19 November 2005
Earlier this week, the BRIDGE Committee received eleven preliminary proposals/abstracts from the design teams that are in the early stages of re- imagining SIUE’s general education program. These preliminary proposals have been posted on the BRIDGE website. We encourage the community to examine these abstracts so that the we can begin to get a sense of the visions of general education that the design teams are developing.
The abstracts reveal that the teams are at various stages in the development of their thinking about general education. They all evince a seriousness of purpose even though they display a diversity of ideas about the function and form general education should take at SIUE. Most importantly, as a whole, they display a healthy uncertainty. It is apparent that the majority of design teams are struggling with the magnitude and the complexity of the task before them—a redesign of a university curriculum—a redesign that reflects the culture and the constraints of the institution as well as the demands of the early Twenty-First Century. The BRIDGE Committee is not discouraged by this uncertainty. We would have reason to be more concerned if the design teams were not tentative at this stage. Even at a very early stage of development, it is possible to see a number of themes emerging from the design teams: an interest in integration (in terms of both disciplines and the relation between general education and the disciplinary major), in rigorous standards and in strategies to nurture student-learning.
The BRIDGE Committee thanks the design teams for their early work on general education reform. The contributions of approximately 75 faculty/staff/students/community members is a testament to SIUE’s commitments to quality undergraduate education and to an institutional culture that values shared governance. The work which the design teams are now doing is laying the foundations for one of the core missions of SIUE—to deliver quality liberal education to the Southern Illinois and Greater St. Louis Metropolitan regions. In addition, though, their work is reinvigorating and reanimating faculty leadership in the educational mission of the University. The design teams are not merely shaping general education, they are building the
institution’s future (along with many others, who are involved in other institutional projects). The BRIDGE Committee wants to assure the design teams specifically and the community more broadly that the work now underway will be reflected—in one way or another—in the final reform proposal that the BRIDGE Committee will submit to the Faculty Senate in Spring 2007. It is important, though, that everyone understand that when human beings build and create the future, their actions unfold with an unavoidable uncertainty. The uncertainty that we face as we move forward should encourage the strengthening
of a culture of trust and transparency.
Just as the BRIDGE Committee trusts that the design teams are taking their charge seriously, so the design teams should trust that we are taking our charge seriously. Just as the design teams are moving forward with healthy uncertainty, so we are moving forward with healthy uncertainty. Just as the design teams’ work is in a variety of stages of development, so our
work in designing the reform process is in a variety of stages of development. Just as the design teams are tentatively fleshing out their ideas about the form and function of general education at SIUE, so are we tentatively fleshing out our ideas about how to create a process that nurtures and refines the work you are doing on behalf of the wider SIUE community in
such a way that we can carry a proposal forward to the Faculty Senate.
We have been considering a variety of mechanisms to insure that the work being done now is fully vetted and that the wider SIUE community has multiple opportunities to comment, criticize, praise and revise the work of both the design teams and the BRIDGE Committee. We have been considering the respective strengths and weakness of the following mechanisms that may be deployed to move forward from Phase I into Phase II: open, public fora at which the various proposals are commented on by the community; focused round- table discussions at which community members (faculty, staff and students) use an evaluative instrument to discuss the respective strengths and weaknesses of the proposals; widely distributed evaluative instruments; a peer-review committee; and some form of faculty plebiscite. What we seek is to create an
environment which maximizes community feedback on the general education reform proposals and helps both the design teams and the BRIDGE Committee move forward in developing a general education reform plan.
Almost certainly a number of these mechanisms will be deployed in parallel toward the middle of Spring 2006 as the design teams finalize their proposals. These parallel processes of review will allow for a full vetting of the design team proposals, will allow for the wider community to comment on their work and will allow for the BRIDGE Committee to integrate the comments of the community with the work of the design teams. The specific configuration of the process has yet to be determined by the BRDIGE Committee (here is our uncertainty). We have not fixed this configuration yet because
we believe that it will necessarily be shaped by the direction that the work of the design teams takes. We all—the BRIDGE Committee, the design teams and the wider community—are partners in a complex process in which we must each be
responsive to each other. Each successive stage of the general education reform process will emerge out of the dynamics of the stage that precedes it. We will have a much better sense in February 2006, as the design teams present work-in-progress sessions to the community.
Just as the BRIDGE Committee is willing to offer advice to the design teams as they move forward with their work, so the BRIDGE Committee seeks the learned advice of our colleagues and friends as we continue to discuss the variety of mechanisms to deploy to help us move forward, democratically and transparently, from eleven proposals.
We look forward to your suggestions and advice.
Best wishes for a relaxing Thanksgiving vacation!