of where the impulse to hire the Learning Alliance came from (the awful situation with the Dean) and how it is happening in a context in which faculty are being “managed” and “administered” but not respected or treated as co-equals in the project of the University by this current administration. Zemsky suggested the language of “partnership” suggesting a “law firm model” in that we are co-equals, but that there is responsibility of all players to be “rainmen.” That the state spigot of funding is now more like a trickle, and that while the administration has to raise money, faculty have to get on board with finding alternative sources of funding and support as well.

The “impulse” toward interdisciplinarity: there were examples of good work and ideas being frustrated over and over again with instability in administrative priorities and a lack of transparency in funding priorities.

How to work with integrative/interdisciplinary approaches as a hallmark. “Functional flexibility”—that is, keeping the structure and missions of departments in place while creating spatial and resource access for functional relationships, collaborations, co-teaching, etc. to take place and be recognized for tenure and promotion purposes and by the University as part of its mission.

Our strengths include our ability to tap into students’ creativity, to help them make connections between unfamiliar things, to develop habits of critical thinking.

WAC came up as an example of an integrative effort that lost its funding and survives through the sheer tenacity of its current directory. Why would such a key program not have a budget???

The potential for affecting the lives of women and people of color and people with disabilities was described with reference to the impact of faculty and staff led efforts such as the “Take Back the Night” marches every year, one of the largest in the region—of the relationship with the Ability Center of Toledo and the presence if frustrating struggles to survive of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, the Africana Studies program, the LST program and the Disabilities Studies program. These are hallmark initiatives yet the feeling is that they are taken for granted—that they add tremendous value to the life of the community and to the University, providing a lifeline of recognition and possibilities for disempowered students and community members.

The point was made that the University, in particular the College of Arts and Sciences contributes to multiple “economies” – not only the “money economy” but to the moral economy, the aesthetic economy, the political and social economies, of the region. We should not limit our understanding of what makes life good and what kinds of goods we are “producing” through our work.

Zemsky asked how students are choosing the University and then how they are choosing the College.

He said that there are those students out there choosing among the “medallion” schools (Ivy league, etc) to be set aside for the moment. The bulk of students who are selecting a
College or university are doing so on the “mall model”—not seeing the substantive differences in terms of educational quality, but looking at the Universities as if they are consumers looking at Gap, then moving along to the Limited, then onto Sears, with little awareness of the how the stores are “really all the same” in terms of the criteria they were using (quality of the rec center, dorms, “student activities,” local club scene). They are choosing colleges and universities on the basis of causing the least disruption possible in their lives, not on the basis of what will provide them the most in terms of an educational experience.

However, Zemsky also thinks that students will be looking for places that will prepare them for whatever comes in the job market. The assumption must be now that one will not prepare for one career and stay in it for the rest of one’s life. One must “be prepared for anything”—for whatever comes in the constantly fluctuating market out there. This is what we need to be selling to students about the value of a liberal arts education—that it is truly rigorous preparation for the tough and competitive labor market.

How much “wander around” time should or can students have these days when coming into a University—or into the College? How much direction should they be given, how much choice? How do we/they decide when they are exploring in a healthy and productive way and how do we know if they are lost instead? Advising is a central issue—at what level is it most effective? At Rocket Launch—University wide? In the College office? At the departmental level? With a more integrative model, how would the demands of advising change and how much would one-on-one contact be necessary, and when? The suggestion was made that if advising is successful through the FYI courses, the students generally well there after. They get their feet on the ground and decide on a major or maybe two with concentrations or minors and then they are on their way. If they change their mind they have the knowledge of how to make those changes and where to go to ask the questions.

Benchmarking was then discussed: it is a comparison for reflection on who and how we are, it is not an assessment or providing templates for what we should do. Just to get a broad sense of what is going on out there at comparable institutions.

Some suggestions as to what data to look at: student and faculty retention, research monies, teaching loads and faculty/student ratios, numbers of College majors (benchmarking will be of College level data, not departmental level, though some extrapolation will be necessary), numbers of students served, numbers of TT faculty, lecturers, adjuncts, TA’s, etc. numbers of degrees granted at different levels.

Account 2.

Lawrence Anderson Huang

dear colleagues-
here are some notes from the first roundtable with the learning alliance.

they are not necessarily complete, and in some cases may be misquoted in some respect. they are just a distillation of my ten pages of notes. at the a&s council meeting thursday 10.23, we will discuss my and others’ experiences.

one thing i want to make clear: the roundtable discussion does have a chance to affect the direction of the college in the next decade and beyond, if the administration listens. and, we received evidence that the administration will listen, if we get our act together and argue forcefully for what we want the college to be. our interim dean is on our side, and wants cogent arguments for resources that we sorely lack. this process is potentially a great opportunity for us, and the roundtable participants really need your support and suggestions. we do not want to impose our vision without your approval, so please consider these notes carefully and listen to other participants at any opportunity you have to get a picture of what we are discussing and what we should discuss.

so here it was from my view:
first, zemsky reviewed the history of the learning alliance and the roundtable idea, and he gave us the ground rules:
a) no secrets about what we discussed, but no attribution to individuals when reporting.
b) no speeches.
c) no breaks and no vacuums in discussion (to be sure, there were none :^)).

we will as a group “sign off” on the essay that the LA writes as the outcome. this essay will be common and part of the record. there will also be a benchmarking report; more about that below.

we learned that of the 15 or so universities where the LA has conducted similar roundtables, 1/3 had very serious, profitable, and lasting discussion; 1/3 were what was described as “cotton candy”- sweet and tasty, but forgettable; and 1/3 were in between. so the success rate is really only 1/3. at the conclusion of our discussion, zemsky reported to me that ours was one of the most intense and possibly profitable in his experience. of course he could have been pandering, but his style does not suggest that. he seems pretty straightforward and honest. however, don’t count on my impressions. ask and listen to others.

then we reviewed the words and impressions used by participants in the interview process to describe the college. roughly 1/3 of the impressions were positive, and 1/3 negative. the other 1/3 comments were conflicted in one way or another. but, on balance, there was a positive feeling about the college. three interviewees were completely positive, and three were completely negative. I should point out that the negative comments were not necessarily faulting the college (although some were, such as “self important” and “incoherent”). more typically they expressed issues of trust and neglect from the administration and community. there was no evidence that the non-college participants had a particularly different impression from the faculty participants.

there was some discussion about morale; participants stressed that poor morale was a consequence of conditions, and not a source of failure.

zemsky reported that no other institution that they have worked with has had the same history of decanal change as has happened at UT, but continued to say that it doesn’t really matter- we work with the world we are in. but, as a result, the LA heard more words like “embattled” here than anywhere else in their experience.

then zemsky reported on what we said we wanted for the college in 10 years. comments included that we really want the college to be seen as a hub, a place where people come together. this hub idea came up again and again throughout the entire discussion. we want more integrated, cross disciplinary learning (more below), and we want to be seen as a place of rigor. we should be a destination of choice, not cast-offs from the professional colleges. we are good at getting enthusiastic young faculty, but find it hard to keep them (later the interim dean had some forceful comments about resource management in this regard). a split of the college is definitely off the table from the point of view of the participants. there should be no second-class citizens.

three things need to be done. we need strong leadership (“leaderless” was a common negative description). we need a restructuring of the bureaucracy of support structure. we are underfunded, and cannot do what other colleges can; e.g. attract and retain good students.

questions came up about our urban mission and open enrollment- the university expects a&s to carry the burden. there was quite a bit of discussion at this point about the value of the urban (or more properly perhaps the NW ohio mission to first generation college students). there was also discussion about the changing state mandate for a cohesive university system that provides both common experiences and centers of excellence. by 2014, all students entering a four-year institution must have high school algebra II, one or more sciences, and a foreign language.

the summary of the discussion included: we are a family (bad metaphor that engendered much discussion right there). we need more public space for creativity- both among our faculty and among our students. we are messy, but in the end create a beautiful text. undergrads are missing a sense of belonging. there is no sense of a plan for faculty hires.

we ended the tuesday evening discussion with an attempt to describe our relations with the city of toledo, and our feeling of attachment to UT. there is some evidence that UT is becoming a driving force in the leadership of community development in toledo. this discussion carried over into the morning. are we held hostage to the success of the city? are we held hostage to economic development? some mention was made of viewing the city as a resource, a microcosm of world problems worth studying from both academic and problem solving viewpoints. are we held hostage by STEMM? there was a lot of discussion about the indirect economic value of the arts and other non-STEMM endeavors that we must articulate.

what are our bragging rights?
80% of UT extramural funding comes to a&s. successful alumni are generous, endowing chairs. we have strong faculty-initiated interdisciplinary and integrative programs. jazz. the birth of the university honors program. public lecture series, global initiatives. the WAC program, although it has lost funding.

there then ensued a lengthy discussion about the value of integrative studies and whether such programs could be the “wave of the future” or at least a hallmark of UT that sets it apart from other institutions. we have an unprecedented opportunity for a paradigm shift in how we teach the liberal arts. is the integrative impulse strong enough to be a key player in our narrative? what is the value of departmental alliances? how do we ensure proper recognition? we have examples: e.g. the economics department recognizes publication in non-economic journals. do students know what integrative studies means? what are their alliances? we need a more flexible way to provide a support structure and people in charge of that support. nothing comes free. what is the impact on student learning? how does an integrative approach impact the core and 1000/2000 level courses? What is the relation of the core curriculum to the place of a&s as a hub of inquiry?

We need to teach students how to make connections between disparate ideas, how to be creative. students are getting more creative about defining their own world as opposed to looking for a place in a predefined corporate world. we should take vocationalism off the table, and not have to prove a one-to-one relationship between courses and future jobs. a&s is the ideal place to create the integrative learner that is capable of finding self-worth in a rapidly changing societal landscape.

we are dealing with a generation of mall shoppers, students who do not know how to shop for quality. the one exception is parents of learning-disabled students, who DO know what to look for and what questions to ask to serve their children. but, we may be on the verge of change. students want to maximize opportunity over risk. they are beginning to look for places that prepare them multi-dimensionally.

we next asked the question: are we a college or a collection of departments, both from the internal perspective and as seen from other colleges? students do see us as a collective supermarket, maybe more from the major point of view than as specific departments. we may have just such an identity crisis. the college is more a part of student life than they understand. we need to communicate better about the value of the core experience. advisers should be able to define the usefulness of courses outside the major.

we discussed the value of just wandering around without choosing a major right away, and the difference between wandering around and carving a meaningful path to self-fulfillment.

zemsky mentioned the book “The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning” by neurologist james zull. we should ask students right at the beginning where they think they are, rather than assume they are blank slates and ready for our “wisdom”.

In summary: we should provide a more integrated experience both in learning and research. this integration should extend across the STEMM boundary. what has to change? possibly departmental and functional organization. we should teach creativity through connections. what does it mean? how to make it work? there is a perception that we are not a hub, but rather a service. but, if we get our act together we can be the hub whether others like it or not. we are not about vo-tech. we wish to have a learning experience that promotes learning by choice. we are close to a breakthrough in thinking about what our college means- we need to tell our faculty, administration, and community about that breakthrough, and test it against them.

finally, we briefly discussed benchmarking. we recommended institutions for comparison (the ohio system, various MAC schools, and some others). the standard items to consider include degree production, retention, GRE and other exit test scores, faculty/student ratios, tenure/tenure track vs part-time faculty, salaries, graduate assistant salaries, class size, teaching loads, a senior experience for students, grants, PIs, NRC ranking, external prizes and scholarships, staff counts by function, etc. as far as integrative programs are concerned, we can look at major and minor programs offered. the LA people stressed that all such data is extremely fuzzy and incomplete; one can only hope to draw very crude comparisons.

well, that’s it. somewhat disjointed, but i think it reflects the breadth of discussion we had.
-lawrence Anderson-huang, reporter at large


Diogenes said...

Much Thanks to LAH, Renee and David for their detailed reports of their Roundtable experiences and insights. It all adds up in my mind to a new consensus that the UT administration's protracted war on the role of A&S senior faculty agency in shaping the future of our university continues being waged at high cost to A&S faculty morale. Now our relentless UT BOT "market-smart" ideologues have given President Jacobs two additional years and a handsome "longevity bonus" if he will stick around a bit longer to wage this war of attrition against A&S faculty. Persisting to wage war against the traditional and time-tested values of public higher education in an effort to install misguided (and already outdated) Fordist efficiencies at UT can only turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for BOT/administration short-timers at best. Let me briefly bookend the past two years of our A&S faculty's under-the-thumb demoralizing experience, resulting in present indignities imposed by the Learning Alliance focus group benchmarking ritual, with my vivid recollection and indelible first impression of the very first meeting arranged between President Jacobs and A&S Council. He arrives late, accompanied by Provost Jeffrey Gold and numerous black suits, and then takes the podium to begin to sell us his "vision" for a post-merger UT that must change in order to succeed. Amazingly, not five minutes into his spiel, his cell phone rings and he takes the call at the podium! "It's Carty Finkbeiner!" he gloats with delight to A&S Council Members who can’t fathom the wellsprings of such enthusiasm. Then he has the nerve to announce that he will step out into the hall to converse with the Mayor about important things, and that he will let Provost Gold step to the podium to represent him and his vision during his absence. Our President finally returns after ten long minutes ... Looking back on that farce of a first meeting, and having since gained overwhelming additional insight in Dr. Jacob's predictable MO when dealing with A&S faculty and its representatives since that day, I have come to the conclusion that the phone call was probably faked or planned in advance. President Jacobs' real message to A&S faculty that day was something like "Look upon me and tremble: I am your new boss -- and you are insignificant." He has been driving home that point ever since under his contract. Now to that add two years! So. Why does President Jacobs get a "longevity bonus" and members our esteemed senior A&S faculty get an "early buyout"? Obviously the administration wants to get rid of the opposition in order to grease the wheels of its “Directions” timetable. Why does the administration want to pay faculty a bonny sum and a course release to standardize their lower-division courses and relinquish the rights of ownership to the university? Because A&S faculty are expensive, expendable and replaceable. However, judging from the consensus of skepticism and mistrust among A&S members during the last A&S meeting, resistance to the BOT/Jacobs juggernaut is growing stronger rather than weakening. The failure of the administration’s vision in the glaring daylight of new realities grows day by day. What Zemsky/Brady/Jacobs/et al do not realize is that their "market-smart" vision is based on untenable assumptions that are quickly becoming obvious to the American public and legislators. What America urgently needs now is not "market-smart" public higher education, but more morality and civility in the workplace as well as more intelligent and critically-thinking citizens. Zemsky writes and Brady/Jacobs believe that a quality liberal arts education is no longer the choice of undergraduate students selecting among present and future institutional options in public higher education. They are wrong. Students will still opt for quality whenever they can find it. UT can privilege quality over quantity and succeed into the future, but Brady/Jacobs lack vision in that direction. They are not paying attention to changing trends that outpace Zemsky's published analyses of where he thinks public higher education should go in order to survive and succeed. For example, UT has invested heavily over the past decade in assessment and performance review to be used now in support of the new UT strategic plan (see Jacobs' "Directions" document). This is PEW-era advice and twenty years old. The assumptions underlying Zemsky/BOT/Jacobs' "Directions" are plainly untenable at present. Even the Wall Street Journal (Monday, Oct. 20, 2008) published prominently a well-reasoned article titled "Get Rid of the Performance Review!" because it "destroys morale, kills teamwork and hurts the bottom line." What UT needs is "stratagems" of planning for the future instead of one long-term strategy. The world is changing that fast. Five years is the far horizon of any strategic plan these days. Zemsky writes that "change is inevitable" without realizing that it has already passed him by and rendered his own vision for public higher education as bankrupt as Wall Street is today. It is plain irresponsible for Brady/Jacobs to follow Zemsky's advice for UT strategic planning that leads us into ethical and perhaps fiscal bankruptcy. This present administration could learn a lot by just ceasing their unjustified war against A&S faculty and listening to what its own A&S faculty and students have to contribute towards revising "Directions" into a feasible planning document. Who needs Zemsky unless Zemsky is a means to some predetermined end game? The need for teaching morality and ethics in support of future economic stability and a humane productive society, both at a personal level and in the classroom, should be at the core of these new directions. Departmental faculty as major advisors should continue to advise students face-to-face in their offices, offering mentorships, and be encouraged to pursue the ideal relationship between individual learners and individual teachers. A&S College and the liberal arts should have a secure place in the UT future and faculty -- as members of interacting departments and disciplines -- and should be increasingly empowered and respected by the UT administration for their accumulated and continuing efforts in teaching, research and service.

yo, duh! said...

... What America urgently needs now is not "market-smart" public higher education, but more morality and civility in the workplace as well as more intelligent and critically-thinking citizens....

... The need for teaching morality and ethics in support of future economic stability and a humane productive society, both at a personal level and in the classroom, should be at the core of these new directions. Departmental faculty as major advisors should continue to advise students face-to-face in their offices, offering mentorships, and be encouraged to pursue the ideal relationship between individual learners and individual teachers. A&S College and the liberal arts should have a secure place in the UT future and faculty -- as members of interacting departments and disciplines -- and should be increasingly empowered and respected by the UT administration for their accumulated and continuing efforts in teaching, research and service.

Bravo, Diogenes!

We are in the business of education, that's true, but too much emphasis has been/is being placed on "business" and way too little on "education." A business model might prepare students to make a living, but unless we also help students develop their thinking skills, we won’t be giving them a quality education; instead, we will be helping them waste their intelligence and will for the most part be turning out clueless robots pulling in a paycheck—people who can follow very well, but not lead.