Threats to Curricular Innovation and Faculty Engagement

We have to face the fact that we have designed curricula that no longer resonate with our students and do not promote the learning the need to succeed in today’s society, says Susan Gano-Phillips, Professor of Psychology at University of Michigan-Flint. Faculty should be able to engage with general education in a way that causes our curriculum alongside societal needs.

I thought this set of talks might give strategic and specific examples of ways that universities might “build cultures of faculty engagement” (which incidentally was the title of the session). Instead, I left with a list of current trends and controversies that threaten and impede innovation and engagement:

  1. Productivity: “A narrow conception of productivity threatens to trump student learning and innovation in the curriculum,” Gano-Phillips continues. “Students hate this, Faculty hate this. Yet, we continue to do it.” This threat can be diminished through a learning-outcome-based model of education.
  2. Contingent Faculty: Faculty employment also threatens curricular reform. Universities cannot rely on contingent faculty as pinch-hitters or liabilities. Rather, we need to view them as allies in reform processes and innovation.
  3. Changes in Technology: Both a threat and a rallying force, technology is daunting for some and an experimental laboratory for others.
  4. Disparity in Faculty and Student Identity: Minority faculty appear more in contingent ranks than full-time positions. Yet, student profiles are increasingly diverse.
  5. Disciplinary Silos: Faculty departments, libraries, and student affairs leaders tend to silo themselves and divide themselves into like parties. All need to be included in the conversation through integrated general education programs.
  6. Surrounding Communities: Major events and crises in a college’s surrounding community can hinder innovation, but if successfully harnessed, can create opportunities for faculty to collaborate, innovate, and engage the community.

These trends were compiled from the collected presentations on this panel, which included Robert Collins, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Dillard University; Michele Cuomo, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at CUNY Queensborough Community College; Cynthia Gomez, Instructor at Portland State University; and Norman Jones, Professor of History at Utah State University, in addition to Gano-Phillips.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) annual conference on General Education and Assessment was held at the New Orleans Marriott in New Orleans, Louisiana, February 23-25, 2012. I attended on behalf of Queens University of Charlotte with four faculty colleagues. Read all the articles on this conference here.


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