Tuesday, March 03, 2015

17. Faculty share governance with administration. (3)

... continued from yesterday

10. The discussions over how to configure the team teaching in our praxis courses started a movement of many professors toward what we call a 10-6 or 6-10 model. In this model, a praxis course is restructured to six weeks of "integration" either at the beginning or end of the class. Then the other ten weeks are praxis weeks. This model has the strength of giving focus to one or the other voice at a time. For example, Colleen Derr and faithful adjunct Lara Levicheva coordinated the restructuring of the whole Congregational Formation class into this model.

Some of the Spanish courses, now undergoing their first major revision, are even moving to a model I prefer even more, an "intercalated" model where the six weeks of "integration/foundations" are interspersed throughout the course to give the "foundations" professor time to give feedback on substantial assignments. Again, the "foundations" do not have to go at the beginning because they are not really foundations in most cases. They are more like the parallel play of the Bible, theology, and church history next to related practices.

A discussion has also started that will no doubt continue beyond my tenure. Are six integration papers (IPs) more than are necessary, especially when our students could use more concentrated skills in the areas of Bible, theology, and church history? Wouldn't three IPs do just as well, and open up a space for further development of related exegetical, theological, and historical depth in relevant praxis courses? The current danger is that all the content assignments in these areas are only entry level and never build. They are more like "drive by" sightings that never grow roots, mere cameo appearances of content without accumulated insight.

For example, for the Spanish proclamation course, we have moved to deeper exegetical skills before they do a week on textual sermons, a biblical themes week before they do a week on topical sermons, and a week on the literary forms of the Bible before they do a week on narrative sermons, all brought to them by the removal of the IP from that particular course.

11. One of the jobs of the Dean as gatekeeper is to guard against what is called in the business, "curriculum creep." Ours is a streamlined program, a mere 75 hours, which is historically small for a Master of Divinity degree. We can barely afford to do more than a hit and run even on important topics like communion and baptism if there's an IP in that course. There are of course the traditionalists who cry foul, those who would rather close their doors than have a degree less than 90 hours. That's a different kind of stupid.

Nevertheless, we have carved out fifteen hours of electives within the 75 hour degree. There will no doubt be moments in the days ahead when various voices will call for requiring just one more course. Can't you hear it? We really need to require Greek (and the whole nine yards, none of this Greek for Ministry). We really need a required course in Wesley's theology. Aren't you a Wesleyan seminary?

There will always be something noble that could be added as a requirement to the curriculum. But the answer has to be no. There's just no more room.

12. Learning how to arrange the electives in itself has been a science. Back in the Graduate Ministry days, before the Seminary, Russ and Bob had worked out that the market could handle two electives a year--one on campus and one away somewhere. That was before the bombshell of 2010 when the Obama administration had the annoying idea of having every state justify the quality of online education students in their states were receiving.

The consequence is that all the states suddenly smelled money. A free for all ensued where suddenly institutions like Indiana Wesleyan had to get approval from every state in which they had students and usually had to pay for it. There may still be one or two states where we just don't recruit as a result of this phenomenon (Alabama?).

Dr. Bob Whitesel actually had a one week 2013 elective for our students scheduled with Ed Stetzer in Nashville a couple years ago that we ended up cancelling because the regulatory process was going to take way too long to get it done in time. In an all too common story, bureaucracy loses business.

The process of arriving at 2 electives a year was the pain of Russ having to cancel intensives that didn't have enough students registered. I think we've only had to do that once in the history of the Seminary. It was an away course using an adjunct that none of our students had heard of. It would have been a good course, but there was a lesson in it. Students generally prefer to take courses with faculty they know, no matter how enriching the course would be.

13. So we were cautious not to have too many electives in the first few years. There were some we needed to have to serve the Wesleyan Church--1) Wesleyan Church History and Polity and 2) Theology of Holiness. (I've long thought the second one should be rewritten more broadly, something like Distinctives of Wesleyan Theology. Right now it's a kind of "Wesleyans Gone Wild" course. How 'bout it, HQ?)

It seemed important to offer Greek for Ministry and Hebrew for Ministry as electives. Many criticized us at first for not requiring them, but that just wasn't going to happen. As someone who has taught these courses for years, it just doesn't make sense to require courses where the typical student will only take with them about 5% of the content.

It nevertheless seemed important to offer them regularly as an option. And it fit our practical focus to offer them primarily with a view to using original language tools rather than extensive memorizing of forms most are destined to forget anyway. I was always willing to do a second semester with a student to go the rest of the way, but no one has ever taken me up on it (I will finish one day the book that approaches the two semesters in this order).

I believe it is important for faculty satisfaction that every faculty member have a shot at an elective at least every other year. In a faculty discussion once, a noble faculty member once suggested that decisions shouldn't be made in view of what they want but in terms of what is best for the students. Certainly that is good Christian thinking. But there is another side. If the people who do the heavy lifting aren't happy, the students aren't going to be happy either and eventually you'll lose both.

Another category of electives relates to what I call strategic electives. In the Spring Seminary board meeting of 2012, five signature areas were specified as key initiatives for the Seminary: 1) teaching church and district partnerships, 2) multi-ethnic ministry such as the Spanish MDIV, 3) church planting, 4) church health, and 5) international theological education. One way to advance some of these initiatives, especially those in church health, church planting, and multi-ethnic ministry, was to offer electives in these areas.

For example, Alvin Sanders once helped us with an intensive in association with the yearly CCDA meeting. Jeremy Summers did too.

14. Sometime around the third year we figured out that we had the capacity to offer about 10 electives a year. Now as we approach 500, I would say we have a capacity something more like 15 to 20 a year. And a good thing too, because we launched a number of specializations in our fifth and sixth years that commit a student to four of their electives if they opt for one.

I believe there is a danger with tying up a student with that many of their electives. Beware the proliferation of specializations. By adding two, three, four electives in order to make a specialization, that's two, three, four less of other general electives a set of students could have taken. It diminishes the overall variety by providing depth in one area.

The voices crying for electives are many. Should we offer one on money? Should we offer one on suffering and disabilities? Should we offer one on Islam? Should we offer one on immigration? We have actually offered almost all of these (all except the one on Islam, which was requested).

All of them are noble. All of these special causes think they are surely significant enough to offer. They are, but math is math. There just isn't room for every noble cause, because they are myriad. We can only do what we can do...

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)
16. Faculty share governance with administration. (2)


Paul Tillman said...

One thing I felt I missed being part of the 1st cohort was having the emphasis areas designed into the MDiv. While I enjoyed creating my own by choosing electives in focused areas and when we book options in the praxis courses, I still think it would have been cool for my transcripts to say "MDiv with emphasis in Multi-Generational and Multi-Ethnic Ministry." Now I just put it on my cover letter :)

Ken Schenck said...

One neat thing now is that with these new official specializations, they actually do show up on the transcript and diploma. So a person could now get an MDIV with a specialization in Church Health and Revitalization, for example.

Paul Tillman said...

my brain was moving faster than my fingers while typing that responses.

Clarifications: 1. I meant to say that we did not yet have the emphasis areas designed into the program when I was there, so I created my own. 2. "when we [had] book options in the praxis courses" I chose particular books that fit the emphasis I wanted to create.

Ken Schenck said...