Core Revision at UDM: Random Thoughts on Lessons Learned

1. Mistaken assumption, the first. That this would be a discussion of the general education for all UDM undergraduates.

2. Mistaken assumption, the second. That the faculty of a religiously-affiliated university would never seriously move to decrease the the study of religion.

3. Mistaken assumption, the third. That no university in the 21st century would actually decrease its science requirements at a time when scientific consensus is under sustained attack by dogmatic fundamentalists and political ideologues.

4. Identity crisis.

5. Small wisdom in short supply.

6. On the “silo” mentality.

7. Cassandra complex.

8. On the wise counsel of Don Theodore. Put aside all notions of a rational and generous search for “common ground.” Be prepared for an embarrassingly myopic exercise in feeble but Machiavellian Realpolitik involving allies of convenience, underhanded machinations, and naked expedience. Wise counsel!

9. Culture of evidence.

10. Courage and convictions.

11. Obfuscation and cowardice.

13. Threading the needle.

14. Singing with the angels.

But there’s another, extracurricular casualty here.

What’s that?  Shared governance.

How so?  Shared governance is all about putting curricular matters into the hands of faculty in order to prevent administrators from making arbitrary decisions about curricula. What this means in practice is that faculty are put in charge of safeguarding the curricular integrity of programs. In the MFA this is done primarily through a well-defined and rigorous review process, where departments are allowed a collaborative voice in matters relating to the future of their programs. The decision of the MFAEC/CCRC, by way of contrast, is being imposed unilaterally and outside of the MFA’s own established review process, and without consultation with programs despite their duly registered objections.

You think this decision will harm the credibility of shared governance at UDM?  I think it has already done serious harm to the legitimacy of the MFA because the MFAEC/CCRC’s decision is harming individual programs and the mission of the university—which is just the opposite of the MFA’s stated purpose. Its constituents are watching what’s going on here very closely. What they’re seeing is an MFA leadership that is refusing to reconsider a decision that will have an adverse effect on one department (among others) that just three years ago came out of program review with very high marks. In light of this harmful, arbitrary, and apparently unappealable decision, what does this review, and all of the work that went into it, now mean? Nothing. If the MFA can make such decisions, why would we participate in program review in the future? Why would any program?

According to the shared governance agreement, if faculty do not successfully revise the core the task will fall to the board of trustees. Do you want that?  No. I helped write the MFA constitution. I’m a believer in shared governance. This is why I find the MFAEC/CCRC decision so disheartening. It’s just as arbitrary as any decision handed down from on high by the administration or the board. A harmful, arbitrary decision is a harmful, arbitrary decision, no matter who makes it. This decision isn’t more palatable because it comes from the leadership of the MFA; if anything, it’s far more distressing.

So, what do you want, in a nutshell?  I just want the MFAEC/CCRC to simply acknowledge that their decision was based on a flawed assumption and to consider alternatives that would restore the shared electives essential to the vitality of many programs in a way that would place no burdens on any single department, and which would still respect their 48-hour cap. As I mentioned before, I’ll be making alternative suggestions in my second reconciliation report. If we can get a conversation going, I think this crisis is resolvable.