What follows is the Conclusion/Reflection Section of my 2006-2007 annual report -- the last annual report I will write for St. Cloud State University's Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. I am leaving the University to accept a post in the English Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Like all transitions, this one comes with emotional consequences; I feel a sense of sorrow, of impending loss and also great anticipation, thrill, eagerness, and wonderment at my good fortune. I'm not sure just now what will happen with this blog. Perhaps I'll take it with me and transform its purposes just a bit (or clarify them at least). Or maybe the new director will want to take it over. I guess we'll figure that out as we go...
In any case, below please find my concluding reflections on my tenure as the CETL director at St. Cloud State University.
At the culmination of my third year as the Director of St. Cloud State University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and my final year as a faculty member at SCSU, I am struck by the exceptional quality of my University’s faculty. I have learned over the last three years that my colleagues across the University are experimenting, innovating, reflecting, and engaging critically and responsively in their classrooms and in their individual encounters with students. At the same time, many of my colleagues are making extraordinary contributions to knowledge in their disciplines. There is a tremendous amount of individual collective experience and wisdom that has formed the most vibrant, rigorous, and inspirational resource for me as a faculty developer. I have learned that much of faculty development leadership depends so much more on recognizing, cultivating, and tapping the expertise of one’s colleagues and encouraging them to make that knowledge public than on becoming an expert on pedagogy and praxis in every discipline oneself. I’ve learned that successful promotion of faculty development opportunities depends first and foremost on reaching out to colleagues with respect and recognition of their commitment, integrity, and prior knowledge. The greatest mistakes I’ve made as a faculty development leader have occurred as a result of not studying what my colleagues already know before I tell them what I think they ought to know.
At the same time (and I write this lovingly and with great respect), I have noted with increasing frequency as my own exposure to research on student learning and teaching effectiveness deepens that my colleagues seem at some critical junctures not to recognize their own self-interest as they make decisions or refuse to make decisions about policies, practices, and curricula whether locally or at the statewide level (see for example the refusal of the university faculty to participate in the Board of Trustees Awards for faculty excellence). Further, I have noted that my colleagues seem at other critical junctures to rehearse old and largely discredited notions about student learning, early adult development, and teaching effectiveness in ways that do disservice to students and, perhaps, to faculty as well (for example the SCSU Faculty Association’s refusal to endorse a mandatory attendance policy – a decision hinging on the claim that students are already fully formed adults and should enjoy the freedom to fail; or reactionary discussions of assessment that fall well short of a meaningful and informed critique of mainstream assessment theory and practice). Often, I think, it is those very colleagues who are most publicly and frequently inclined to proclaim with great certainty positions that are fundamentally indefensible from a informed, researched perspective, who would be least likely to ever espouse a theory or scholarly perspective in their discipline that they had not fully researched and about which they were unfamiliar with the arguments both of its proponents and its detractors such that they could stake out a clear and reasoned position for themselves.
Similarly, having survived an early indoctrination into the evils of MnSCU and the seamless and impenetrable incompetence of SCSU Administrators writ large, I have learned that there is great intelligence, deep commitment, and extraordinary ability abounding among the administration and staff of both the University and the Chancellor’s Office. I know of few administrators who could legitimately claim never to have erred or failed, but then I know of few administrators who would actually be inclined to make that sort of claim. On the other hand, I have noted with frequent alarm and occasional despair, the tendency of some administrators, often in collaboration with some faculty, to orchestrate or participate in mobbings against their peers or against other faculty, to control and direct rather than to facilitate and lead, to obfuscate and dissemble rather than practicing transparency and honesty, and to practice the exploitation rather than the stewardship of human resources, in particular. I know that, as with faculty, the actions of a few continue to undermine the credibility and integrity of the many. I watch as some of my faculty colleagues construct reactionary positions based on the presumption that tarring all administrators with the same brush is somehow appropriate just as I watch some of my administrative colleagues construct repressive and unjust policies and, worse, unwritten practices, to silence dissent within the faculty.
At SCSU, the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning occupies a strange and conflicted organizational space on a kind of bridge between faculty and administration – some of each and wholly neither. At the same time, I have seen my role quite clearly as being one of advocacy on behalf of faculty. I have felt myself tasked with making some intellectual, some pedagogical sense of institutional directives and initiatives that seem both invested with tremendous educational potential and emptied of that potential by their fad-appeal. I have felt myself tasked with providing faculty with opportunities to engage in intellectually rigorous, critical, and creative ways with the best that is known about such matters as assessment, general education curriculum design, civic engagement and service-learning, international education and globalization, anti-racist education and feminist pedagogies, engaged pedagogy and instructional technologies, student learning and learning-centered pedagogies, critical thinking and critical pedagogy, and so on. At least some of these ideas as topics for the attention of CETL came originally from individual administrators or from groups of administrators – just as many of the ideas came from faculty colleagues counseling me, answering my questions (born both of curiosity and of need), advising me, or asking me for information. In any case, in the strange-in-between-ness of the CETL directorship, I have occasionally been struck by the absurdity of monolithic representations of the Other forthcoming from both sides (administration and faculty) and by the tragedy of unrecognized and unacknowledged shared interests, commitments, convictions, and a shared love of and respect for students.
To be in-between is to find oneself, I think, in a intellectually, creatively, and organizationally challenging place – it is a site of great risk and also and necessarily of great potential. In many ways, I am quite convinced, it is not only what I’ve accomplished as a writing center scholar, but also and perhaps more so what I have learned as the Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning and how I have learned, that has enabled me to move from St. Cloud State University to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I think I’ve learned to listen much more deeply and more rhetorically as it were. I think I’ve learned to organize strategically and to practice sustainable advocacy. I think I’ve learned to write with greater persuasive power and a stronger awareness of audience. And I think I’ve learned that wise counsel and powerful mentoring come at moments of great need from the most surprising and wondrous people, if only one is ready and open.
I hope that I have left the CETL situated such that a new director may step into the position with certainty about the institutional security of the office and its work, with a sense of the Office being well resourced and supported enthusiastically by both faculty and administration at SCSU. I believe I have accomplished that much. I also hope that I have left space and opportunity for new vision, for new and alternative ways of moving, and for greater and even more progressive experimentation with teaching and learning.
Respectfully Submitted By Dr. Frankie Condon
June 1, 2007