Monday, March 02, 2015

16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)

... continued from Saturday

4. When new faculty joined the team, they all faced the fact that, in many cases, they were being handed a curriculum and courses that already existed in some form.
  • The Missional Church course was already sketched out and its components dictated when Dr. Arn arrived.
  • Bob Whitesel had some MA courses that he had completely written from the Grad Ministries days, but now was handed a leadership course organized by a team. There were parts of it and books he would never have included if he had written the course on his own.
  • When Dr. Safiyah Fosua came, she was given a worship course that had already been taught several times. She spent the first couple years trying to figure out which parts were core and which parts were open for modification.
  • Lenny Luchetti and Colleen Derr probably came at a point when they could have a little more direct impact on the design of their courses, although even here they were handed a curriculum already designed by a team.
  • John Drury was able to design his online theology class on his own, as I was able to design my own biblical interpretation class on my own. This was the luxury of having a domain whose main course was not one of the six hour praxis ones. Still, I suspect John was frustrated with the Bible-theology-church history-integration components of the praxis courses that he taught.
  • Dr. Kwasi Kena was handed a set of books and a course design for Cultural Contexts that Elizabeth Drury had largely designed in cooperation with me, bringing the elements we had planned with Norm Wilson the very first time. As a free-standing course, he had more freedom than the praxis professors to redesign it as his own.
I suspect that this situation was as difficult for the faculty as it was for me. For me it was the question of what the core structure and vision of the Seminary curriculum was. In general, faculty control the curriculum in an educational institution. But (and this took some reflection), we determined that there were features of the curriculum that transcended the faculty's control. As an analogy, the people in a democracy are not allowed to vote out democracy.

The Seminary was founded with a certain identity, and in our case this identity extended down into the curriculum. We determined that these identity items were not under the purview of the faculty to change. To be crass about it, in this case, the "business model" of the Seminary, which is a matter of the Board and administration, extended down into the curriculum.

But what were those "identity set by the Board and administration" elements, the ones that the faculty as a whole--let alone the faculty as individuals--simply could not vote out?

5. I found myself in a role quite contrary to my personality, the role of gatekeeper. Again, none of us in academia were trained by way of the problem based, practice-focused, integrated model that was determined to be part of the non-negotiable core of our identity. This is tough, because a lot of us were drawn to teaching because we enjoy being a "sage on a stage" or at least the king of our castle. The idea of sharing a class is not just complicated but generally undesirable to many of us who went into teaching, it seems to me.

So there was one voice that was quite adamant in Year 4 that we needed to have one professor-one course. I have pondered long and hard if in the end that is how it will inevitably end up for pragmatic reasons. You can't legislate that two people enjoy teaching together or gel well together. Nevertheless, I haven't heard that voice much lately. Other innovations have released some of the pressure we were feeling at that time.

In this same vein was another voice I heard in Year 4. In so many words, "The designers of this approach aren't here any more. They designed it and left. Is it fair to expect someone else to teach on a model built for someone else?" Again, I take there to be some truth to this comment. It is possible that the curriculum was designed for a particular personality of teacher?

Was our curriculum designed for the personality types of Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, and Ken Schenck? How many professors are there out there who actually like these features that made the Seminary curriculum most unique? To what extent was it reasonable to expect to hire professors who were wired like us?

6. I don't have a crystal ball to predict what the future holds. At one point, at what felt like a low point on these matters, I was open to splitting the 6 hour praxis courses into two three hour courses, each with a dedicated professor. They could still be "integrated." It would just take some coordination and intentionality between the two professors. In this scenario, the "integration" professor would need to teach some practical components. And to keep the concept, the praxis professor should probably teach some "foundations" components.

Ideas swirled. I am known for sending long emails to the faculty trying to process problems like these electronically. I gather my thoughts by writing, as this blog embodies. Not everyone likes this style. Shouldn't we schedule meetings to discuss things face-to-face? There was a fear that decisions would be made without everyone getting in a room together.

That certainly was never the intent. I know universities where it takes months to get the smallest movement on the needle because nothing is done apart from monthly meetings where no decisions are ever made (one professor personality loves to discuss and discuss and process and never comes to a decision). With the Seminary being so small, I wanted to brainstorm electronically so that any face-to-face meeting to make a decision was almost ready to take action.

And some personalities tend to overlay others in a meeting. It's easier for the silent to be heard in an email conversation. Email is more egalitarian, as long as everyone is participating. True, not everyone likes email. But then again, this is the twenty-first century. It is a fundamental responsibility in the modern age for people in an organization to read their email regularly and respond accordingly.

7. Another possibility would be to split our six hour praxis courses into two courses with 10 weeks of praxis and 6 weeks of integration. But this just isn't practical. 16 divides neatly into two 8 week slots.

When I started toward being Dean, I had hoped perhaps to lengthen the Graduate Ministry courses to 10 weeks. You can get 15 week's worth of traditional material into 8 weeks, but it's hard for students to handle it, especially adult students who are working. But 8 weeks is practical. 10 weeks doesn't fit well on a calendar. Two MA courses each semester fit exactly into the time slot of one 16 week praxis course.

Early on I synchronized the course starts of the Seminary into 8 week blocks, except for the summer. Following the adult model, courses started all over the calendar when I came. With 12,000 students, there were new cohort groups starting every week in the College of Adult and Professional Studies. But with just 100 students or so to start, it was helpful to have designated cohort starts in the Seminary--January, March, August, October, and summer.

8. Another feature that we considered core to the Seminary's identity and thus unchangeable was the practical emphasis. This is embodied in the notion that our praxis courses are roughly two-thirds practice of ministry, one-third the "foundations" of Bible, theology, and church history. It is also embodied in the fact that the majority of our electives and degrees are practical in focus.

However, the gravity of academia seems to be toward the theoretical and the theological. Let me be clear, I strongly affirm the validity of these domains and that they are an essential part of a minister's education. Education is not just mere training or tactics. It includes the "why we are doing ministry" in the first place.

But it is, in my opinion, part of the essence of Wesley's identity that the curriculum cannot be voted to become even half-praxis, half-foundations. Indeed, the foundations are not even really foundational, at least not foundational for the praxis. We just couldn't come up with a better word. John Drury once suggested "theoria," to go alongside praxis, but it didn't stick.

9. One voice asked whether what was initially designed was really integration. Were we just doing Bible, theology, and church history in proximity to the practice of ministry, not really integrating them? Frankly, I'm not too worried if this is sometimes the case. I believe it should be okay for many "foundation" assignments only to be relevant rather than directly connected, because the Bible is more than a slave to practice.

I have feared that the Bible, theology, and church history would lose their own voice in this model. I only wanted to right-size the emphasis of the traditional seminary, not castrate these disciplines. We wanted to eliminate the old voices that used to say, "I never learned anything in seminary that I actually needed to know in ministry."

But my goal was never that the Bible should only be a slave to the practice of ministry. A theological truth can be relevant to the practice of ministry and yet not have an immediate application. My goal was never to eliminate the study of the Bible in its own right... or theology or church history. It was only to redress the balance and bring them into conversation.

The reason why I initially wanted a dedicated church history expert for church history assignments and Bible professor for Bible assignments is because I wanted students to get real Bible, not the bastardized versions of Bible and theology that I remembered from some practical professors at Asbury, trying to justify a practical truth with some proof text from the Bible.

(The most memorable was the CE professor at Asbury who ignored the Bible faculty there and went on to write a book claiming that Adam was androgynous before God took Eve out of him.)

Most practitioners think that they are experts in these areas too, but doing church history is not just knowing church history. It involves training in historiography. And there are layers to my teaching of the Bible that I barely even mention, but they are there below the surface, influencing what I say on the surface. And I have glimpsed the profundity of John Drury as a theologian. It isn't always obvious to the rest of us, but there is simply no one else in the Seminary who has that well from which to draw.

In our case, this practice of a separate professor for the praxis and another for the foundations wasn't personal. It wasn't meant to dismiss anyone's Bible skills, for example. It was a principle to avoid a slippery slope. I preferred someone with a doctorate in Bible, theology, or church history teaching the foundations in those areas (so does ATS), even though many of our practical professors are quite skilled in these areas too, maybe even more helpful. But I at least wanted a distinct professor for praxis in a course and a distinct professor for foundations in a course, so that each voice had power and didn't blur into the other.

So a praxis professor might teach the foundations part of a course, but then I would want someone else teaching the praxis part, so that the praxis has a clear voice and the Bible/theology/church history have a clear voice...

Previously on Seminary take-aways:

1. There are key moments of opportunity.
2. You need the right people.
3. Good leaders collaborate and navigate.

Year 1: Launch Year
4. Innovation requires some trial and error. (1)
5. Innovation requires some trial and error. (2)
6. Innovation requires some trial and error. (3)
7. New leaders bring new strengths. (1)

Year 2: Growing Pains
8. Administration never ends.
9. New leaders bring new strengths. (2)
10. New leaders bring new strengths. (3)

Year 3: The Year of Maturity
11. Complexity works against sustainability.
12. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (1)
13. There are advantages to being embedded in a broader university. (2)
14. Our guinea pigs survived.

Year 4: The Year of the Faculty
15. Faculty share governance with administration. (1)


Paul Tillman said...

As a student, personally I liked having 2 praxis professors and the integration. More than 2 seemed like a cool idea, but was a little confusing in practice. Only 1 would give us less diversity of thought, and probably much slower grading.

Ken Schenck said...

I think that is the general feeling from a student perspective. :-)