September 13, 2021 Faculty Meeting Address
Even though we are two weeks in – welcome everyone to the start of this academic year. I hope everyone is settling into the new rhythms of the year. It is nice to have some fall weather, and some signs of our academic lives taking off.
I also wanted to share with you some of the planning we did last summer, and describe some of the projects that are moving forward this year. I hope the year ahead feels more typical in the ways we care about, but we are still in covid’s long shadow, and it continues to complicate our efforts. The news from some of our colleagues at other schools who have had to move to in-room restrictions and full remote instruction indicates that we must remain vigilant as we navigate the next several weeks and months. We are carefully monitoring conditions, and are seeking the best advice possible from public health officials. Our goal will be to clearly communicate with the community as possible, and to process information as quickly as we can. Thank you all for your patience and commitment.
The summer was a busier period than typical, which was probably to be expected given the pandemics continuing effects.
When it became clear that the Class of 2025 was going to be a large class, Associate Deans Áslaug Ásgeirsdóttir and Krista Aronson did a fabulous job recruiting talented faculty to offer classes this year – many of whom were just introduced. We have one of the largest assemblages of faculty in the history of Bates on our campus, and we look forward to getting to know them better throughout the year. Our office looks forward to supporting all of you as you do your work this year.
In addition to recruiting a large class of faculty, several faculty decided to leave Bates to pursue other careers with very late notice. The Department of Economics was hit especially hard – they lost 4 faculty members in June and July. I want to thank Paul Shea and Daniel Riera-Crichton who agreed to co-chair the unit on short notice, and for working with the AAC to find strong academic pathways for our students in July. Working with the AAC, we addressed this challenging situation for the coming academic year, but will continue to look for long term solutions in all of our academic units to identify staffing solutions that fortify our curriculum.
Five years ago, our Institutional Plan recommended that Bates:
“…strengthen academic advising by examining and improving the structure of first-year and sophomore advising. [Specifically] our approach to faculty advising for a student’s first two years should be reconsidered….While we strongly endorse the First-Year Seminar (FYS) for incoming students, it is unclear that FYS leaders should serve as student advisors.”
This summer, we had over 150 sophomores for whom we had to scramble to find an academic advisor. The problem is more acute than ever, but it is a trend that has been happening for several years. We stand to have even more than 150 abandoned sophomores at the start of the 2022-23 academic year. We must rectify this problem, and we will begin repairing this failing system this year.
As I mentioned in my message in August, Steve Engel joined our office as Special Assistant to the Dean of the Faculty for First-Year Experience and Pre-Major Advising. Steve will spend a significant portion of the year evaluating national models of pre-major academic advising to consider options for Bates. Steve will be reaching out to different constituencies for focus group development. He will produce a report of his findings and recommendations that will be shared with the faculty this spring, and our goal is to develop a nationally distinctive and evidence based advising system. In addition to the best advising models we can adopt, we are also going to look at the structural elements of the way we allocate FYS courses. Moving forward, we need to situate the work of pre-major advising among our permanent faculty, and our goal will be structural and systemic change on that front.
Registrar’s Office Review
While Mary Meserve and her team deserves a lot of credit getting us through one of the most challenging scheduling years in Bates’ history, Mary and I agree that there are many systems that could be improved upon in the Registrar’s office. Last January, the Registrar’s office underwent a thorough review by a consultant from the national organization that supports registrar’s offices (AACRAO). Based on the report’s recommendations, Mary is developing an action plan for re-modeling the work of the office. We have partitioned the work into four main areas including management and leadership; technology; personnel; and the user experience. One of the decisions we made over the summer was to adopt a course catalogue system called CourseDog. Mary is implementing the system now, and training on how it functions (e.g., how courses are cross listed) should happen in the winter semester. This is one part of a comprehensive improvement plan, and solutions to existing problems will be considered and implemented this year. We will keep you apprised of the modifications.
Our antiracist work ahead 2021-22.
Our college professes through its mission to be concerned about the emancipating potential of the liberal arts and the transformative power of our differences. We thus must be concerned about the pedagogies that exclude, the curricular content that impedes, and communities that deny access.
For the upcoming year, these three topics – pedagogy, curricular content, and community – will receive focused attention from our office:
We adopted new tenure and promotion criteria last year. Evidence of teaching excellence now must include inclusive pedagogies. Inclusive pedagogies ensure that all students thrive across differences in academic and social background, it pays attention to learning styles, it is student-centered and equity-focused, it adopts a growth mindset as well as a student success model – indeed it ensures that students feel equally valued, equally included, and equally invited into the learning spaces we create. Not only is it the right approach to teaching, it is also the approach that generates significant increases in learning outcomes. It requires intentional effort and a commitment to ongoing development. To help faculty develop and expand those skills, Associate Dean Krista Aronson created a process last fall for us to consider how we might create a Center for Inclusive Teaching and Learning at Bates College. Supported with funds from the HHMI grant, Dr. Kathy Takayama was invited to campus in the winter, and met with many of you to discuss what faculty desire from such a center. Our goal now is to create something that offers the training and support that allows faculty to build the evidence of excellent teaching they need. A detailed analysis of high functioning and effective centers is currently being conducted as we assess what can work best at Bates. Additional conversations about the CITL are forthcoming.
The new tenure and promotion criteria also prominently describe academic advising as an essential part of our teaching responsibilities. Thus, in addition to the CITL and the work regarding pre-major advising, we will also explore the kinds of professional development opportunities for training as an academic advisor.
Content of courses and the Content of our curricula
The second topic we will emphasize involves the content of courses and the content of our curricula. This is a component of inclusive pedagogical practice. The material we choose to focus on in our courses, the accessibility of our curricular design, the relevance of topics to our students, and the cost of materials for students are all essential aspects of the work of barrier removal. We must ensure that we engage a wide range of perspectives in our courses. At the academic unit level, a commitment to inclusive pedagogies focused on the content of courses and the content of our curricula requires that we examine, name, discuss, and articulate for students the agenda(s) and historical biases of our fields.
To do this work, I am requesting that each academic unit take part in serious analysis of the state of their own understanding of the approach to instruction in their fields. At a minimum, academic units should engage in what the Mellon Committee calls “Foundational Dialogues” or what, for example, the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California calls “Laying the Groundwork.” In essence, each academic unit should engage in racial equity work that allows for a common understanding of historical aspects of our fields, but also builds the capacity to have shared dialogue about our work in racial equity. This work will occur over the next 2 years, and my office will work with our existing curricular transformation committees to develop a schedule that makes sense for each academic unit. The best forms of this work meet academic units where they are. Some of you have already begun this work within your departments or programs. Others have not. We will mobilize resources from our institutional grants and from our own institutional budget to identify and engage disciplinary experts from outside Bates who can work with academic units, who can assess curricula, and who can help a unit chart a path forward as we think about transforming our teaching. We will also work with our disciplinary experts on our campus to help shape these dialogues. Again, not all units are in the same space, but all units must engage consultants at some point in the next two years as we develop tools, knowledge, and the efficacy to be agents of change. Additional details of this initiative are forthcoming, but this initiative dovetails with work we will all be engaged with in the coming weeks as we discuss a proposal from the Curricular Working Group that was formed early in the winter semester last year. The working group came from a call I made at the February faculty meeting in response to students’ demands that all students at Bates seriously engage with issues of race, racism, power and privilege. The description of the work and timeline for steps that was described is available on our website. I am thankful that 5 faculty members (Andrew Baker, Leslie Hill, Therí Pickens, Michael Rocque, and Adriana Salerno) and 5 students (Perla Figuereo, Zoe Gallate, Maya Karmaker, Lebanos Mengistu, and Aaliyah Moore) systematically and carefully evaluated programs across the country, considered what would be the most effective path for us to follow, and how we might implement such a plan. The CWG submitted their report to the AAC. The AAC will share the proposal and is crafting a plan for faculty consideration of the recommendations. The upcoming dialogue provides our community with an opportunity to explore ways to build a curriculum that meets the goals of our institutional mission statement.
Finally, our office will work on the idea of community at Bates. We use this term frequently, but are we a community of scholars and artists or are we a collection of scholars and artists? This is a fundamental question because the former requires continued investment. When I arrived at Bates I was told about the egalitarianism that was so vital to the way Bates operated. I wholeheartedly embrace egalitarianism but I worry however about a corrupted form of it that can prize individualism even libertarianism in some spaces over the collective aspirations that I believe we share. We should really consider the ways that we interact and care for each other. Covid disrupted so much of our communal practices last year. As we look to re-build, what do we want to salvage, and what do we want to reimagine? Over the course of the next year, and beyond, we will be examining ways that we can reconnect and craft a shared narrative about the work we do as colleagues. It will also include an analysis of the ways we make decisions that may be locally beneficial, but perhaps less useful at a macro level. A clear example from my perspective is the consequence of students having the ability to write more than one thesis. While this practice may work for individual units, collectively it adds thousands of hours of faculty time and effort beyond what I believe our pedagogical goals are for something like the W3 requirement or thesis proper. Another example has to do with the way we build our grids – what courses are taught and when are those courses taught. We will use with the registrar and the chairs our Teaching Planning Tool to collectively design a calendar and manage our space in a manner that balances all of the needs of the curriculum broadly defined. I also believe the discussions that will come about our governing structures will have to be embedded in a clear understanding of the professional community we are looking to build.
Finally, I hope that our shared narrative about community will grow from things like our Kroepsch panels, Phillips lectures, seminars and speakers on campus, our mentoring programs. One place that I am looking forward to building community this year involves our inaugural new endowed chair celebration that will take place in November. We recently made changes to the endowed chair program such that all endowed chairs from this point forward will carry the exact same terms and a 10 year appointment.
We will look for other ways that we can build the community that we want to be a part of here at Bates. And as the year unfolds I hope you all are well and please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions.