Getting Started on Faculty Senate

September 15, 2023

I’m serving on a new Faculty Senate work group on the topic of “faculty development.” Our chair suggested we start by having him consult with current faculty leaders on campus who have responsibilities in this area. Our group was unanimous in agreeing that such conversations were a good starting place. As I responded to the email thread, I found myself revisiting some cherished memories of colleagues, two in particular, who helped transform SXU many years ago. Here’s my email:

I’m on board too […]. I do have one initial recommendation: We might want to add Julie McNellis to the list of people to consult. Maybe even Nancy Lockie (though I haven’t had contact with Nancy for a few years). Back in the nineties (maybe it was the eighties?), Julie and Nancy created the Center for Educational Practice, which was kinda a visionary professional development organization that was something of a forerunner of professional development offices in higher ed at a national level. The SXU of today probably shares more similarities to the SXU of that earlier time in terms of resources and investments in the educational mission. Possibly. But anyway, the office they created was a real startup of a university-wide organization that provided various services and resources to faculty at all levels of the career arc, in various disciplines, in technology, pedagogy, and every dimension of professional life. They roped me in early on and nurtured me in transformational ways. After a few years, we wrote a grant, for instance, to create the MTTA, the Midwest Technology Teaching Academy, which was funded by AT&T to support collaborative faculty development technology projects of teams of several member institutions (SXU, Loras, Alverno, and Holy Cross). 

ANYWAY, I think it would be great to tap Julie for her stories about kickstarting an initiative like this, in an institution like this, in tight times like these. […] Just a thought—Angelo

Thinking about Julie and Nancy summons all that was good about SXU. I need to celebrate the blessings of them rather than grieve the soullessness of SXU, as I have been doing the past few years. Yesterday, while I was getting my MSNBC fix (alas), I heard that the Republican party had become the party of grievance—the place for old, white, privileged people, men primarily, to complain about change and lost status. I am uncomfortable with the extent to which my blog has become a grievance repository for an old, white, male, privileged professor. On the other hand, life at SXU has brought me so low—albeit only because, dialectically speaking, we had been so, so high. . . .

It was that illusion that progress was always forward-moving, that what was gained would remain and be built upon: that’s the source of the current grief that so stubbornly grips me. Of course, we knew there were no guarantees. But still we believed that progress was somehow to be counted on, taken for granted. Now all we have is destabilization—here in our own backyard, but so resoundingly amplified by crises everywhere, the climate problem, foremost of all, but also the threat to democracy, a much smaller, but still very large problem. With the climate issue, this whole experiment in humanity has been called into question, as we seem committed to seeing this sixth extinction through, like right away. How can we bank on anything? Then there’s the lost promise of education, the crushing of unions, and even, sigh, the pulling of the rug in sports.

This last one is big with me, I confess. I’m thinking of the loss of football—and I’m feeling it this fall on campus for some reason (it’s puzzling, since college football in autumn was never really part of my SXU routine). But it’s become impossible to lean into the joy of a football game, as the devastating effects come home, more and more pronounced. The morning news showed the benefit for Steve McMichael, who, immobilized in his struggle with ALS, moves us to tears, even if football per se might not be the definitive cause of his affliction. And earlier this week, there was the Aaron Rodgers injury. Much as I want to indulge in schadenfreude—I find it more painful than satisfying to see even him so afflicted.

Thinking about Julie and Nancy and SXU in 1996 (when I was hired) brings to mind the possibility of the “little engine that could.” Expectations were low, but hopes were high that we could go places. Our faculty had that tendency that academics have—letting ego have its way in judgments, sometimes quite mean ones, leveled as a pastime, elevating one by diminishing others. But the fundamentals of our community were solid. Faculty had a partnership with the administration; we had a union that fought behind the scenes with dignity and collegiality; we were functioning, more or less conventionally as an institution of higher education, in a context of dialogue and scholarship and teaching and community. The halls were filled with open doors (a lot of the time)—with faculty and students, in lively conversations, in and outside classrooms and offices.

The conversations were not tinged with the climate-change/demise-of-football/anti-labor/end-of-democracy doom of today—and they were not perfunctory as I am coming to see them in the SXU of 2023. At yesterday’s Faculty Senate meeting the provost shared his vision of “academic affairs.” He made his slides available, and I think we need, as a community, to perform a close reading of those slides—primarily to supply contexts that uncover just how vacuous the content is. As he spoke of assessment and hiring practices and program development and decision making, there was nothing to dispute. Who could argue with any of the principles, which, basically, could be summed up as “we must make good, informed decisions.” 

But the devil is in the details. Look at the decisions that have been made in the Joyner years. The cutting of programs—and prior to that, the gutting of programs—has been so ill-considered and extreme that any future “good, informed decisions” have become more or less pointless. There’s nothing here to build on. There’s no hope.

So, I’m back to the grievance. But seriously: no philosophy, religious studies, English, Spanish, history, sociology, math? Just what do you need to have a university? At the least, you need a commitment to learning and study in these areas, right? And the justification that there is insufficient student demand for these subjects ignores the fact that the programs have been defunded and under-cut for years, all in the context of a reduction in our commitment to general education—all of which was unnecessary in the context of our programs and all of which has been destructive of any possibility for growth or recovery in a time of institutional upheaval.

Thinking of Julie and Nancy brings to mind those other times—do I call them halcyon days? What do you need for halcyon days? I guess, first of all, you need an assumption that something matters, that hope for betterment exists, that we can pull together. A little sunshine wouldn’t hurt. I’m not saying that those things are gone completely; but we have spiraled so.

We need to rebuild. Working with colleagues on the Senate work group creates a new opportunity. There is goodwill among these individuals, and so, perhaps there can be some kind of laying of groundwork.

But before we pretend to move on too far, the trauma of the Joyner years needs a reckoning. I find myself in a haze of uncertainty about where we are. Do we have a department? Do we have a major? Will there be any effort to address why such drastic program closures were put into effect without proper data analysis, or consideration of causes and effects?

We need to bring ourselves back to a Julie/Nancy moment of building something (perhaps out of nothing). I’d like to ask them how they found the initiative and courage and resources to spearhead a faculty development program at such a small and under-resourced institution.

I’d also like to thank them for their humanity, and all they’ve done for me—and so many—in such genuine ways. Not to mention the fun.

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