Nathan Lee, in his article “The effectiveness of our strategic plan,” is correct to say that my previous assessment of the Strategic Plan as “wrong” is incorrect. Wrong is too strong of a word. Upon reviewing the Strategic Plan in closer detail, I would prefer to say that the Strategic Plan is misguided.
To avoid confusion, it is first necessary to explain the types of goals in the Strategic Plan. There is no discernable order within the 13 goals that indicates which types of goals are most desired, so I will organize them by type for the sake of convenience. This organization does not mean any of these goals are being prioritized over the others.
The first category is recruitment. Goals one, four, eleven, and twelve all focus on recruiting better students, faculty, and staff to Colorado College. The second category is improving the Block Plan. Goals two, three, and eight pertain to this area. The third category is improving our campus by establishing a better connection between our school and both the local and global community. This category pertains to goals five, six, seven, and nine. Finally, there is goal thirteen, which seeks to improve transparency and administrative structures to enhance effectiveness.
The problem with these goals is that they are moving at odds with one another. The first real challenge for our school is that we must identify what type of institution we want to be. In my article from first week of this block, I posited that we wanted to be a school that can provide the best possible education for undergraduate students. Defining this goal in achievable steps should be the goal behind the Strategic Plan.
However, the Engaged Teaching and Learning Committee goals pertaining to education are contradictory. On the one hand, the questions are asking faculty to become mentors, to spend more time with students, and to make the classroom more engaging. At the same time, the guiding questions are trying to support faculty research and professional development. These two goals are not complementary.
Our professors already teach more hours on average than professors at equivalent institutions, so just deciding to teach at Colorado College represents a sacrifice in their professional development. Goals like mentoring students will lead to even more time spent with students and therefore will require an even greater sacrifice on the part of our professors.
There are two ways to avoid this type of problem. The first is that we only hire faculty who are dedicated to teaching and are not pursuing their own research. But realistically, it seems that if we want the best faculty, we also have to bring in those people who are doing research. The best thinkers in any field of study are probably engaged in the debates in their subject. Thus, we cannot hire the best faculty without allowing them the time to do their own research.
Currently, for a few students in most departments, mentorship does happen through the opportunities to help professors with research. However, if professors are going to be expected to mentor more students, they will have to offer more research opportunities, possibly creating redundancy, and they will definitely be spending less time with each student. If the number of professors is finite, and their time is also finite, then making professors spend more time with more students will require them to sacrifice more of their professional life to their new educational responsibilities.
Faculty-student research is a valuable opportunity for a few students but it does not solve the problem of mass mentorship. The solution is to hire more professors and decrease the teaching load of all teachers, therefore allowing professors to spend more time in a mentoring role while not losing their ability to focus on professional projects. But hiring more great professors will increase the operating costs of our college and will either require an increase in tuition or more donations from alumni to establish endowed chairs.
The problem of improving education is further compounded if we add in the third set of goals. The Strategic Plan suggests that we want to make Colorado College a center for local and regional ideas while also providing students with the means to experience global diversity.
The problem with our regional focus is that Colorado and most of the surrounding states are focused on agriculture. The largest single industry in Colorado is the beef industry. Furthermore, the other major industries for the state are manufacturing, mining and services. Denver does have some internship opportunities, primarily in aerospace and insurance, but these specialized fields do not satisfy the needs of most liberal arts students. Compared to colleges on the East Coast, our regional focus does not give us an equivalent comparative advantage, unless you are focused on bovine sciences.
The majority of great academic, research, and professional institutions are on the coasts. If a physics major is interested in engineering, he or she should spend some time interning with a company like Boeing, which would mean spending time in Seattle. A political science major should probably travel to Washington, D.C. and work as an intern for a lobbyist, a think tank, or on the Hill. Students of economics probably should go to Chicago or New York to work with hedge funds or consulting firms.
Our students are innovative and unique. Therefore, we need to make the Block Plan function to liberate students to pursue their academic goals. The Extending Our Reach Committee does not seem to understand this point. Their third question is “Should we consider establishing a physical location in another part of the U.S. or the world?” Innovating education is the diversification of education to fit the unique demands of each student. There is no single location that could adequately satisfy this goal.
This question is also indicative of the larger problem in how we are thinking about the Block Plan. We are not taking advantage of how segmented time is on the Block Plan. Summer internships are more competitive than those in other seasons since most college students are not in school; therefore, our students are less likely to be hired for prestigious positions. Our students should be able to look for internships in other seasons without academic repercussions.
However, if a student were to take two blocks in the winter to do an internship, they would probably end up graduating late. The summer blocks do not have the same number of courses available and generally basic requirements are all that can be satisfied. Making the school available year-round while giving students three optional blocks would allow students to be able to use the full year more effectively.
The immersive education question increases the confusion surrounding our expectations for the role of faculty in education. Pursuing an internship requires advice, letters of recommendation, and probably complimentary academic reading. Therefore, faculty members are expected to take on an even greater and more personalized course load. Experiential learning is an interesting idea, but it requires resources that the college currently does not have.
The goal of our school should be to improve the quality of undergraduate education. In pursuit of this goal, we need to realize that there are limits to what we can ask our faculty to do before we start to damage the current quality of education. Pursuing internships, functioning as mentors, and helping students on independent research all increase the time faculty members must spend with students.
This use of time is not inherently a bad thing. However, to expect faculty to complete these goals sincerely, we also need to give them time to work on their research so they can achieve their own professional goals. Achieving this balance means spending money on recruiting more faculty to satisfy these new demands. Hiring professors, not passing progressive plans, is the first step towards innovating the life of the mind.
By Joseph Jammal
(This article was written by Joseph Jammal)
Author: Joseph Jammal