7 December 2005

Dear Robert,

       Thank you for responding to the BRIDGE Committee's call for "the learned advice of our colleagues and friends" concerning the process by which we will move from 11 draft re-designs of General Education toward a proposal that can be sent from the BRIDGE Committee to the Faculty Senate. Your proposal merits the careful consideration of the SIUE community, in general, and the BRIDGE Committee, in particular. We will take your suggestions under consideration.

       Since late October, the BRIDGE Committee has been discussing this complex issue of procedure. As we said in our email of 19 November, we have been discussing a variety of procedures to move from Phase I through Phase II. These include "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." We will add your recent suggestions to this list of proposed procedures. We also look forward to other ideas that the SIUE community offers.

       The BRIDGE Committee continues to believe strongly that we cannot decide the precise mechanisms for moving from 11 designs to some smaller number at this moment because we do not yet see what the products of the 11 design teams will look like. While it is easy to frame this process as a competition, with winners and loosers, there are other metaphors available for framing this process. It may help to think of the steps of the process as stages of drafting. At each stage more and different folk will be involved in 'collectively editing' and refining the proposals. While we should leave open the possibility that one design team will come close to 'hitting the mark,' we should also leave open the possibility that there will substantial overlap in design proposals and substantial flaws in design proposals. In this case, the possibility has to exist of merging or fusing design teams and proposals and involve these fused teams in the collective work of editing/drafting phase II design. Again, these comments are speculative, because we do not know yet what the design-team proposals will look like. It would be foolish to set up a procedure at this time that would limit our options in the Spring.

       As you know, the design teams will have an opportunity, if they take it, to present work-in-progress drafts of their designs to the community in open fora in early February 2006. After this point, we will have a more precise picture of the designs. We will be able to finalize our decision about the process for moving from Phase I to Phase II after that. The BRIDGE Committee will have a mechanism/set of procedures in place for moving from Phase I to Phase by 15 March 2006, at the same time the design teams are completing their draft-proposals.

       Finally let me add that your involvement as well as the involvement of approximately 70 other faculty and staff members is evidence that the BRIDGE process is already doing the things that you so eloquently hope it will do--"turn our University around toward the genuine achievement of the values that we cherish [critical discussion, democracy and self-governance]." Thank you for your time, effort and wisdom in relation to the reform of general education at SIUE!

 

Cheers!

Eric Ruckh
Chair, BRIDGE 

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On 3 December 2005, Robert Ware wrote:

Dear Colleagues

Our Bridge Committee deserves much gratitude and credit for inaugurating an important process of University reform in a highly promising way. Specifically, the Committee has repeatedly promised that it would determine the form, but not the content of our Bridge Process. In other words, the Bridge Committee has assured us that while it would take responsibility for determining the process by which SIUE designed a new program of General Education, it would not attempt to determine the content of that design. Instead the Bridge Committee has repeatedly promised that the content of our new General Education program would be determined in a manner that would be “transparent and democratic”.

Yet thus far the SIUE community has received only vague assurances along these lines. Despite repeated requests, our Bridge Committee has not specified the procedures by which a new program will be selected and by which the transparency and democracy of that process will be guaranteed. Neither democracy nor transparency is attainable without clear and well-publicized procedures, upon which we are able to agree in advance.

We are now approaching that point in the Bridge process at which those of us on Design Teams are required to invest considerable time and effort. It is disappointing to some of us that we are asked to do so prior to the specification of democratic procedures for selection among our various designs. This lack of transparency has raised some concern that for all of our hard work on these designs, the decisions about our new General Education program may be made by a clique of insiders.

At SIUE there is an unfortunate history of crucial decisions being made by insiders. This history has done much to undermine the principal values and goals of our University. We say that we value citizenship, critical thought, and academic excellence. Yet, in the past, decision making at our University was often inconsistent with genuine self-governance. Critical discussion of key policies and decisions has not always been encouraged, and has sometimes been stifled. These problems have contributed to a faculty that is chronically passive, disengaged, demoralized, and anomic. In turn, this atmosphere of disengagement and demoralization has contributed to a campus culture that has too often failed to nourish genuine academic excellence, and sometimes verged on the anti-intellectual.

The Bridge process offers us a chance to change all of this. If the Bridge process is truly transparent and democratic, and if it is therefore openly and inclusively self-critical, then it will help us to turn our University around toward the genuine achievement of the values that we cherish. The Bridge process is intended to culminate in a transformation of our General Education program that will help us better to realize our values as a University. Yet the Bridge process cannot succeed in this unless that process becomes a part of a broader transformation of the University itself, toward a campus culture that is itself based upon critical discussion, democracy, and self-governance, a campus culture that helps to nourish and sustain a vital intellectual community. This will not happen if decisions about the new General Education program are left to a small group. If we leave the determination of our General Education program to a small group, then we will defeat the purpose of the Bridge Process. In the end, we may find that our participation in that process has been reduced to little more than window dressing.

It is time to begin an open discussion of the procedures by which the new General Education program will be determined. This will not be easy. It is not clear that a decision of this sort should be made on the basis of a simple plurality. On the other hand, it is clear that most of us will be too busy at the end of the term to give it much thought. Hence the upcoming break is an important opportunity for us all to reflect upon the procedures by which we wish to choose our new General Education program, and the kind of university that we wish to become. When we return in January, I suggest that many of us on the SIUE faculty or staff should propose procedures by which our new General Education program might be selected for discussion on this listserve. In order to start that process, I will offer a proposal now.

I propose that our new General Education program should be selected by well-specified procedures, incorporating a notion of investment in the Bridge process. Members of the SIUE faculty and staff might become invested in the process according to their participation in the process. The relative weight of these investments might be determined in various ways. For example, each member of the Bridge Committee might be given three votes. Each member of a Bridge Design Team that successfully submits a design proposal might be given two votes. Any other member of the faculty or staff might be given one vote if he/she makes the following investment in the process: attendance at a minimum of three public sessions in which the various designs are presented and discussed, and submission of a brief critique of each of the design proposals—all critiques to be published with the author's name and campus email address on the Bridge website.

Invested members of the faculty and staff would apply their respective votes to the selection of three finalist design proposals before the end of April 2006. Those three design teams would have an opportunity to modify and revise their designs over the summer. This might be accomplished in conjunction with members of other teams, so that cross-fertilization would be possible, though not required.

In the Fall Term, there would be further public meetings for the presentation and discussion of the three final proposals. Members of the faculty and staff who had not previously invested in the process would have a further opportunity to do so, acquiring one vote by attending these meetings and submitting published critiques of the three finalist designs.

Winter Break 2006, would offer a final opportunity for revision of the three final proposals. In February 2007, all invested members of the faculty and staff would cast their final votes on these revised proposals. With the ratification from the Faculty Senate, that final vote would determine our new General Education program.

I believe that a process such as this would have the merits of transparency, democracy, openness, and inclusivity. I believe that it would help us to transform our campus culture in a manner consistent with our stated values and goals, and I believe that it would culminate in an informed and judicious decision.

I hope that there will be other proposals of transparent and democratic procedures for the Bridge Process at the beginning of our next term in January 2006.

Rob

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