In 2011 the Center for Faculty Development piloted a new format for faculty events: candid conversations. These are intended to be relaxed, late-afternoon discussions where faculty can share their views and experiences on topics that may be more controversial or "hot" at the time. These facilitated conversations have less emphasis on current research, more on exploring the topic in its Seattle University context, with gentle moderation from the Center for Faculty Development.
A candid conversation facilitated by David Green
On the face of it, boundaries may sound like a non-issue at SU, and yet we know from the associate deans that this is a hot topic on campus that can begin on either side of a student–faculty interaction.
These interactions cover a wide range, from using first names to taking a student for lunch to discuss a class issue, from texting between instructor and student to a faculty member adopting the role of counselor or social worker in an attempt to support a student.
Inescapable power differentials—where one individual grades the work of another—add a layer of complexity to these interactions, especially when SU faculty often feel a strong responsibility to get to know their students as part of the university's value of "care." Indeed the research on the importance of rapport for a positive learning environment would back up those efforts, but only up to a point.
So where exactly does the dividing line lie? What difficulties might we unexpectedly find ourselves in? And what kinds of repercussions are colleges and schools reporting around the country?
Many of us require attendance in our classes. We expect
students to engage actively with the material and with one another. We check
who has viewed pages on Canvas. We monitor online discussions for levels of
contribution. And we often assign points for each of these as a carrot or
introduce penalties as a stick.
Why do we do this? Common reasons are that it is for the
students’ own good, that it reflects our university’s value of “care,” and that
it gives students practice for workplace professionalism.
While these reasons may be valid, could the opposite be true
at the same time? That by removing choice, we infantilize students, deny them
agency and academic freedom, and thwart their chances of developing their own
professionalism through trial and error? Or that by awarding points for
everything students do, we perpetuate a point-chasing attitude more akin to
high school, at the expense of higher learning in a post-compulsory setting?
In this late-afternoon session, we’ll have the chance for a
candid conversation over drinks and appetizers to discuss these troubling and
paradoxical notions and to weigh up the many alternatives available to us.
A candid conversation with Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Associate Professor, Modern Languages & Cultures and Women & Gender Studies; and Carmen Gonzalez, Professor, School of Law
Seattle University has a higher than average proportion of students from underrepresented groups, yet its faculty profile doesn't yet reflect that diversity. At many institutions, a gap exists between the "ideal" of faculty diversity and the actual experience of underrepresented faculty. Using the example of women of color as an entrée into the topic, this Candid Conversation creates space for an open dialogue about the daunting challenges faced by underrepresented faculty as they navigate the often hostile terrain of higher education.
Editors of Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, PhD, and Carmen Gonzalez, JD, will facilitate the conversation. We'll discuss some of the concrete strategies offered in the book to help junior faculty thrive in academia and will hear some of the problems that they encountered with editing a book about difficult issues of the intersections of gender, race, and social class within the Academy.
Mere mention of the phrase "learning outcomes" – or "learning objectives" – can raise the hackles of many a faculty member throughout the English-speaking world. And yet the learning outcomes agenda and the discourse of outcomes assessment are fast permeating US higher education, driven in large part by the accrediting bodies that assure the quality of our degree programs. What pitfalls do we see and how do we sidestep them? What benefits might learning outcomes present and how do we capitalize on them? What can we learn from faculty experiences of the learning outcomes process in other countries?
"Grade inflation" has long been a hot topic on US campuses, and we hear it discussed at Seattle University, too. So to what extent is it a problem for the university, and how is it manifested here? Is grade inflation evidence of a humane educational environment that supports learners, the result of a sense of entitlement among students, a non-issue due to a mastery model in some SU courses, or a myth that needs to be dispelled?
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