Retrenchment, Day 16

The Deans had their follow-up meeting after the rollout of their reorganization plan, yesterday afternoon. I went and listened, since it's something the people remaining will need to work out, and not myself. I threw in a couple of observations, many of them reiterating things I had said in a long department meeting we had earlier in the day. I don't feel it's my place to tell my colleagues how they should try to organize themselves in my absence next year, or what courses of mine they ought to let lapse and which ones they should continue, etc. There may be some feedback from my students as the semesters progress; and if that's the case I will pass it on.

The all-faculty meeting was similar. In some ways, it went better than I expected, I think. There was not a lot of acrimony. I saw a lot of the other retrenched faculty in the crowd, but no one made a scene or really even spoke up at all. The Provost was in the room, but this time he didn't say anything and the Deans led the discussion. The plan they had outlined is not designed to be the one that finally gets adopted. It's supposed to be a starting point, from which faculty put something together that they can support and that might work. That's the strength and the weakness of the plan.

I sat in roughly the middle of the lecture hall, listening to three or four of the nearest small-group breakouts that were happening on all sides. Some of them discussed high-level issues like creating a timetable for milestones in a plan to develop the reorganization over a series of administration/faculty-union "meet and confer" sessions. Others seemed to almost immediately get stuck in the weeds of issues like, does the contract allow department heads rather than Deans to evaluate faculty "Professional Development Reports"? Beginning by fighting over details like that, I think, is a danger to coming up with a plan. So while there's a possibility the university will come up with a really cool and innovative way to reorganize themselves to meet the challenges of Higher Ed in the 21st century, they definitely have their work cut out for them.

I want to switch gears for a moment, a bit, and comment on something else I've been hearing during startup week. There has been some talk that I would almost call blaming, about the challenges BSU is facing, having to do with how we're "losing students" that "ought" to be ours. The culprits, apparently, are programs that allow high schoolers to earn college credits.

Now I'm getting this second hand, since I didn't attend the President's or the Provost's talks earlier in the week. But what I've heard is that PSEO was targeted as an example of these types of programs for high schoolers "eating our lunch". And I wanted to respond to that. PSEO is the Post-Secondary Enrollment Option, which is a state-funded program that allows high school juniors and seniors to enroll in college sources (typically general education surveys but sometimes upper-level electives with permission), either in person or online. The students get a taste of the college experience, do work that might be a little harder and more comprehensive than what they'd get in a high school class, and earn credits that transfer anywhere in the Minnesota State system and in most cases to other colleges and universities.

The issue, according to criticism leveled by the administration, is that BSU only gets paid 80% of what we'd get from an "actual" undergraduate and they're "stealing seats" from our "real" students. I have a problem with both those objections. First, I don't see why we couldn't consider these students as incremental business which we wouldn't otherwise get, and be happy Minnesota offers a benefit that students in other places don't receive. Second, we don't build our courses (or course caps) based on whether the students in seats are undergrads or high schoolers. I have 14 PSEO students in my US History I survey this semester, out of a total of 54. There are also four sophomores, one senior, and 35 first-year students. And six open seats. If BSU wants more undergrads in this class, they need to attract more people to enroll at Bemidji. The 14 high schoolers have not crowded out people who want to take this class. In any case, that would be a great problem to have. If there were 100 students wanting this course, we could redesign the course and raise the cap a bit, or offer another section.

I think there's also, in the backs of some people's minds, a resentment against the PSEO students, which shows up in the nearly complete lack of focus on PSEO students on campus. These high schoolers are basically not welcome, they're tolerated; and they feel it. Is it because although some do ultimately matriculate at BSU or another Minnesota State institution, most go on to other, more competitive schools? Some administrators seem to think we're preparing these bright students to become overachievers at "better" universities. I guess we are. But we're also getting the benefit of having them in our classes, contributing in and improving learning and discussion that benefits all the students. Every semester, some of the students with the highest final grades in my surveys are PSEO. And we're getting paid for it! We're getting a chance to temporarily teach students who would otherwise be going directly from high school to a different college or university. And in any case, let's get over ourselves. The high school doesn't resent students who go to college because they're not ending their educations with a diploma. Undergraduate programs don't resent students who go on to grad school.

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