Who is in charge here?

You may have seen a widely circulated story out of CSU, Fullerton recently. A tenured mathematics professor was officially reprimanded for deviation from the approved $180 textbook for a course, a textbook that is co-authored by his department chair. This provocative story exists at the intersection of at least two controversies in higher education with a direct impact on you in the classroom.

  1. Textbook cost. It is news to no one in higher education that textbooks are expensive. This is especially true for students pursuing STEM degrees. In addition to tuition a typical student spends $1200 on textbooks and supplies each year. As teachers, we often feel powerless to do very much about this as prices are set by companies in far off places who mainly care about bottom lines. There is help! The CSU Chancellor’s Office has provided funding and support for faculty to pursue decreased cost resources for students through the Textbook Alternatives Project (TAP). TAP is an investment in lowering student costs and something to consider whether you teach Chemistry or Kinesiology. The math is staggering. If you teach a class of 50 and the average materials cost is a modest $75 per student, taking the cost down to $25 you will save students $25,000 over the course of five years. I used to coordinate the public speaking course in which I worked with a team to reduce costs from $100 to $0 per student saving students $100,000 every year, it takes work, but it is possible.
  2. Curriculum Control. The professor at Fullerton was under scrutiny because the textbook was mandated by the department. You may be wondering, who controls curriculum at Chico and how does it interact with academic freedom? The answer is not as straight forward as you might think. If you teach in General Education part of your class responds to Student Learning Objectives/Outcomes agreed upon by departments and the University. If you teach major classes the content may be partially driven by accrediting agencies or department standards. Regardless, your department chair or program coordinator is a good place to start if you want to be sure you are teaching the required content and see what kind of flexibility you have.

You want to use a different textbook? It is probably your call. You want to replace your exams with quizzes and activities? It is probably your call. You want to replace your American Government curriculum with differential equations and swing dancing? Interesting, but you might want to check with your chair.

 

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Trigger warnings and why you should care

For most of my time at Chico I have taught a course in Freedom of Speech. For the last few years I incorporated a mini-unit on the Innocence of Muslims trailer/movie that inspired worldwide riots in 2012. I would usually let my students know in advance we would be watching the movie since it was the source of such outrage and controversy. In addition, to start each semester I would let students know the topics in the class were controversial by definition and even assigned a rating of “NC-17” to the course in order to give students fair warning. While I was not familiar with the concept to start, I was providing my students with a trigger warning.

Providing the trigger warning was a mistake.

The mistake was not the warning itself, it was making an uninformed decision about whether the warning was appropriate. There are good reasons for warning students in advance about topics which might compel distress. There are also good reasons why mandated warnings are a threat to academic freedom and the intellectual development of students.

I am not going to tell you about your obligation to protect your students from controversy, or expose them to unpopular ideas. I am not going to tell you about how you are ruining the academy by giving your students advance warning about material that might recreate trauma from assault or war, nor am I am going to tell you about your complicity in violence by failing to do so.

I am going to pass on the same advice you likely give your students. Do some research and make an informed decision about trigger warnings rather than simply trusting that what you are doing is right.

For some further reading check out these pieces.

Huffington Post blog on balancing warnings with good content.

Washington Post piece on trigger warnings and guest speakers on campuses.

New Republic essay or trigger warnings and mental health.

US News Debate Club on trigger warnings.

We all have something to share

In Faculty Development we are making mentoring a priority. We formally and informally connect new faculty with experienced peers in their colleges. This program is critical to new faculty members as it allows them to ask tough questions and it values the experience of our wonderful full and part-time faculty members. In the new and exciting “U-Courses” the leadership of instructors is put into motion by advanced peers who help students move through complicated course content. We also value the mentoring relationships faculty build with students in undergraduate research efforts which have been recognized by AAC&U as a high-impact practice.

Increasingly, we know mentoring is important for our students and our faculty, but questions persist:

What is mentoring?

How do I know if I am engaging in good mentoring?

I enjoy pointing out other people’s failings in public settings to embarrass them, does that count as mentoring?

While mentoring is as old as human experience, we are still figuring out how to value it in the academy. At Purdue it is increasingly valued in tenure and promotion. On our campus, it is the focus of an exciting and diverse exploration in the upcoming mentoring conference. See the message below for a chance to learn about something we almost all do, but we could all benefit from knowing more about.

 When: Friday, October 16, 2015

Where: Colusa Hall 100A&B

Time: 9:30-4:30pm

[Register for one or multiple sessions, see conference schedule for details]

*No registration fees*

Reasons why you should attend:

  • Mentoring helps people establish caring relationships
  • Provides resources to help people learn and succeed
  • Build mentoring skills that you could use in workplace, community, and education settings
  • Opportunity to connect with clubs and organizations that are interested in mentoring, leadership, and civic engagement
  • Learn how programs at Chico State implement mentoring into their organization

 Interested? Register now. 

 For more information, contact Gina Tigri at the First-Year Experience Office at 530.898.3705 or visit our Experiential Mentoring Website at http://www.csuchico.edu/fye/mentoringconference.

Connect with your colleagues!

For many of us teaching can be somewhat isolating. We prepare in our offices or at home, come to campus, teach our classes, grade in solitude, and meet with students individually. Between service obligations, research opportunities, and life outside the academy, there can be precious time left to connect with our colleagues, especially about teaching.

The CELT Conference is a great and easy way to reinvigorate your love for the classroom and learn something new. Ever think about Sports Radio as a teaching strategy? What about setting students on academic probation up to succeed? Explore these topics and many more at the Conference this Thursday and Friday.

If you cannot make the conference that does not mean you cannot move forward with your teaching. Come by the faculty development center in MLIB 458 to take advantage of some of our teaching resources or schedule a teach-and-tell coffee date with a colleague whose teaching you admire, but take the time to connect about teaching.

In the grind of the semester it is easy to lose sight of the fact that a passion for student learning is what brought most of us here. Do what you need to do to remind yourself.

See you on Thursday and Friday at the CELT Conference!