Guided tour of my service and institutional development work IV

II. Running small, interdisciplinary programs at UMass Boston

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

1. Preamble: Multi-departmental and multi-college graduate programs get created because there are valuable educational endeavors that cannot be pursued by a faculty that lies fully within one department in one college. Such programs achieve remarkable things at my university, but, in order to hold these programs together, the service of some (many?) of their faculty members involves inequitable workloads, petitioning a changing cast of administrators for resources, postponement of leave due to them, and so on. In many programs, a faculty member can rotate out of the leadership position when they need “R&R” (recovery, research, and relationship time), but this is not always an option if matriculated, fee-paying students are to continue to be served. The latter has been my situation in my primary program. The qualities listed in Table 1, especially planning, organization, and community-building, have been important for me, as well as keeping a clear sense of the priorities in Table 2. A program’s needs may be subordinate to the demands of other higher-priority programs, but as long as students are being matriculated in the program they have to be served by someone. (Note: To the extent that background conditions are described in the items that follow, this is not to criticize the decision-makers, but to set the scene for my service and efforts in institutional development.  More of the particular detail of my institutional situation is given elsewhere in a longer version of this post.)

2. Ensuring a Viable CCT Program without another Full-time CCT faculty Member
My annual faculty reviews describe the many routine administrative and advising duties performed as a program director/coordinator (or as back-up to a lecturer who was program coordinator from fall 2004 through 2006). At the same time, I have undertaken concrete steps directed at additional, program-sustaining goals, namely, to:
i) streamlined the administration of the Program so it could run without Administrative assistance (e.g., online Student Handbook and parallel version for program coordinator);
ii) arrange community events and orientations as ways students could get more support and input from each other and from alums (in recent years under the umbrella of the CCT Network); and
iii) address problems around moving students through to completion and reinforce guidelines to prevent those problems in the future.
At the same time, the program needed to maintain its enrollments, so I continued to work on
iv) outreach for recruitment;
v) clarifying and strengthening CCT’s role in the College.

3. Planning. The Programmatic efforts above took place in line with a set of specific Objectives under six broad Goals (see below) laid out in the AQUAD (Academic QUality Assessment and Development) plan for CCT, which I drafted and the CCT faculty submitted in June 2000. These goals were:
A. To provide graduate students with an understanding of the processes of critical thinking and creativity, and with ways of helping others develop these processes in a variety of educational, professional, and social situations.
B. To establish planning parameters that allow CCT faculty to determine the best use of their experience and energies and adjust operations to work within those parameters.
C. To contribute to increased cross-program collaboration in the GCE.
D. To contribute to increased collaboration with and contributions to other units within the University.
F. To support CCT faculty and students in research on and publication of their distinctive contributions to the fields of critical and creative thinking.
G. To evaluate and continue developing the Program.
The goals and associated objectives became the basis for the Program’s self-study as part of the 2002-3 AQUAD review of CCT (described in the next section), and again in the 2010-11 review (currently in progress).

4. Clarifying and Strengthening CCT’s Status in GCE and UMB
The 2002-3 AQUAD review was seen as an opportunity to resolve the long-standing uncertainties about CCT’s status in the College and University. The self-study I coordinated was, by all accounts, exemplary. (Indeed, I hoped it would be seen as a contribution to “documenting process, product, and evaluations to make institutional learning more likely.”) The external review was very favorable, recognizing “the leadership in innovative multi- and inter-disciplinary pedagogy represented by this Program,” but restoration of resources for CCT did not match the priorities of the College or the Provost. Post-AQUAD proposals the Program has explored have been many. With respect to service, what is important in these and subsequent proposals is that I continued to take initiative and respond constructively to possibilities floated by administrators, and did so in the context of continuing uncertainty about the institutional status of and resources for CCT. Through all this, I also continued to seek a secure planning frame in which to recruit M.A. students and offer courses (as evident in the Annual Program reports and options for the future outlined in the current AQUAD review).

5. Developing CCT in New Directions
Of the proposals listed above, the one that has born most fruit has been the partnership with the Division of Continuing Education (CCDE; now University College) that began by promoting the 15-credit CCT graduate certificate with a marketing focus on “Creative Thinking at Work.” (This focus subsumed the popular “Dialogue and Collaboration in Organizational Change” focus I had built up since Summer 2000 once I saw the history of CCT efforts and student demand in that direction.) The partnership agreement required CCT to develop several online sections so that students could, in theory, complete the certificate from a distance. I recruited faculty who could teach these sections in ways consistent with CCT’s tradition of innovative and interaction-intensive teaching and each semester I shepherded the instructors through the shoals of getting online courses up and running and their full complement of students on board. This partnership has grown to a level where U.C. supports (since January 20110 a full-time professional staff member (with teaching responsibilities) for CCT and a half-time staff member for the new Science in a Changing World track. Gradually the work training these assistants is paying off in terms of sharing the administrative load with them.

For me to continue in a mostly unsupported administrative role, I have needed to foster a wider community around CCT, first to support students as they change their work and lives, but also to sustain myself. In this spirit, I initiated the organization of a Reflective Practice Support Group in 2005 to support CCT graduates in putting into practice, taking stock of outcomes, and extending what they learned during CCT studies and afterwards. This group was intended to meet a long-expressed need of CCT graduates for a community to support their steps after they graduate. Arranging such support matches the emerging emphasis in education programs on mentoring and support of recent graduates. On a personal level, I valued the opportunity to experiment in such a supportive setting with new approaches for individual reflection and group interaction. The group eventually morphed into the CCT Network at the start of 2008, which hosts monthly evening events with the goals of:

  • organizing, in a sustainable fashion, personal & professional development, community building, and educational-innovation activities beyond the formal CCT program of studies.
  • supplementing students’ education through the involvement of alums.
  • continuing alums’ education by their involvement in the education of students and each other.

The richness of the Network events is evident in the podcasts, especially the “Our Lives and Other Worlds” series, in which graduates come back to explain their work and reflect on how this has developed in relation to their CCT experiences.
Another direction of development in CCT has been Science in a Changing World, first as a wikispace documenting a range of projects, and then as a cross-college graduate track formally within CCT, as described above.

6. Strengthening the Learning, Teaching, and Educational Transformation M.Ed. track, candi.wikispaces.umb.edu/LTETtrack (Co-coordinator, 2008-present)

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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