Faculty Offer Ideas to Strategic Planning Chairs
Issue   |   Wed, 03/05/2014 - 00:26

The Red Room reached full capacity last night as the faculty turned up in full force for their second meeting of the spring semester.

Dean of the Faculty Greg Call began the meeting discussing the Committee of Six’s most recent minutes. New courses, the College’s oversight rules and the recent faculty job satisfaction survey results were among topics discussed. Call also explained that the Committee of Six unanimously agreed to stand by their decision to let Provost Peter Uvin run Orientation. This was met with some scrutiny by the faculty, several of whom questioned the role of faculty governance, particularly in relation to the Committee of Six.

President Biddy Martin then began her remarks to the faculty, which included a brief report of her visit to the White House to discuss sexual respect on college campuses. Among the other college presidents and administrators present, Vice President Joe Biden also attended the conference and, according to Martin, acknowledged that, while problems of sexual assault do not begin on college campuses, the White House is prepared to hold colleges more accountable and step up its enforcement.

Concluding her remarks, Martin said that the search for a “more narrowly defined” Dean of Students will be beginning, as the process to select faculty and students to serve on the search committee will begin shortly.

Martin introduced Professors Judith Frank and Rhonda Cobham-Sander to speak to the faculty regarding the work of their work as chairs of two Strategic Planning Committees. Frank, chair of the Committee for the Integration of Curricular and Co-Curricular Learning began, first thanking the faculty serving on said committees for their “energy, imagination and enthusiasm.”

Frank’s remarks included a discussion of the idea of busyness of the Amherst campus, and how it has become a “badge of honor.” She explained that one of her committee’s central considerations has been how to change this notion.

Cobham-Sander, chair of the Committee for Diversity and Community then discussed the College’s Diversity Principles and the role of diversity at Amherst in 2014. She encouraged the faculty to reach out to her for smaller conversations regarding the role of diversity.

After the two professors gave their remarks, Martin opened the meeting up to the faculty for questions.

Frank responded to questions about ways to combat busyness on campus, by offering several ideas that she and her committee have brainstormed: ways to disrupt the forward momentum of the semester, allotted time for campus-wide writing groups (faculty on their research and students on their papers), a focus on only one course for the week following spring break and scheduled time for no co-curricular or extracurricular activities were all posed. Frank also noted that the while the importance of moving learning outside the classroom was a central focus of her committee, the idea of learning within the classroom, notably the value of the College’s open curriculum, is also being discussed.

Professor Ronald Rosbottom questioned the role of athletics in the context of Frank’s committee, a consideration that sparked considerable dialogue and seemed to move certain heads upwards from their iPads. (Faculty ... they’re just like us!)

Professor Adam Sitze noted that a 2013 alumni survey showed that recent alumni believed that athletics should receive less emphasis on campus. He also said that one negative result of the prominence athletic teams on campus is an increased focus on competition, which in turn can be reflected on campus as students compete with one another for certain jobs. He concluded his comments by stating that alternatives to competition-based organizations did exist on campus, including music ensembles, and wondered if this could perhaps serve as a model going forward.

Next, Frank mentioned the committee’s considerations of Residential Life. She noted that the “social engineering” used to place first-years in their dorms is the most successful model of Room Draw, and expressed her hope that similar engineering could occur throughout students’ four years at Amherst, and was aware that this would break up large clumps of athletes living together.

Professor Natasha Staller chimed in toward the end of the meeting that her class “The Sixties” could perhaps serve as a useful model for community building going forward; after teaching “The Feminine Mystique” in class, Staller mentioned her students meeting outside of class to further discussing the topic. She even went as far to mention that one student, after reading “The Feminine Mystique,” said she had to break up with her boyfriend — all of which is to say, to Staller, more seminars will provide a healthier and less-fractured campus community.

After a hearty applause for Frank and Cobham-Sander for their thoroughness in response, Martin adjourned the meeting, though not before some faculty members were already making their way up the over-crowded stairwells.