Committees & DTFs

Handbook DTF Charge

TO: All Faculty

FROM: Governance Groups DTF: Curricular Visions: Arun Chandra, George Freeman,         

Wendy Freeman, Joye Hardiman, Emily Lardner, Laurie Meeker, Jenni Minner, Susan Preciso, Sam Schrager (chair), Alison Styring, Rebecca Sunderman, Tom Womeldorff

SUBJECT: Interim Report

DATE: 18 May 2007

The Curricular Visions DTF was charged by the Agenda Committee and Provost Don Bantz to guide faculty discussion of “what adjustments are needed to bring current curricula, structures, responsibilities, and practices into alignment” with Evergreen’s mission as a public, interdisciplinary liberal arts college. Our work built upon the spirited discussion of these issues begun in faculty Governance Groups in 2005-6. It is the first examination of the curriculum as a whole since the Long-Range Curriculum DTF, which led in 1996 to adoption of the current planning unit structure.

 Our charge included the task of “summarizing and disseminating the content of these discussions, analyzing suggestions which arise from the discussions, and producing coherent proposals that substantially reflect the governance group discussions.” The first part of this report reviews what the DTF has learned from this process. The second offers conclusions we have drawn from faculty discussions of initial proposals, and suggestions about further steps. 

 I. WHAT HAS BEEN LEARNED FROM THIS WORK

 The scope of our work was exceedingly broad. (For the full charge, see the Curricular Visions website, http://www2.evergreen.edu/curricularvisions/.) We were asked, among other things, to facilitate discussion of curricula in relation to Evergreen’s principles, to guide the development of ideas and proposals that emerged in 2005-6 Governance Group discussions, and to incorporate recommendations from the First-Year Experience DTF and the Diversity DTF. We have not accomplished all that is in the scope of our charge. Here are things that we’ve learned:

  1. The scope has to be narrowed. We identified needs for change expressed by the faculty and developed seven preliminary proposals. Each of these needs and proposals could be the topic of a DTF. In essence, we have acted as a clearing-house. Below we recommend ways to sharpen the faculty’s focus for next year. At this point, continuing with such a broad scope would be counter-productive. From the process so far, it has become clear that curricular restructuring will happen gradually. Initiatives put into practice now will pave the way for further discussions and actions later. Issues surfacing in the course of Curricular Visions will hopefully continue to engage the college for years to come. 
  1. We have not yet effectively involved students and staff. We had two students on our DTF at the beginning of the year. By February, for different reasons, the students were no longer part of the DTF. While they were present, we struggled with determining their role and the role of the student body. Would they only respond to proposals from the faculty? Would they be able to express their concerns about the curriculum and make their own proposals? We never completely resolved this. The same can be said of staff. While staff are on the DTF, there is still a lot to be done to effectively involve staff across campus in our deliberations. By default, many of our Governance Group discussions were too faculty-centric, not fully informed by what we know as an institution about the experiences of students and staff. Perhaps a more focused charge will help us better frame our collaborations with both.
  1. Change requires faculty buy-in.  Buy-in is impossible if the majority of faculty do not participate in the process, and participation in our process this year was uneven. This reality is nothing new. Still, we need to determine how to proceed and how far we can go when the participation rates in broader discussions is low. This difficulty is tied to the larger problem of time-scarcity described below.
  1. Governance Groups are an experiment in progress. Our committee is the first “Governance Groups DTF.”  In our charge we were directed to use Governance Groups as our primary mode of interaction with the faculty as a whole—to stimulate discussions, gather the full range of responses, and feed back to the faculty what we learned. The Governance Groups approach worked very well last year when faculty were envisioning, and this year when brainstorming pros and cons of different proposals. As our work proceeded, we saw limitations in the structure of Governance Groups. At times, having flexibility to meet as an entire faculty or to split into groups of different compositions helped the process. Governance Groups might be better understood not as the equivalent of Deans Groups, but as the range of useful ways of divvying ourselves up for deliberation involving the whole faculty. This said, it was very helpful to have so much of the faculty meetings devoted to our work.

 We also wish to note several developments that have occurred as a result of Governance Groups discussions last year and in relation to our work this year.

  1. Making the curriculum more transparent. Much of what we do well is not readily apparent to the casual reader of our materials. For example, while women’s studies is one of our strengths, this is not readily apparent by scanning program titles or quickly reading program descriptions. In response, the DTF has supported steps by both faculty and College Relations to build the presence of areas of study in the print catalog and on the web. As a first step, there will be a sidebar in the 2008-09 catalogue highlighting programs in the area of Sustainability and Justice. Next steps include expanding efforts to describe our curriculum through the Fields of Study initiative described below.
  1. Clarifying faculty views of the planning units. Last year, a number of faculty expressed frustration that the planning unit structure was too rigid and impeded desired creative cross-unit curricular initiatives. This year, we learned that while this is a serious problem associated with the current structure, important functions would be lost if we moved wholesale away from the use of planning units. Perhaps the functions of planning units will change in the future as new curricular initiatives reshape aspects of the curriculum.
  1. Changing without major structural changes. While the DTF cannot claim credit for the emergent cross-planning unit Sustainability and Justice initiative, the level of excitement among these faculty has made it clear that much can be accomplished even without major changes in structures. This group of over twenty faculty has discovered that the major impediment for this kind of work is lack of time, not enthusiasm or desire. The DTF applauds this initiative as a concrete response to concerns voiced by faculty last year about the inability to plan and interact with faculty in other planning units. The Thematic Planning Group initiative described below builds on this group’s experience.  

 In assessing where the process now stands, it is worth noting that the Curricular Visions DTF was charged in mid-fall quarter. The Long-Range Curriculum DTF of 1994-6 took nearly two years to finish its work, including two summers for planning. Our DTF is in agreement that our work should continue over the summer and into next year, in the more focused ways suggested in this report. Membership will change as a result of leaves, other commitments, and deanery rotation. We think that at this stage we can become a regular DTF, opening space next year for faculty deliberation on other important matters. 

 II. CONCLUSIONS AND NEXT STEPS

 Early on, the DTF distilled the issues raised in last year’s Governance Groups meetings into a set of four overlapping needs for change: to envision a whole liberal arts education, to strengthen our shared academic identity, to reinvigorate curricular structures, and to make the curriculum more intelligible to students, staff and faculty. Starting at last fall’s retreat and continuing in Governance Groups in winter and spring, we guided faculty discussions of ideas and preliminary proposals that speak to these needs. (See our website, http://www2.evergreen.edu/curricularvisions/, for descriptions of the needs and initial proposals.)

At this point we are not ready to drop any of the proposals. However, we must prioritize work for the summer and next year. As we see it, the initiatives fall into three categories: (1) proposals with wide support among the faculty that are ready to be developed; (2) proposals that raise larger issues which should be examined fully in their own right; and (3) proposals that might be quite worthwhile but whose feasibility, at present, is in doubt.

1. Ready-to-Go: Thematic Planning Groups, Fields of Study, First-Year Cohort

 These are the three initiatives that received the broadest and most enthusiastic support in Governance Group discussions. All of them can be put into practice with relative ease. The DTF believes that these initiatives require ongoing institutional support and well-designed places in the curriculum. Here we note work to do on these initiatives over the summer, work that will lead to fuller proposals for the faculty to consider next year.

Thematic Planning Groups. The idea: groups of faculty come together from across the curriculum to think, dream and scheme about a common set of interests, exploring them through teaching and collaborations sustained over a period of years. The Sustainability/Justice group, which has led the way in putting this idea into action, will meet to continue planning this summer. Some of us representing the DTF should also meet and, drawing on the Sustainability/Justice work, develop a proposal for Thematic Planning Groups that speaks to such key questions as: What institutional supports—i.e., freed-up time, resources, catalogue treatment—are needed to help create and nurture these voluntary associations? (Groups that explored thematic planning during the spring retreat, for example, all agreed that one meeting time a month should be set aside for this kind of planning.) How can groups’ discussions be shared with the faculty as a whole? What sorts of forms might these groups take? What range of obligations might participating faculty have as a member of such a group?       

 Fields of Study. This idea centers on the creation of web pages describing the fields that students can study at Evergreen. These pages can be presented as a network, with multiple, linked dimensions: fields as customarily defined (i.e., chemistry, women’s studies), thematic areas (sustainability/justice), planning units, and pre-professional studies (law, social work). The DTF should develop this proposal during the summer by studying unresolved questions, including: What threshold obligations should be entailed in saying that Evergreen offers a given field of study? How would faculty identify the field(s) they teach? What information should be put on the web pages? Page templates should be discussed in consultation with Academic Advising, Admissions, Institutional Research, and web managers. Faculty in psychology and philosophy have asked for time this summer to reflect on the teaching of their fields at the college. Their discussions should be designed in part to inform the DTF in refining the Fields of Study proposal.

 First-Year Cohort. This idea, originating in the First-Year Experience DTF report, calls for a more integrated academic experience that will give first-year students a sense of themselves as a cohort—and for multi-year commitments by faculty to teaching first-years. Our DTF notes that, if the inaugural First-Year Cohort is to begin in ’09-’10, it’s advisable for interested faculty to gather this summer, to develop the new approach well ahead of preparing catalogue copy. Among questions raised in Governance Groups to consider at this stage: How to make rotations attractive to a wide range of faculty (for example, the option of joining the cohort for one or two years rather than three)? How to structure first-year studies in innovative ways (for example, a different unifying theme each year, exposure of students to all participating faculty)? We think that the faculty ready to take up the initiative should be the ones to refine the First-Year Cohort proposal.

 The DTF believes that these three initiatives respond inventively to needs for change that faculty identified in last year’s Governance Group dialogues. Each initiative can nourish education at Evergreen in multiple ways. Thematic Planning Groups seem particularly promising in addressing the need to reinvigorate curricular structures; Fields of Study, the need to make the curriculum more intelligible to students, staff, and faculty; and the First-Year Cohort, the need to strengthen the foundations for a whole liberal arts education.

2. Explore Broader Needs: Upper/Lower Division, Up-Week

 Governance Groups gave mixed reviews of the initial proposals for Upper/Lower Division and Up-Week. While most faculty looked favorably on the purposes of these initiatives, various questions arose about how well they would deal with the needs they are intended to address. The DTF concludes that it is vital for the faculty to set aside time relatively soon to examine these larger needs in more depth, before deciding on any specific initiatives to advance.

 Upper/Lower Division. The idea—to offer more of a sense of progression for students over the course of their academic careers—was a response to the larger need to envision a whole liberal arts education. Questions that have yet to be explored are: How can faculty cooperate across all of the planning units to create more of a common framework for students’ academic experiences? What would such a framework look like? For instance, can the faculty increase opportunities for students to learn foundations of fields at the introductory level, and to undertake broad interdisciplinary work at intermediate-to-advanced levels? Can they develop a more shared set of expectations regarding independent study, internships, study abroad, and senior projects? Beyond such specific matters, there are broader questions that the DTF recognizes to be highly important but was not able to address: How well does faculty advising of students reflect a “whole liberal arts education” approach? How should diversity within the student body inform our view of a whole liberal arts education? How can the faculty decide on hiring priorities and directions for growth that will best serve Evergreen’s mission as a public interdisciplinary liberal arts college?

 Up-Week. The idea—to carve out a week in the year’s calendar for faculty and students alike to engage in reflective work—was a response to the larger need to strengthen our shared academic identity. The initial proposal for an Up-Week envisioned academic planning, in the broadest sense, to be the focus; but when it was vetted in Governance Groups, competing demands for this freed-up time—in particular, for governance and advising—came to the fore. An Up-Week, taken alone, doesn’t lessen the endemic problem of time-scarcity among faculty. The bigger question to explore is: How can faculty best create an academic life together outside of the classroom? There is an interlinked set of existing contexts to take into account: Wednesday governance, retreats, summer institutes, the September Symposium. The DTF sees the recent emergence of Governance Groups and Thematic Planning Groups as steps in the right direction: both invite collegial relationships across planning units through innovative work. Creating opportunities for staff, who are also overburdened by time demands, to become more actively involved in reflection and planning is also essential to the vitality of the college.

 In the DTF’s judgment, questions about seeing Evergreen education as a whole and creating a shared academic life at Evergreen deserve much more attention than they have gotten so far. We don’t suggest that these issues be pursued in the coming year, since our plates already seem full with other pressing matters. Besides, the initiatives for Thematic Planning Groups, Fields of Study, and First-Year Cohort will likely set in motion structural changes that bear on these issues. What the DTF urges is that the faculty return in the reasonably near future to explore our collective responsibilities for strengthening students’ sense of their whole education and our own sense of a shared academic life. We are hopeful that, through dialogue, much ground for agreement will be discovered.

3. Determine Feasibility: Semester System and Flexible Academic Year

 Each of these proposals had some strong proponents in Governance Groups, and many good points were made in favor of their pedagogical value. However, feasibility concerns cast long shadows over both. More research is required to determine whether these initiatives could be enacted. If so, they deserve further consideration on their merits.  

Semester System. This idea—presented to Governance Groups as a 4-1-4 model—addresses students’ needs to gain depth (the extra weeks of the inquiry) and breadth (more opportunities to take two longer programs in a year, and a short course on another subject during the January interim). It gives faculty room for planning and personal work during the interim, and reduces faculty and staff workload by eliminating one quarterly endpoint/startup. While the DTF has been unable to pin down why the Board of Trustees rejected the semester system after the faculty approved it in 1994, two main factors appear to have been the closeness of the vote (49-41) and opposition from many students who believed that it would narrow their choices of programs. Currently, objections center on the deleterious effects a semester calendar might have on attracting transfers from other Washington public institutions, which (with the exception of WSU) use the quarter system. There is also a question of potential legal constraints on reducing the total number of instructional weeks from 30 to 26 or 28 to create space for an interim.

Flexible Academic Year. The idea—to enable multi-quarter programs to span summer quarter—strengthens students’ opportunities for hands-on and advanced work that is not possible at other times of year, particularly in environmental studies. Governance Groups were generally supportive, with some question about whether the shift would narrow the range of students participating in such programs to those specializing in the field. The larger issue is constraints in the Washington higher education system. Summer school at all institutions is self-supporting: there is no state funding, nor is summer school credit counted in enrollment totals. Summer school tuition is more expensive for in-state students; summer childcare isn’t subsidized; and there are no on-campus health services. 

 The DTF thinks that the feasibility concerns surrounding these initiatives can be clarified in consultation with staff and administration, along with outside inquiries. Assessments can then be made about whether proposals are worth pursuing.

To sum up the DTF’s conclusions: The faculty has made a promising start in the last two years at re-envisioning the curriculum. The question at the root of this effort is: What does it mean for Evergreen to be a public interdisciplinary liberal arts college? The Thematic Planning Groups, Fields of Study, and First-Year Cohort initiatives are significant experiments in envisioning that deserve the faculty’s strong support. This process of re-examining how to best fulfill our responsibilities as a public interdisciplinary liberal arts college, however, is far from finished. Fundamental issues about how students can gain a whole liberal arts education and how faculty can develop a shared academic life remain. The faculty must continue to work on these questions.