Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Faculty Senate vs. strategic plan

This started as a comment in response to someone asking if I raised the points in the previous post during the FS meeting.  My comment went on so long that blogger would force me to cut it up, which I'm taking as a sign that it would be better off as an independent post. Still another comment, by the prolific and well-informed paranoid, linked to the accreditation report that precipitated this strategic plan.

I did raise these points, as it happens, joined by a number of others who were critical of other things. To the extent that a preponderance of intelligent and critical questions and the absence of vapid praise make for a good senate meeting, it was a very good senate meeting. Those answering the questions (Tom Britton and Peggy Stockdale) responded smartly and calmly but also, if I may dare say so, somewhat complacently.

When I made the point that this strategic plan had no strategy, for example, Peggy Stockdale immediately responded that that's just what she had said, repeatedly, in internal deliberations, but, well, that wasn't in the cards. Another senator, however, began the conversation by saying that he preferred this report to Southern at 150 precisely because it didn't outline some unrealistic grand plan. There are indeed worse things than a strategic plan that doesn't say much of anything--one that says significant, imprudent, and impractical things, for example. But I still think this looks like a missed opportunity.

Another example of lack of substance. Tom Britton granted that the term "Inclusive Excellence", a favorite in the document, may be meaningless (etymologically speaking, it is a contradiction in terms), but, well, it is a term people are using. So we'll go ahead and start a center for inclusive excellence--adding to our administrative load. Later on Stockdale, responding to a smart question about the absence of class in the list of diversities in need of protection and promotion, responded with a joke: Well, that's the good thing about a phrase like "inclusive excellence"--it can include anything we want it to, even if we forget to mention it when we should have! In short, we all know the phrase is bullshit, but it's the up and coming bullshit. This isn't to say that diversity isn't a priority and reality on campus, that we don't have a mission to serve students beyond the traditionally college-bound, that we shouldn't be practicing affirmative action--a phrase that now seems crystal clear in comparison--only that use of a meaningless phrase--or at least one no one in the room thought had any legitimate meaning--does not well serve the people it is presumably intended to serve. It insults them.

I also made a point that hadn't occurred to me when I wrote my pre-meeting post on the plan: the plan makes no reference whatsoever to changes currently underway on campus (university college, etc.) Britton's response was that there was a "chicken and egg" problem here, as those changes took place as the plan was drafted, and that he didn't want the plan to look like it was drafted in order to justify the Chancellor's initiatives. It's true that this committee faced a moving target, but it's not as if university college suddenly appeared on campus in the last two weeks. And the desire to remain independent of the Chancellor strikes me as a bit disingenuous, though there are bits and pieces in the report that may obliquely criticize recent administrative moves, as one that says that new construction should serve students first--rather, perhaps, than athletes or alumni?  Of course it is easy to remain independent if you say nothing, or at least it is easy to appear independent, for by saying nothing you certainly do nothing to undercut the powers that be. A real plan would have to show how recent changes advance, or fail to advance, the priorities in the plan. This lack of connection to what's actually going on points to a certain vacuousness in the whole enterprise.

Other senators emphasized the relative absence of any faculty perspective in the plan, or interest in empowering and inspiring faculty. Student success was rightly emphasized, but that success was to be the result of passive verbs rather than faculty (or student) action. Finally, while the plan's authors made it clear that there would be still further opportunities for comment, the world-weary tone of their responses left never the slightest hint in the room that anything any senator or anyone else said would lead to any substantial change in the document.

Lots of people spent a lot of time on this plan--including people I know and respect. Such plans aren't a panacea, and I imagine that they are always going to read like committee drafted prose--too much trendy abstract administrative mush, far too little honest clarity about what our problems are and what we can do to solve them. But the depressing thing about the whole enterprise is its fundamental lack of seriousness. As my old man used to say, good enough for government work--good enough for the accreditors, in this case. Good enough for SIU.


  1. "Inclusive Excellence" seems to be two things: a cover for whatever mischief administrators wish to foist that, if done open and transparently, might get them called to court. "Nope, we are not discriminating on the basis of race, creed and so on"--we are being INCLUSIVE! This is the trend since the 2003 split-the-baby pair of decision on affirmative action, which I predicted at a SIU Law School forum (2004 law review) would lead to just such nonsense and "wink, wink, nod, nod."

    Also, if I follow the administrative shell, didn't the "Center for Inclusive Excellence" (CIE) begin as the Center for Basic Skills (Remedial U.) before becoming "Center for Academic Excellence" (kidding no one) and now to this oxymoronic title? Or am I wrong? I asked a person on the Grad Council and they got the same "we don't know what it means" answer.

    What a way to build trust in "excellence." We certainly don't want "exclusive" excellence -- everyone can be excellent (and included as such) at Woebegone U.

    At the very least, I'd like to know if the CIE is replacing the CBS, which was briefly the CAE?

    Got that?

  2. Let's face it. SIUC is now in terminasl decline with 32 faculty leaving and a committment to accept just any student no matter how ill-equipped they are for a university education. After increasing enrollemnts via DL and those enticed to the CAE, Rita will move on elsewhere and SIUC match the intellectual caliber of Glenn Poshard.

  3. My understanding is that the Center for Basic Skills (CBS) became the Center for Academic Success (CAS) several years ago. In the great restructuring of University College, CAS was gutted by retirement and abandonment, losing much of its institutional memory about practices and procedures. Under the leadership of the UC Dean, that program abandoned much of its past practices without consultation with the programs they affected. Whatever you may feel about the appropriateness of such a service on this campus, CAS under Yvonne Williams was operated with integrity and a real concern for student success. It did much to help students with considerable potential and additional needs succeed on this campus. I worry that the current configuration (CIE? Really?) moves forward with poor guidance and impressionistic motivations for procedure changes. I worry that this will have a negative impact on retention. I hope I am wrong about that...


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