C.18: Program Politics: The Professional Risks and Rewards of Program Innovation
Reviewed by Natalie A. Johnson, University of Central Florida (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Chairs: Maria Cahill, Husson University, Bangor, ME
Scott Ortolano, Florida Southwestern State College, Ft. Myers, FL
Speakers: Paul Dahlgren, Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, GA, “Can It Really Work? Reviving a Master’s Program in the Rural South”
Scott Ortolano, Florida Southwestern State College, Ft. Myers, FL, “Staying on Course: Navigating Legislative, Administrative, and Departmental Minefields”
Stephen Raynie, Gordon State College, Barnesville, GA, “Climbing the Administrative Ladder with Hands Tied Behind My Back”
Rod Zink, Penn State-Harrisburg, PA, “Facing the Elephant in the Room: The Risks and Rewards of Addressing Grammar and Usage Issues at Penn State-Harrisburg”
Maria Cahill, Husson University, Bangor, ME, “Staying on Course: Navigating Legislative, Administrative, and Departmental Minefields”
Innovative thinking is about finding a way to do what is right for both the students and institution, not just doing what is easy and expected. This was the topic of the session, which featured representatives from multiple English departments at various universities who presented their own challenges and successes in their efforts at program innovation. While the challenges and successes varied, presenters offered commonalities regarding their efforts to redesign current programs and initiate new ones. Many of the concerns presented in this session came down to concerns for the morale of the faculty and what is best for student learning.
Stephen Raynie discussed his analysis of faculty within the writing programs at Gordon State College and the importance of acknowledging writing courses as a main component of developing students’ critical thinking skills, especially once they enter the workforce. Raynie discussed a widespread problem throughout institutions: the separation between senior level administrators and those who are actually teaching. Higher level administrators have decision-making authority, but frequently they do not know the reality of what is occurring on a daily basis among those who are directly involved in teaching the students. One reason for this disconnect, as Raynie explained, is poor policy development, since most policies are created for political reasons. Raynie also described another common issue: the loss of part-time faculty because they found full-time work at another institution. Faculty morale is also affected by stagnant wages; the lack of wage increases is due to the fact that faculty who teach longer cannot teach larger classes when it comes to English courses. Increasing the student cap would decrease effectiveness of learning no matter who is teaching. In the end, these issues among faculty and administration negatively affect students, and in order for administration to fully realize these issues, there needs to be more data-driven critiques of these problems.
Maria Cahill and Scott Ortolano spoke about their involvement in establishing a bachelor’s degree in English at Florida Southwestern State College. In their first attempt, administrative leaders declined their proposal, which indicated a lack of understanding or concern for the benefits of an English degree among the student population. However, Cahill and Ortolano indicated that when they revised the proposal (with the only changes being an online option and changing it from a BA to a BS), it was then accepted by their administration. Bureaucracy, policies, and disconnected administrators appear to be problems that those in teaching positions face when making changes or addressing concerns within their institutions.
Paul Dahlgren presented his redesign of an MA program at Georgia Southwestern State University, including the demographic distress experienced in this area. Dahlgren explained that “how others identify you reflects your own interpretations of yourself.” This appears to be a common theme at many institutions when it comes to part-time, full-time, tenured, non-tenured, and adjunct faculty. Dahlgren also discussed the disconnection experienced at his institution between literature and writing studies among the rhetoric faculty. Some institutions have a greater divide among faculty and administration, while others experience these same hurdles within their own programs.
In “Facing the Elephant in the Room,” Rod Zink discussed the fact that because writing is multimodal, innovative teaching techniques are needed for students’ benefit. Students’ writing skills are hindered both by hot-button issues in writing (such as grammar versus content) and mandates to cut remedial writing courses. However, according to Zink, these problems have been, and will continue to be, around for some time. The real way to fix these problems is by looking outside of administrative control.
Zink discussed universities as businesses that are therefore economically driven. This dimension should not be forgotten when considering any of the program innovation strategies discussed in this session. Implementing change, increasing wages, addressing faculty workload, designing new degrees, or any other matters in which obtaining administrative consent or approval is needed must be considered within the context of universities operating as businesses. These presenters discussed their own steps toward program innovations in writing studies and the hurdles they dealt with, along with what they found to be successful through their research and experiences.