Monday, November 7, 2011

Senate Drama Follow Up? or Trickle Down?

Two days after a Faculty Senate meeting where several important votes took place in the life of our University, it appears as if another failure to inform and notify affected parties of critical information has occurred. And it didn’t take long for the same strategies of avoidance and failed communication practices to recur. While an individual senator expressed concern over notification procedures, election violations and the gradual diminution of the faculty’s role and voice on curricular matters on an important University committee, these concerns were never communicated directly to the committee in question by either the Chair of the committee nor by several administrators who were present at both meetings. The tragedy is that these acts of omission are being imposed upon this “faculty elected” committee not by the administration, but by one of our own: another faculty member! The rubber stamp of authoritarian approval was then rendered complete when two administrators attended the same meeting and failed to notify the committee of these matters. Here are some of the pertinent facts:

The November meeting of the University General Education Committee (GEC) that followed the Senate meeting last week started with ten minutes of silence (apparently there is little to discuss) while awaiting a quorum. The Chair of GEC then informed the committee members how a quorum is to be calculated (in a manner that directly contradicts his own statements in a previous committee meeting although this time were close to being accurate for a change). The Chair then proceeded to conduct the meeting as if a close 11-10 vote two days earlier that threatened to disband (and reconstitute) his committee had never happened. The first matter of business, passing the revised General Education outcomes, also had barely survived an 11-10 vote that requested the motion to be tabled for 30 days pending a university wide forum to be held. But neither of these two facts were mentioned or discussed at this meeting.

This led to my asking, “Why is it that CSU faculty are never (or rarely) informed about critical information that may affect their decision-making ability by other university constituencies?” And “does it not matter that nearly half of another faculty elected body found it sufficiently necessary to hold off on approving these outcomes pending an additional month of discussion and deliberation?” And yet this committee simply rolls on to yet another vote without knowing what occurred two days prior? And how come we keep “deciding on” things without being informed of actions taken by other reasonably knowledgeable and well-intentioned faculty colleagues serving on other committees on campus?

In fairness, I should note that for the first time in four GEC meetings, a reasonably substantive discussion occurred in the GenEd committee on the GenEd outcomes where it had not previously. Instead of the usual pleasantries and vague statements I heard the last few months like, “Gee, things are in flux and a lot of change is coming at CSU,” the primary discussion this time was over the significance of the following three phrases: “liberal education,” “liberal arts education,” and being “liberally educated?” These concepts refer to significantly different educational frameworks for general education with greatly varying meanings that will now require assessment (as if we are really clear on the meaning of these terms and as if we had found consensus as a result of collective deliberation on the rest of the terms in this document for our institution).

Naturally, it would be good if there were consensus on the committee that approved this document about the meaning of these terms. Much of the content of this document, how it is to be assessed, and what relation it has to the GenEd curriculum is less well understood. Indeed, I would argue that it has not been well-discussed and that email communication and online editing of a limited body of received commentary has not produced a well deliberated result or an institution wide consensus on these matters. While the discussion at this particular meeting was good, nonetheless it was surprising to this observer that a general consensus on the committee was lacking still after so much discussion had “supposedly” already taken place. And it was also surprising that the GenEd document was approved as amended without the CSU community as a whole being informed of the final version. How can discussion occur when no one has possession of the latest version of the document? Indeed it had not been subjected to anything more than the mere “editing” of a few sentences for twenty minutes during the previous seven months in the GEC itself (since April 2011).

Two items should catch your attention that make this meeting “blogworthy:” First, how can one vote on a document that has been edited from one already been approved by two other university-level committees? Does the Chair intend to return this edited document to the Senate and GEAC for re-approval? And secondly, why did neither of the two administrators who were present inform the committee of the Senate action two days earlier when both were present at the Senate meeting?

The point is that by not providing key information, a deliberative body can continue to deliberate on non-essential items and imagine that is it doing its job without really addressing critical information. Ultimately, the failure to consider said critical information could result in unpleasant and unexpected consequences in the future. In this case, without properly discussing the new General Education outcomes sufficiently and their connection to the current GenEd requirements, the membership will now be faced with the task of explaining future decisions to remove some current GenEd courses from the approved list to their colleagues. This will likely lead to reduced enrollments in key programs and likely to staff reductions that will be unexpected. At least folks will have a few semesters to come up with a reasonably good justification for this decision before the damage appears at which point the administrators in the room last Thursday will be long gone. And just as likely is the possibility that many of the committee members will have resigned from or stopped attending the meetings when they become too “difficult” or “burdensome.” Were they to remain, they will be expected to explain the reason for their vote last Thursday which will be much more difficult because they were not well-informed of the content of the document vote don in the first place.

Representation, effective communication and proper deliberation really are significant on this committee!! And leaving out critical information to affected parties, failing to genuinely discuss and deliberate upon important matters, and administrative attempts to cover up unpleasant facts really does “trickle down!” Ultimately, these decisions (and the lack of sound processes in reaching a result) do affect our students, the quality of the education they receive, and the integrity of the university’s academic reputation.

None of these items were on the agenda.

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