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Friday, October 16, 2009

My Roundtable Initiative meeting report

I am one of six recent A&S Council appointees to an “Arts and Sciences Roundtable Initiative” implementation committee which met on Wednesday, September 30, nine to noon, in UH3300. The Other appointees are Debra Davis, Rupali Chandar, Linda Rouillard, James B. Benjamin and David Tucker. We joined a group of other UT professors and administrators “selected to assure the input of the Roundtable Steering Committee and two or more persons from each of the five Task Groups” (Scholarship, Teaching Modalities, Graduate Studies, Curriculum, and Space) formed during the Extended Roundtable Retreat held May 2, 2009.I would like to briefly describe and comment here on selected aspects the September 30 meeting.

Background to this Meeting: Our A&S College Forum blog captures a dramatic history of this Roundtable Initiative, which began as an outside consultant’s “Strategic Assessment of the College of Arts and Sciences” contracted at the initiative of President Jacobs and duly announced by Provost Haggett in June of 2008. Visitors to this blog site can review its chronicle of Roundtable-related events by searching its homepage under key words “roundtable” “Zemsky” and “bus.”

An informational letter of welcome from Dean McClelland accompanied my appointment letter. Her letter clarified that the six A&S Council appointees were to be part of a “next-step implementation committee” as specified as a recommendation in the “Learning Alliance Report” (created at the Retreat) which designated the five “Task Group Reports.” The letter concluded “I do hope you will agree to be part of this ‘writing team’.”

The Meeting: Roundtable Initiative (RI) participants in attendance included (in order of seating, clockwise, around the boardroom table): Nina McClelland, Ben Pryor, Tom Brady, Jamie Barlow, Lawrence Anderson Huang, Renee Heberle, David Nemeth, Mysoon Rizk, Don Stierman, David Tucker, Rupali Chandar, Penny Poplin Gossetti, Christine Habrecht, Mark Denham, James Benjamin, and Charlene Gilbert.

Ben Pryor took detailed notes during the meeting and these were subsequently (October 5) distributed to the RI participants. Participants introduced themselves then began to discuss the five Task Group Reports compiled from discussions taking place during the Extended Roundtable Retreat. These reports were perceived by the Roundtable Steering Committee to be “firm directives that we have given ourselves” resulting from the Extended Roundtable Retreat.

Preceding their discussion, this observation and question were raised: “President Jacobs is rethinking ‘Directions’ [the University’s strategic plan]. Would these five reports have been the same had ‘Directions’ been different?”

Review of the five reports commenced, beginning with the “Curriculum” report then moving to the “Scholarship” report. During this freewheeling and scattershot discussion one of our A&S Council appointees delivered an eloquent broadside against “administrative culture” and how it is “deaf” to faculty input, and how that culture must change before any informed and progressive structural changes can be formulated and implemented in the Arts and Sciences College. Also, Dean McClelland raised this profound question “Why are students not coming to class?” This mystery of student motivation in the classroom seemed to me and some other A&S Council appointees to be tied to faculty motivation in the classroom, and thus a morale issue. However, the discussion at this juncture took a new trajectory and shifted to the promise of “The Boyer Model” and the UT Academic Journey Initiative (a component of the UT Learning Collaborative initiatives), and how these existing student-centered learning models and initiatives apart from the Roundtable Initiative may be already sharpening the focus and trajectory of philosophical and structural “transformations” already taking place in the A&S College. The Boyer Model again came up in our discussion of the “Scholarship” report. For this reason, I feel a need now to digress from my report here to make mention of the following:

The decades-old Boyer Model (of scholarship) comes highly recommended by its demonstrated success in the health care industry (see here: and, for example, it’s entrenched institutionalization in some prominent private-sector higher education institutions (for example, Pepperdine University in California). All A&S faculty should take the time to read here about Dr. Boyer and his ideas about scholarship and curriculum reforming higher education. This model is based on some controversial assumptions that address and critique the traditional professoriate; for example: “Boyer declared that the students were not getting the full attention of their instructors, stressing the importance of more resources into undergraduate education programs, expanding orientation and faculty mentoring for new students, and creating community service programs for students … Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate challenged the current views of faculty priorities and the true meaning of scholarship. Boyer classified four kinds of scholarship: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. This report has created debates around the country and has influenced many colleges and universities to evaluate their faculty differently.” Indeed, the A&S tenure-track and tenured faculty are being presently subjected in this Boyer Model-inspired evaluation process. This Roundtable Initiative is negotiating our professional identities, roles and activities at this time toward implementing irreversible structural changes in our A&S College’s educational mission and delivery systems.

Continuing on: RI participants discussed the topic of effective learning “delivery systems” as these related to the “Teaching Modalities” report, a discussion that carried over into briefer discussions of the “Leadership” and “Space” reports. As we were short on time and the discussions redundant of matters already covered during the Extended Roundtable Retreat (yet necessary to rehash because the six A&S Council appointees were not part of earlier discussions) the participants agreed to meet in sub-groups to revise and condense the reports into a list of “implementable things,” and to reconvene as a single group a month hence. The meeting concluded with a listing of sub-groups (writing teams) and their members:

Learning Modalities: Pryor, Nemeth, Rizk, Poplin Gossetti, Habrecht
Space: Anderson Huang, Denham, Tucker
Curriculum: Heberle, Barlow, Stierman, Brady
Graduate: Beatty, Medina, Benjamin, Chandar
Scholarship: Gilbert, Rouillard, Nemeth, Burnett

A dedicated blog site was established for the purposes of posting of documents for RI group members and for intra-group communications.

In Conclusion: I have some serious concerns about any rush to draft a final Arts and Sciences Roundtable Implementation Plan while the UT “Directions” strategic plan is being reconsidered. I quote here from the approved Faculty Senate minutes of September 29 distributed campus wide October 12: “Another matter of note is that Pres. Jacobs is contemplating the creation of a new strategic plan. As this develops, we want to make sure there is significant and broad based faculty involvement in the process.”

I doubt from what I observed and heard at the RI Meeting that sufficient numbers of A&S tenure-track and tenured faculty (not holding administrative positions) have been meaningfully involved in the Roundtable Initiative project from its beginnings to the present. I am concerned about some of the untenable “business-model” assumptions in the reports and “managerial” terminology used derived from these assumptions. These seem hostile to our senior professoriate, their traditions, values and interests. Among these assumptions and ideas are obvious ideological artifacts of the Zemsky Report, the Boyer Model and other dangerous ideas that have contaminated the A&S “transformational process” that began in the hastily prepared “Directions” strategic plan and resulted in this present Roundtable Initiative. In these late stages of the Initiative process I have been invited to help A&S faculty “take ownership” of the process, as if this offensive secular term had anything to do with the professoriate’s sacred duty to willingly participate in the shared governance and planning of an Arts and Sciences College in a state public university.

I will make my concerns known to my fellow Roundtable Initiative participants as we rewrite the five reports and list our “implementable things.” Meanwhile, I encourage all A&S faculty to contact me and these other participants with their concerns and comments in the coming weeks. There is an urgent need to do so. Faculty Senate minutes from September 29 quote Provost Haggett regarding the RI history and timetable: “The report that came from the [Zemsky] Learning Alliance, that report was shared across the College of Arts & Sciences. There was a follow up group in early May, there were five recommendations and working groups generated in each of those focus areas. The dean has just sent an email a couple of weeks ago to reconvene and put together implementation plan with a November date.” The Roundtable Initiative Implementation Plan deadline for November is almost upon us.

David Nemeth, Professor of Geography and Planning, A&S Council Appointee to the A&S Roundtable Initiative implementation group.


Anonymous said...

Useful report. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Regarding "A dedicated blog site was established for the purposes of posting of documents for RI group members and for intra-group communications": My colleague in the Roundtable group, Ben Pryor, points out that "One of the advantages of that page is that all our notes, wiki entries, discussions, etc. are public and open to anyone in A&S. So involvement is as easy as logging on!

The web address is:

You don't have to be a member of epsilen to look at that page, on which I have posted my notes from the session and the original LA report. And faculty can request admission to the group by just asking." Thanks, Ben, for announcing this broad invitation. David

yo, duh! said...

I appreciated your post—not simply for all the good information you included in it, but also for some important reminders and observations:

That the Roundtable Initiative (RI) was not instituted by—or, as I recall, not even desired by—us in A&S, because we felt we needed this sort of “internal audit”; rather, it was initiated and supported by President Jacobs and Provost Haggett—the same ones who suggested throwing former Dean Lee “under the bus” while the vote of no confidence was being discussed in A&S—and outsourced to outside consultants.

The problem of the administration’s “deafness” to faculty input and the need on the administration’s part to change this attitude.

Issues of morale and motivation here at UT.

The haste that has been involved in much of this—you noted the “hastily prepared “Directions” strategic plan” from the beginning of the RI, as well as the “… rush to draft a final Arts and Sciences Roundtable Implementation Plan while the UT ‘Directions’ strategic plan is being reconsidered.” We really can’t afford any waste this haste could cause us!

The unsuitability of the “business model” for higher education. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be working too well for many businesses, either. Who will rescue us if we go under?

The lack of “transparency” involved in the RI: the probable lack of involvement of non-administrative faculty (I include here not only the tenure-track and tenured faculty you mention, but also non-TT lecturers) in the RI.

So thank you for posting this, for informing us, and for reminding us of things it’s all too easy to forget.