Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Other Side of Collegiality

One of the reasons I love Wheaton is that we actually have what other places claim to have, but don't: collegiality. We eat together, we talk constantly about our teaching and our students, and even in the English department (English departments are known throughout academia as wretched hives of scum and villiany, snakepits of backbiting and intrigue), we pretty much all like each other.

And thank God (and it's also a big reason I'm planning on staying. Or, as my wife put it in exasperation: they're only going to be able to get you out of Wheaton in a box).

But the price we pay for collegiality is work. Lots of work. We have collegiality because we are not very hierarchical (which I like) because we, as members of committees, do most of the work done by individual deans at larger schools.

I was just chosen to be chair of our Education Policy Committee, and boy, am I seeing how the system works up close (I was on EdPol when we re-wrote the entire Wheaton curriculum; I was also the recording secretary, so I got the fun experience of having every iteration of the stinking Minutes word-smithed).

Today we had our final faculty meeting, where we approved the degree candidates, confirmed reports from the standing committees, approved the calendar for the next seven years, etc. I loathe faculty meetings and have been skipping them religiously for the past two years. Now it's payback time . Not only did I have to be there because people would have noticed, but I was stuck behind at the meeting for 1.25 hours.

Most of what I'm doing is listening (people who know me personally are already laughing at the poetic justice) and trying to give an honest hearing to various concerns. But it has become shockingly clear to me in the past couple weeks that one of the reasons that Wheaton works so well is the very inefficiency that makes me hate faculty meetings. If everyone gets his or her say and gets a respectful hearing, people are more willing to accept change and to try new things. I'm trying to impress this upon people new to Wheaton: yes, having a complex, open process with defined procedures is a huge pain for seemingly simple decisions, and it wastes time for all involved (and I whined ceaselessly about meetings for years).

But... process, transparency and involvement lead to buy-in across the college. So when a decision finally gets made, it's supported everywhere.

A good example is our new curriculum: we had an interminable 18 months in which we held study groups, had faculty-wide discussions and answered hundreds of emails. I thought it was a huge time-waster, and remember saying to the Provost: "why are we doing all of this? We've got the 55 votes we need; let's just vote." She, being much wiser, ignored me. And at the end of the process, despite the fact that the curriculum was a major change, and depite the fact that not everyone was thrilled, the new curriculum passed 93-3 (and I know that at least one of the "no" votes was simply to keep the vote from being unanimous--"which would make us into a bunch of sheep"). Now even skeptics work to support the new curriculum and have devoted immense quantities of time and energy.

Something to think about, particularly for administrators and chairs.

[Only 32 more papers to go and the grading is done...]

1 comment:

Dean Dad said...

I've long marvelled at the contradictory impulses behind 'faculty governance' -- nothing should be done without faculty input, and the faculty should never be asked to show up at a meeting. How these can both be true at the same time is beyond me.

Congrats on squaring the circle.