The Reinvention Conversation

Yesterday, Scott Martyn who is the Executive Director of the Center for Operational Excellence along with Nancy Dunn of the District Communications office to hold a pair of focus groups–one with students and one with faculty–about Reinvention. As I said yesterday, the meeting was pitched to (at least) the leaders of Faculty Council and the Assessment Committee through our VP’s office and initially sounded like an opportunity for faculty to ask questions, clarifying and otherwise, and express concerns about the Reinvention. These focus groups were also happening at the other colleges, yesterday, too, with different team members from the Office of Strategy and Institutional Intelligence conducting them with students and faculty.

The Faculty present at the meeting were Chris Sabino, Theresa Carlton, Ellen Eason-Montgomery, Jen Armendarez, Anthony Escuadro, Rosie Banks, Art DiVito, Franklin Inojosa, Me (Dave Richardson), Tom Higgins, Mike Heathfield, Loretta Visomirskis, Adriana Tapanes-Inojosa, Yevgenia Lapik, and Ivan Tejeda. Mr. Martyn invited us to be open and forthright with our questions and concerns, and then he gave a brief run through of the case for change that we saw when the Chancellor visited. Discussion started, inevitably, before he had even finished the condensed case of change presentation, and the first topic that came up was a question about the transparency of the process thus far and going forward.

From there the discussion took off—the credentialing controversy was the next topic, which Mr. Martyn later said was unrelated to Reinvention—and proceeded in fits and starts. Early on, Martyn said that he had come to listen and hear what we had to say about Reinvention, and we gave them an earful. He came with five questions, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s Think, Know, Prove post to “help prompt discussion” but they turned out to be unnecessary.

Throughout the meeting, to his credit, Mr. Martyn was exceptionally professional, accommodating, and forthright—he seemed to be listening actively and committed to clarifying what he could and not promising what he couldn’t guarantee. I got the sense that he was taking in what we were saying. I also got the sense that he is genuinely committed to student success and quality education. I am not entirely sure how much our definitions of those terms overlap, but I saw nothing that could serve as a reason for not giving him the benefit of the doubt. He was not defensive at any point, and he asked good questions throughout the meeting in response to our suggestions. Rather than try to re-construct the rather free wheeling and sometimes digressive conversation, I’d rather highlight some of the key points of information that were shared with us.

For example, in response to the question about transparency, we were told that the process has not been as transparent as originally envisioned in part due to communication/marketing/political concerns and a desire to keep things from “getting out in drips and drabs” until the official announcement, which we learned will occur on November 18th at a presser with the Mayor. Around then, the Reinvention Website will go live (i.e., it will be up within a week). There is ongoing conversation and some plans to have “two levels” to the Web site, one public with some information/tools available only internally, but that is not entirely settled yet.

Another important bit of information related the task forces. First, it is not too late to apply, if you’d like to. They have received about 200 applications, and they are still considering any that come in. The task forces will have a minimum of seven people each, with at least one representative from each college. Some task forces—remediation was one mentioned in this context—will very likely have more than seven members. Second, full-time members of the task force will work at the district office for the same number of hours for which they are currently contracted. Whatever hours you are scheduled to work now, you’d work those same hours doing the work of the task force, Martyn said (roughly paraphrased).

He also noted that the task forces would not be like committees, meeting daily to talk endlessly. There would certainly be discussion and planning, but that would evolve into research tasks and delegated work leading to task force recommendations. The task forces would NOT be decision making bodies—only recommendation bodies. Third, apparently the part time task force member option was intended solely for part-time employees, with the idea being that part time employees would not be able to/required to be full time task members. So the options for faculty are full time or “frequent contributor” (which means surveys, emails, focus groups, and street corner ranting—ok, I made the last one up). This was a point of significant discussion.

There were others, too, but I’ll let the others who were there describe their own points in the comments or in other posts. Over the course of the two hour meeting I had three main points that I wanted to get across: 1) that the four stated goals for the Reinvention, while valuable in and of themselves, are too narrow to serve as measures of success for the City Colleges of Chicago—they would measure some of the ways that we succeed with students, but they miss much of what we do and so misrepresent what we do; 2) that the goals are a mismatch for our mission; our mission is to provide quality, affordable educational opportunities—degrees and credentials are institutional recognitions of student success (not indicators, except indirectly, of institutional success) and so measuring our success by the number of credentials we grant runs counter to what faculty members see their jobs and the aims of liberal education to be, thus suggesting either an administratively imposed shift of mission or an administrative misunderstanding of the institutional mission (the fact that there is a national fetish for completion as a community college success indicator is somewhat beside the point–bad ideas are bad ideas no matter who is offering them); and 3) that this Reinvention process is not occurring in a vacuum—it is informed by a long history of faculty/administration battles about curriculum control, “required innovation,” policy and desire/resistance to various forms of standardization and quantification of fundamentally unquantifiable phenomena.

All three points were made in various ways throughout the meeting by our colleagues at the meeting, as well as others. Most salient was probably the palpable frustration of the faculty–which was not a group of cranks; rather the group present consisted of a collection of very involved, very invested faculty, including many faculty leaders of various sorts—regarding the perceived insult implied by the claims about the need for reinvention amid various efforts that seemed aimed at attacking/changing what faculty do and outright ignoring of faculty efforts and recommendations, even if the events (credentials, curriculum, professional development (DWFDW)) are unrelated to the Reinvention process.

Were I Mr. Martyn, I would have left the meeting understanding that faculty perception is that whatever is happening is happening as part of and in connection with the “Reinvention” program. I would know that faculty generally perceive it as an insulting and top-down, imposed process that is likely to be the latest in a long line of requests to faculty to do work, make recommendations, and participate in a process that eventually leads to decisions that either ignore or contradict faculty recommendations which are then, ironically defended as having come out of a process that included faculty input (without mentioning that the faculty input was completely or mostly ignored).

I would have left knowing that faculty are skeptical about this process and, setting aside the issues related to the rhetoric of “Reinvention,” more than a little annoyed to have no say in the framing of the problems and the defining of the goals. In other words, a week before the roll out of Reinvention, the Central office has an internal credibility problem. Significant commitments to faculty control of curriculum and classroom decisions (e.g., credentials) as well as assurances that faculty recommendations will be followed rather than ignored would likely help, but not put the issues to bed completely.

In light of some of what we heard yesterday and some of what I’ve learned since, it seems to me that the goal was not really about informing us about what wasn’t previously clear (or settled) and not so much about collecting faculty input for integration into the process so much as it was an effort for the Central Office to take the temperature “out there” on student and faculty attitudes toward the imminent “Reinvention.”

Certainly there were things clarified and faculty input contributed, but the feeling I got was that their main question was whether and how much we were buying what they are selling, and I think the clear answer, at least at our session, was “Not at all.” Does that mean we don’t think that there are lots of things that can be changed and improved? Not at all. There were probably 25 suggestions made at the meeting, and I’m sure we could have listed fifty more in fifteen minutes. And so, there’s still hope for both sides.

The Reinvention process is an opportunity, we were told, to make the suggestions that we’re dying to make, and it’s going to happen with us or without us. At the same time, there’s a feeling among faculty along the lines of fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, etc. They (say they) want us to participate in a process of researching and recommending changes to improve our effectiveness in serving students. We want to help students and have a ton of suggestions for ways to improve our effectiveness in serving students. We feel like they don’t trust and value the efforts that we make in those regards and the knowledge we’ve gained from experience. We know that we don’t trust them because of things they’ve done and things that previous administrations have done. They say that the reinvention process is about US reinventing ourselves—that it’s not us versus them so much as it is something WE have to do. We, on the other hand say that we’ll believe it’s about US when we start to have the sense of being equals or leaders in the process, rather than peons marching to the tune that someone else is calling.

At least that’s what I heard at the meeting. Right at the end, Rosie Banks asked if they would be willing to share a copy of their notes/observations about the focus group and our suggestions, as well as those of the faculty and students at the other colleges. Mr. Martyn thought that would be possible and that the Web site would be a likely place for the information. I will be curious and watching to see if it happens. If the focus group information goes up, that would say something to me about their commitment to transparency, the first question of the day. Furthermore, if their observations seem consistent with what I/we heard and saw there, that would go a ways toward convincing me that they really do want faculty input and they hear it when they get it. And if those things don’t happen, well, that will be telling, too, I guess.

4 thoughts on “The Reinvention Conversation

  1. Philodave:

    Thank you a hundred times for the considerable investment of time and passion you’ve made in communicating the content of the meeting and tone of the participants. Just the same on the previous posts. And to the faculty council for their active leadership on what’s been happening. This post is a significant summary of where we’re at to date – I hope it stays around on the blog for a while. Many I know attend the lounge daily as it is the most consistent, transparent source for information and communication among faculty at HWC. Nice going and, again, thanks…

    • You’re welcome, Naptaker. Thanks for the generous words. There was a LOT more discussed at the meeting than what I covered, so I don’t feel like I did a very good job at summarizing the number and nature of messages conveyed from us (faculty) to him (Scott Martyn), but I’m hoping that some of those things will come out in the comments in the voices of those who put them forth. In any case, it’s been really rewarding for me to see more and more people making more and more use of the Lounge. We’re averaging about 320 visits a day now, with more and more of the visitors engaging the topics and sharing their knowledge. I figure that can only be good…anyway, thank you (and the others who are making it go–Realist, Mathissexy, UsuallyConfused, Carrie, Ivan, MathArt, Adriana, HelloKitty, and many many more) and you’re welcome. It’s truly a pleasure.

  2. Thank you to PhiloDave for your observations. As I stated before, I had to leave early (to go teach) and I do appreciate the update on what I missed. I concur with your post on all points.

    Regarding Scott Martyn, he was very professional and attentive. He did his best to listen to our concerns. Unfortunately, that’s all he could do since he too must report back to district.

    Per ihaveseenthelight’s reply in the previous Reinvetion post, I agree that we, HWC faculty, need to “create our own committee at the college level”. I know we all have specific concerns. Rightly so. However, Scott can spin this one of two ways at District. We’re either a haphazard group of faculty with disparate concerns OR we’re a collective, organized body with a set of main concern.

    United we stand, divided we fall. I said that before at our union meeting and I’ll say it again about the reinvention plan. Remember what happened at DWFDW when one issue was presented by District and the faculty responded, more or less, with one voice? We were heard. We need to do the same at the local level.

    District may come again. Will we have a unified voice? What are our main concerns? If we have several, how do we find common ground? What do we, not individually but as a faculty body, have to say about reinvention? What is our collective written response to District’s Reinvention plan? Wouldn’t it be good to debut our concerns/agenda immediately after District goes public on the 18th?

    I leave it in the capable hands of our Faculty Council to lead the way (per Amanda’s comments to the chancellor). Send out the surveys. Have round table discussions. Have a mock visit from District. Let’s do something together.

    Per PhiloDave, “we’ll believe it’s about US when we start to have the sense of being equals or leaders in the process, rather than peons marching to the tune that someone else is calling.”
    Time to march to our tune. One tune.

    • Thanks, Ivan. And good suggestion–I meant to include something about Ihaveseenthelight’s suggestion, but lost that idea along the way.

      Just in case people missed it, here’s a link to the comment/suggestion.

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