Tuesday, May 08, 2007

wackiness, in the form of academic senate debate

I've had a fascinating day taking Lauren for a crown (for her tooth, not for giving airs of royalty), chasing down antibiotics for another tooth of hers, reading Intro to Philosophy response papers on W.E.B. DuBois (and contemplating what they mean pedagogically), and attending a rollicking Academic Senate meeting.

I've been on the Cow State Santa Claus academic senate since - geez, since spring of 2000, I think. First I was the philosophy department senator, and, since the institution of the academic senate lecturer rep a couple years ago, I've been the lecturer senator. For a brief time, my life pretty much revolved around academic senate, as sad a comment as that is about my life at that time. I still really enjoy it, because I like policy arguments and the flow of discussion surrounding them, and because I want to be as much a part of the university as I can - full citizenship, as it were, even though in the minds of many around there I'm "only a lecturer."

Today we had second readings on the last resolutions of the academic year, and ran headlong into serious controversy about student attendance in classes. Right now, our university attendance policy is vague, to say the least. Reportedly, there have been difficulties, especially for student athletes, who have had faculty be completely unwilling to accomodate them when they have to miss classes for games. I don't know how widespread the problem is, and I've always been open to accomodating any student with what I regard as a legitimate absence, but since there is no policy about this, students have no recourse when faculty aren't willing to be accomodating.

It's a complex issue, and ultimately I jumped on a motion to refer the whole thing to the educational policies committee. The faculty at senate had too many questions about the rewritten policy we were considering, and even if they weren't all well-founded, or sometimes based on confused readings, it seemed like faculty wouldn't buy into the policy if we passed this one. A bunch of students came to the meeting, and I know they were disappointed with what happened, but I think it's for the best. An unclear or toothless policy wouldn't have helped them, and a policy the faculty regard as suspect or illegitimate wouldn't have helped them either.

The meeting threatened to get very nasty and personal, but the speaker of the faculty averted that. Lauren and I came home in a somewhat heated mood over it, and we hashed it out for a while. It annoys her when I defend the faculty privilege/right of making their own academic and pedagogical decisions, including classroom policies. Her argument is that this doesn't recognize students' academic rights, but I counter that with regard to pedagogy, students don't have rights. It's funny, because I don't know if I seriously believe that. I say things as though I have complete confidence in my beliefs, but there aren't many that aren't negotiable, especially about these kinds of things. I think more than anything I look for reasonably practicable principles, even if these are at some basic level arbitrarily determined - if we erect some concept, even if it's incomplete, not sufficiently inclusive, etc., we have at least something to continue arguing about. It's folly to think any of these concepts, principles, policies, or anything else will reach a final form or fit all instances. But you won't notice the instances until you've picked a background to contrast them with.

That's the essence of rational argument, isn't it?


lei said...

my academic supervisor is always moaning about the university, how it is more preoccupied with being a money-making machine than being a seat of education. he and an MPhil colleague talk about Faculty days, sort of like you describe i suppose. But then wherever you go i guess you find something you are unhappy with

Doc Nagel said...

In public higher ed, talk of money making is really out of place. Little CSU Stanislaus could never be confused with a money-making machine, to be sure. Nobody gets paid on the basis of whether students show up to class, of course. But I also wasn't meaning this as a complaint; I rarely have any complaint with academic senate debate, no matter how disproportionate with an issue's significance it may sometimes get.

There's a tremendous irony in all this, though. I wanted to be in higher education in large part because I didn't think I could stand the politics of corporate America. I still don't think I could, but I've ended up in a political vortex nonetheless. It's nice that sometimes it feels like there's something at stake in what we fight for and about. Class attendance policy, less so.