In the last post, I discussed information – specifically, the need to change the narrative of “college is a business” and “students are customers.” At the July board meeting, I presented information about the need, in a time of change, to remain focused on the purpose of college (hint – it’s academics).
Here I’d like to address what we do with that information: communication.
I’ve had many enlightening conversations with faculty on the issues – both nationwide and local – that bedevil higher education today. We’ve discussed the national trend of a weakening of shared governance and the rise of administrators; versions of the arguments in Academically Adrift about students not being pushed to excel; the advantages and disadvantages of digital education. When we discuss local issues, it’s conversations about fear and silence, the sense of rootlessness and drift in the direction of the college, and the marginalization of faculty.
The problem is that these conversations seldom go beyond a few people. What’s needed now is to extend the range. Yes we’ve talked to the Freeholders. Yes, we’ve talked to the Board. Yes, we’ve sent letters to the editor. Now comes the hard part. Though it hasn’t yet borne fruit, we have to keep planting the seeds. We are not going to change people’s minds with a few presentations or a few letters.
When entrenched systems or narratives need to be changed, communication needs to be constant and stay on message. The message? It includes
- Faculty: College education involves experienced, independent faculty guiding and assessing student work. Take out the experience, students lose out on education; take out the independence, faculty are beholden to administrative views of students as customers – who need to be made happy. Independence also connects to student evaluations – and their penchant to reward ease and punish rigor.
- Online instruction: It’s fast becoming clear that the “revolution” of online education was another example of media hype. MOOCs were supposedly about to put all colleges out of business? Current research says “nah.” Digital instruction can aid, not replace, faculty. And for it to be most successful, students need constant interaction and feedback – which means an emphasis on writing instead of clicking, which means more experienced faculty (see above).
- Respect: People perform best when their work is respected, their remuneration is fair, and they are not subject to fear.
- Self-Governance: Since educating students lies at the core of a college’s mission, those responsible for that education need greater input into the workings of the college. Otherwise, those with little or no classroom experience are making decisions that will impact classroom learning.
- Accountability: Hold administrators to the same standards as faculty; just as we are evaluated by those we assess, we should evaluate those who assess us. In Human Resources, this is called 360 Feedback, and it’s currently all the rage – except at OCC.
- Focus on Education: We are a college, not a business. Yes we generate money, but the emphasis always needs to be on academics instead of entrepreneurialism. The lure of profit can lead to misguided initiatives and wasted energy.
We need to take these messages – and others – to a wider audience. And there are many forms of communication. Our reluctance to participate in the college’s plans signals our reluctance to support changes of questionable merit. It also communicates the end result of the college’s practice of disrespect towards and marginalization of tenured faculty: if you treat faculty poorly and continually ask for and then reject their ideas, do not expect them to flock to your meetings and clamor to be work on your committees.
Our communication has been largely passive; it’s time to move towards more active method. As noted in an earlier posting, if you have questions about a particular procedure, policy, or change, write an email voicing that question to the relevant person. We can articulate our questions and concerns about the direction(s) of the college, and send them to the administration, the board, and the media. We need to build on the previous work of the FAOCC, and continue speaking out to ensure students gain knowledge – not just credits.
Faculty, lift up your voices!