Monday, April 22, 2013

Spring 2013 Dean's Memo

The Needs Attention project and this site have remained in hibernation while the new dean was being selected and the humanities-wide external review was being conducted. However, we believe that it is time to begin using this space for the dissemination of information. The new dean, professor Georges Van Den Abbeele, has sent out a spring memo on the situation of the humanities and how he plans to move ahead. While we remain optimistic, some of the language of the memo concerns us. Specifically, he is still using the language of "workload inequalities in the School." "Workload inequalities" has been used in the past to emphasize students as pure numbers (majors-to-faculty and student-credit-hours-per-faculty) over quality, cutting-edge teaching and research in the humanities. Let's hope that Dean Van Den Abbeele will not forget the latter in repositioning the school for maximum success down the bottom line.

The other major concern is the lack of any student input, undergraduate or graduate, in the ad-hoc committee. We might want to consider asking for student representatives, because who else besides students have a vested interest in maintaining quality education over quantity?

1 comment:

  1. The phrase "workload inequalities" may in fact be euphemistic, but sometimes numbers are important and not just signs of some sinister utilitarianism. It seems to me that at a public university, student interest in courses (as represented by their enrollment, or lack thereof) should be considered. Is "quality, cutting-edge teaching and research" really incompatible with designing courses that have a wider appeal? Shouldn't those educators who believe in the value of their own teaching want to reach as many students as possible? Does the attraction of larger numbers of students to a course necessarily preclude quality instruction? I'm not talking about transforming a seminar into a lecture course -- I'm talking about getting 15, as opposed to 3, students together in a class.

    And shouldn't we also consider that faculty (as well as administration) may have less than noble interests and motives? Do we really believe that all righteousness and purity lies on the side of those wary of the administration? Couldn't it be that some professors prefer to have fewer students because they prefer a lighter teaching workload? And might it also be an indication of less than quality teaching when students avoid classes offered by certain professors?

    What distinguishes a public university from an ivory tower, theoretically, is its accessibility -- so why shouldn't we embrace attempts to correlate the amount of support a program receives with the number of students it reaches? Unless we're really so cynical as to believe that our research and teaching are really so refined and rarefied that they simply can't appeal to more than a few students. In that case, maybe we don't belong at a "public" university.