Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Politcal Conundrum - Interdisciplinary Basketweaving Style

I just got off the phone with a colleague over in Interdisciplinary Basketweaving.  They've got a special course taught once a year by a deanling with an MA, during one of our breaks in the regular semester.  They've been teaching the course for at least ten years, maybe more.

One group of basketweavers finds the course and the deanling's approach to it unsatisfactory.  The deanling isn't qualified as a basketweaver, and doesn't teach the sorts of things that basketweavers think are really vital.  The course might be better housed in Underwater Arts, but the Underwater Arts folks said "no" many years ago because the course wasn't using an approach that's vital to the faculty over in Underwater Arts.  And so, it found its way to Interdisciplinary Basketweaving, where it's been taught pretty much with the deanling doing their thing, ever since.  And Interdisciplinary Basketweaving doesn't really have the power of a department such as Underwater Arts, and there's a deanling involved, so it happened despite some people's reservations.

The deanling wants to make the course fit a campus requirement.  That in itself isn't unusual, since lots of courses fulfil one or another requirement.  But this iteration of this course the deanling teaches isn't the only iteration, and the other iterations don't really fit the same requirement. 

So, in order to make this work, it looks like the deanling needs a new course, something that's not umbrella-ish, and just includes what the deanling does.

Some folks want to stand up against the new course because it doesn't really work for Interdisciplinary Basketweaving.  And the deanling really isn't well-qualified to teach the course.

On the other hand, to be honest, the deanling's been teaching this course for 10 plus years, and if I'd taught anything for 10 plus years, you can bet I'd be pretty well-qualified to teach it by then.  (Because I'd have studied my ass off to do so.  Wouldn't you?)

It seems to me that the time to draw the line was back when the deanling first started teaching this course.  To suddenly say, "you've been teaching it for ten plus years, but now you're not qualified" seems stupid now.  Why has Interdisciplinary Basketweaving not stopped it way back?

The answer, of course, is that the deanling is a deanling, and so it's convenient to let deanlings do what they want.  It was then, and it probably will be now.  It was easy to imagine the deanling would do this course, and then get bored, and give it up.  But that hasn't happened.  (There's a political payoff for the deanling, I think.  Also a bit of financial, I bet.)

I guess one question is, is the course doing what it should be doing well enough?

If not, is there a way to get it to "well enough"?

Students who've taken the course (mostly first and second year students) tend to think it's wonderful.  It makes them feel good.  They think they've learned lots.

Maybe they have learned lots, but they haven't learned the "lots" that either the Basketweaver faculty or the Underwater Arts faculty think they should, mostly in terms of critical thinking and theoretical understanding (these aren't grad school sorts of theoretical understanding, but the sorts of theoretical understanding introduced and taught in lower level Interdisciplinary Basketweaving and Underwater Arts courses).

Take a stand or no?

I'm so bad at political stuff.  I hate the idea that faculty folks didn't take a stand 10 plus years ago, but I also understand why they didn't.  But I don't want to stick my neck out, either.

Except, you know, isn't this flattering of authority types a slippery slope to worse?


  1. Urgh. Maybe the Interdisciplinary Basketweaving can use this opportunity to punt the deanling out in the name of "recognizing the special and unique nature of THIS offering" and look for another unit that's a somewhat more appropriate fit? (Although I have heard that one university created a course code to accommodate a trio of such special case courses (along the lines of "Your INSTITUTION Experience").

  2. The historic approach at my school has been to shrug until people retire, but that often takes longer than than they want, especially when the problem at hand feels immediate and time sensitive.

    The new approach, due to administrative shake up, has been to handle things like a corporate-style take over. I hate to say that it feels necessary, but Christ, how long are people going to wait to change? Meanwhile, our students are paying more than 32k a year for their education and in classes like this aren't learning anything. So things are changing fast, and nobody likes it, but also no one in the faculty will get real about the situations that need change. So the new dean is muscling things into order. Crazy times here.

    For your situation, it sounds like people are just fed up and can't take it anymore. Change should be led by the faculty, in my view, because my school is proving the thesis that if the faculty won't do anything, then administrators with a chip on their shoulders will.

  3. Not sure how it fits your specific situation, but I would say if the course is substantially different from what your faculty teach for the course then it needs to be its own course with its own course number. Sort of a basketweaving 100 instead of the usual basketweaving 101. The dealing's course could fulfill a general studies or non-major distribution requirement instead of fulfilling a majors requirement which the faculty in the department do not feel it does based on material/qualification/whatever. Split off the course and then make decisions about it separate from your existing course.