Making time and taking the time

All my friends and colleagues feel pressed for time.  There’s never enough of it—for work, family, friends, activism, staying healthy, eating well, household projects, or having time off.  Yet we also feel that we waste a lot of time—in unproductive meetings, sifting out junk email, clicking on links, and so on.  And we also slip into time wasting when we feel dissatisfied, distressed, disconnected, or even depressed because we haven’t made time for our important work, for hanging out with friends, and so on. Read more of this post

Checklists in the academy

Checklists (as promoted in Gawande, A. 2010. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. New York, Picador) involve a small set of clear, readable steps not to be forgotten, pause points to check on the list, and communication among team members.  This seem clearly valuable in “operations” where a group of people have to coordinate to achieve an outcome while minimizing chances for dangerous errors.  Teaching and administration in the academy is not structured like that.  Could it be?

At the simplest level, an academic administrator who has a timetable of items to be addressed (e.g., assigning new students to an advisor) can minimize the extra work others inevitably get drawn into when such steps are missed.  At a more challenging level, an administrator could hold off on new ventures until the checklist was developed for that venture in collaboration with the people who would have to do the work to implement the venture.  At a deeper level, administration could follow checklists of items grouped under the “4Rs“—Respect, Risk, Revelation, and Re-engagement.  A new venture requires the people enacting it to be invested in it.  The costs of not having this include wasted resources then not available for future projects, burnout and cynicism, abandoned initiatives, special deals, and a culture of evasion of evaluation for improvement.

Similarly, teaching could follow checklists.  If students are going to achieve the learning objectives for the course, they need to build up for each course their connections, probing, reflecting, and creating change (in their concepts, practice, and products).  As indicated in the previous post, this requires attention to Respect, then Risk, then Revelation, and then Re-engagement.

Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking: Preamble to a periodic review

Critical thinking and creative thinking are defined or construed in many different ways; there is, moreover, no standard definition of what it means to combine the two pursuits.  This has allowed the mission of the Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking (CCT) at UMass Boston to grow and develop over thirty years in response to the personal interests and professional needs of the students in the Program and in response to the changing make-up and ongoing personal and professional engagements of the faculty.  Such engagements build on, but have often extended some distance from, their original disciplines of education, philosophy, psychology, mathematics, and the life sciences. To convey the flavor of CCT as an evolving entity, we start with historical background for the Program as a whole and set the scene for the current periodic (AQUAD) review.  [The reviewers’ site visit takes place today [postponed because of snowstorm to 29 Mar 11].  The historical background to follow might be interesting to others who work to keep interdisciplinary programs afloat.]

The Program’s journey

When the Master of Arts degree in Critical and Creative Thinking at UMass Boston was established in 1979-80, three interrelated objectives were stated:

  • to improve the critical and creative thinking skills of the program participants;
  • to help the participants achieve an understanding of the phenomena of critical and creative thought, and to think through the problems and issues concerning these phenomena… explored in the intellectual community; and
  • to translate this understanding into significant classroom or other educational practice in various subject areas.[1]

The founding faculty—Bob Swartz, Steve Schwartz, and Delores Gallo[2]—came from philosophy, psychology, and education, respectively.  When the program began, there was only one specialty area, Moral education and moral issues, and participants were teachers and administrators from local schools.

By 1986, two additional specialty areas—Literature and Arts, and Mathematics and Science—had been added and faculty members Arthur Millman and Carol Smith had been hired in Philosophy and Psychology, respectively, with a 50% commitment to CCT.  Theses and capstone syntheses completed since then have shown students pursuing their personal and professional development in the creative arts, government and social services, and the corporate sphere, as well as in education, broadly construed.  A gradual evolution has continued.  By the time of the scheduled review in 1994-95, dialogue had emerged as an exciting new theme, which led to the addition of the fourth specialty area, which came to be called Workplace and Organizational Change.  The original emphasis on critical and creative thinking in mostly philosophical and psychological terms has been enriched by the faculty and students paying more attention to the social influences on critical and creative thinking and to the supports needed to foster such thinking—or, more accurately, to foster critical, creative, and reflective practice.

A number of strands have contributed to the evolution of the Program towards social concerns and organizational change, including: Larry Blum’s contributions since the early 1990s to antiracist education; Peter Taylor’s emphasis on the life and environmental sciences in their social context since his appointment as the second fulltime CCT faculty member in 1998; and Nina Greenwald’s work on problem-based learning, especially in the biomedical sciences. Student interests in facilitating organizational change have grown substantially over the last decade, but a wide range of students’ interest persists.  Significant numbers of CCT students still work in areas such as writing and the creative arts and general classroom teaching—sometimes in combination with organizational change!

The Program Review in 1994-95 under the leadership of Pat Davidson was very favorable.  However, during a University budget crunch the following year it was decided to reduce the resources for the Program. The Program’s home was moved from the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) to the Graduate College of Education (GCE; now College of Education and Human Development), with a concomitant increase in teaching load and decrease in the number of faculty members assigned full-time to the Program (from three to two).  Other details of the move were not formalized, but it was expected that CCT would continue to offer courses that had been taken by many students in education programs.  The 50% faculty teaching load contributions from the Philosophy and Psychology departments continued, as did Philosophy’s contribution of Larry Blum’s teaching of one section every third or fourth semester.  Resources within the GCE turned out to be less stable.  There was a delay in replacing a retiring full-time CCT faculty member during the 1990s; an extended medical leave of Delores Gallo then her early retirement in 2002 (with no replacement search authorized); prioritizing of GCE resources towards teacher preparation and national accreditation; and a GCE policy from January 2001 making Departmental Chairs the nominal Graduate Program Directors (GPDs), thus eliminating the course load reductions and stipends for the faculty who continued to fulfill all the responsibilities of GPD.  All these circumstances notwithstanding, CCT admissions returned to high levels before the last AQUAD review in 2002-3.

Ongoing adjustment to changing circumstances was reflected in the goals and objectives spelled out in the Program’s June 2000 AQUAD planning document, which were assessed in great detail in the 2002-3 self-study.  By reconfiguring CCT’s operations and achieving greater efficiencies the Program sought to:

  • maintain its strength as an interdisciplinary program with a strong focus on individualized learning, growth, and mid-career professional development;
  • develop a clear and constructive role in GCE, coordinating with other GCE graduate programs and outreach initiatives; and
  • address the 1994-95 review committee’s recommendations, in particular, that of presenting a higher profile, within the university and in the wider community, for what is distinctive about CCT’s work.

The 2002-3 self-study report and supporting material documented an impressive level of planning, innovation and accomplishment, especially given the reduced resources available to the Program. The Review Committee “found that the CCT Program is providing high quality and innovative education to non-traditional students who are unlikely to find substitute degree programs at UMB” and recommended “that a relatively small amount of resources be invested in this program to ensure that UMB [could] continue to provide the leadership in innovative multi- and inter-disciplinary pedagogy represented by this Program.”   The interim GCE Dean and the Graduate Dean formally recognized the strengths that the Committee had found. However, the GCE Dean saw the Program as outside the College mission and discontinued a 50% lecturer position that had been funded (first by the Provost, then by the College) for the previous three years to compensate for Delores Gallo’s absence.  Deciding that only one faculty member dedicated full-time to the Program was insufficient, the Graduate Dean halted admissions to the M.A. Program. The Program initiated a partnership with the Division of Corporate, Continuing, and Distance Education (CCDE, now University College) to promote the 15-credit CCT Graduate Certificate and develop sufficient online sections so that the Certificate could be earned fully online.  Initially the electives offered through CCDE allowed students to pursue a focus on “Creative Thinking at Work,” but a second focus on “Science in a Changing World” was planned.

Admissions to the M.A. Program were re-opened in 2004 after the new GCE Dean appointed Nina Greenwald as a sabbatical replacement for Peter Taylor in 2004-5, giving her special responsibilities for rebuilding student numbers and program promotion.  Her position was renewed by subsequent GCE deans until this academic year (albeit at a less than full-time level from 2007). In 2004 Peter Taylor became director of the University’s undergraduate Science, Technology and Values program.  Nina Greenwald’s teaching load in CCT created opportunities for him to teach across colleges and campuses in the area of science in its social context and, in 2009, with the encouragement of the current Provost, Winston Langley, to initiate a cross-college Science and Society graduate program.  This initiative has ended up taking the form of a graduate Certificate and M.A. track within CCT on “Science in a Changing World” and is beginning to attract students.  In the fall of 2010, University College agreed to fund a 50% assistant coordinator position for this track and to increase to 100% the CCT assistant coordinator position that CCDE had begun to fund in fall of 2009.  This latest support was contingent on the Program scheduling sections of required courses and electives so that the M.A. in both the regular track and the new track can be completed by students over a 2.5 year period entirely by taking sections offered through the College.[3]

The 2010 self-study documents ongoing adjustments to changing circumstances and resource limitations.  At the same time, readers will also find in tits pages—and even more so in associated links to websites and wikis—evidence of a graduate program that pays continuous attention to evaluations and other performance data, serves its students very economically, offers courses that serve more students outside the program than any other program at UMass Boston, contributes to the University and wider communities, provides models of ways to adapt and develop in response to new challenges and opportunities, and produces graduates who are constructive, reflective agents of change in education, work, social movements, science, and creative arts.

(Extracted from the Self-study, available at

[1] Cited in the 1994 self-study.

[2] Bob Swartz left the Program in the late 1980s.  He and Delores Gallo retired from the University in 2002. Steve Schwartz retired in 2005.

[3] As of December ’10, permission for CCT M.A. students being able to take more than 50% of courses online is subject to final approval at the level of Graduates Studies and above.

The responsibilities that accompany the power of an academic administrator

The responsibilities that accompany the power of an academic administrator in any unit include to:

  • show respect for people’s individual career and life projects
  • support the people to do the best work they can within constrained circumstances
  • support faculty members preserve a balance between scholarship, service, and teaching even if that means we set limits and forego worthwhile opportunities
  • promote mentoring and sharing of innovations and achievements
  • consult and listen
  • be transparent and inclusive in consultation re: formulating and deciding on procedures and proposed changes in procedures
  • be careful and efficient with administrative detail
  • make institutional learning possible through documentation of the outcome of deliberations about procedures
  • be organized so that there is sufficient time for careful reviews, searches, consideration of procedural changes, etc. and a fair division of labor in this work
  • model e-etiquette in email discussions (e.g., treating communication as private unless sent to a group as a whole)
  • take care for colleagues’ reputations when disputes arise, especially colleagues coming up for or currently under review. (This requires attention to what is documented and accessible to all involved, and avoidance of hearsay.)
  • heal wounds
  • make one’s own objectives explicit (over and above the ones here)
  • report regularly to the unit on progress on each of these objectives (one’s own and the objectives here)
  • evaluate staff that you supervise at regular intervals in a way that supports their improvement and follows the necessary procedures if any staff member is not able to fulfill their duties and needs to be dismissed
  • establish supervision of staff at the level as close as possible to the people served and a systematic means of feedback to the supervisor from those served. (E.g., staff serving a departmental program might formally report to the Department chair, but the chair could delegate supervision to the program director.)
  • hold up these principles to higher administrators

The responsibilities that accompany the power of an academic administrator in the College of Ed ( a college that, where I work, consists almost exclusively of a number of distinct Masters and doctoral programs) include to:

  • promote a vision of the Departments and College that does not subordinate the non-PEU (accreditation unit) programs to the requirements of the PEU programs
  • highlight the distinctive contributions of the smaller programs to counterbalance the numerical and institutional dominance of the larger PEU programs
  • promote, not suppress programs as the basic units through which students are educated in the College of Ed, which means departments can help in coordinating programs but cannot supplant them
  • promote Departmental visions that are distinct from, but support, those of the individual programs
  • respect program faculty members’ role as the people able to decide how best to pursue that mission within the constraints of the limited resources available
  • recognize the work of the faculty with lead responsibility in the programs (whatever name is now given to that position) in words, communication of information, consultation and planning, reviews for merit and promotion
  • make explicit the rationale for allocation of resources among the Department and programs and move towards equity based on that rationale
  • develop “apprenticeship” relations so that faculty can apply for leave without worrying that responsibilities they have been fulfilling might be neglected in their absence
  • establish procedures and practices that allowed us to communicate and work very efficiently with the reduced resources available. (In particular, each Program should establish a detailed set of web- or wiki-pages to streamline advising)
  • support educational transformation and not simply accommodate to the dominant, regressive forces buffeting public education
  • actively engage in inner-urban education and communities

Extracted from

Setting limits in academic life

Short of having a heart attack while working at one’s desk, how do faculty members convey to higher administrators (chairs, deans, etc.) when we are at (or beyond) the limits of what we can take on?  This is an especially pertinent issue as the ratio of regular faculty members to contingent faculty decreases, as the paperwork of so-called accountability increases, as funds for public higher education shrink, and as events outside the academy also call for our time and involvement.

What follows comes from a wikipage which was (and still is) open to all to contribute to. The idea in creating the wikipage was that colleagues would add ideas or respond underneath an idea already posted. (They could identify themselves or not.)  The hope was that this could be a clarifying contribution to being careful and strategic about what we take on and what we ask others to take on.[1]

Clear Priorities

For each priority below in turn, take stock with colleagues[2] in our units of whether we are fulfilling this well and plan what we need to improve.[3] One way to convey our limits is to communicate that we are not ready to move on to the next priority whenever we are not yet able to give ourselves a green light on the priorities that come before it:

* (1st priority) supporting students’ intellectual & professional development

* (2nd) supporting others as colleagues in doing #1

* (3rd) the research, writing, teaching, and organizational development activities that excite us (i.e., that led us to be academics)

* (4th) the operating, planning, and ongoing development of the graduate & undergraduate programs/tracks we’re affiliated with

* (5th) dealing with administrative & other mandates/opportunities (e.g., accreditation reviews, licensure, becoming a Research 1 university…) in ways that don’t detract from #1-4.

Well-designed meetings

Do not attend any meeting without a clear agenda and pre-circulated materials to prepare for efficient use of the face2face time together. (In this spirit, do not convene a meeting unless you have time to define a clear agenda and pre-circulate materials so participants can prepare for efficient use of the time together.)

[1] Nothing much has happened on the wiki yet because it has not been publicized.  To make sure a certain administrator did not construe this as a behind-the-scenes campaign against them, I emailed inviting her comment.  No response came, and, until I had time to follow up, I held off publicizing it to my university colleagues.

[2] If we can find time to do this!

[3] And whether we can do this within a balanced profile of 1/3 research-1/3 teaching-1/3 service (and 1/3 the rest of our lives!) and whether the staff and other resources are there to help.

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