Twenty-eight faculty members, representing a range of disciplines and affiliations, gathered Saturday, December 5, 2009 at the Smith College Club, to provide faculty ideas and perspectives on the strategic development of Five College cooperation. Specifically, their challenge was to envision an ideal of academic cooperation from the perspective of a student and of a faculty member at least a decade from now. The ten-year vantage point was encouraged to help set sights beyond existing structures, individuals or contexts and to prompt creative ideas and ideals.
To infuse their work with external perspectives, they were joined for the day by a team of visiting faculty members representing academic consortia around the country including the Ohio Five, the Claremont Colleges, and the Associated Colleges of the South. Among them were those with experience working in liberal arts and research university partnerships including OhioLink (the statewide network of libraries anchored by the The Ohio State University) one who had been deeply involved in the first strategic planning exercise for Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies in DC. The guest colleagues participated in all plenary and breakout sessions and offered perspectives on ways their groups had overcome obstacles toward realizing consortial goals.
From the initial brainstorming session, the vision of this faculty group for the Consortium coalesced around seven major themes:
- alignment of course offerings, numbering, sequencing, scheduling and especially registration policies/processes, so that faculty members and students can plan for coherent, rich courses of study drawing on resources from across institutions;
- alignment of technological systems, if not platforms, for transparent similarity across all institutions on such things ranging from registration to course management, and from in-classroom technology and video conferencing to grading;
- clarity around institutional and departmental service expectations and community integration of faculty members in joint Five College appointments (recognizing that these range from teaching at two campuses to appointments at all five), so that, as we increasingly hire this way we create positions that are effective, manageable and equitable;
- increased visibility for, and awareness of the distinct benefits of, the Five College Consortium – both the functions and capacities of the consortium and simple awareness of colleagues at other institutions – starting from the moment of hire, if not the recruitment process (and similarly for students from the point of recruiting through registration);
- thinking and acting horizontally, across institutions, rather than vertically within them, with closer integration of departmental programs, speakers, panels, seminars and previews of visiting faculty members;
- improved transportation options, a Five College consciousness in scheduling of classes, and a return to closer alignment of calendars;
- ensuring that we retain that which is distinctive about our institutions even as we plan for greater alignment and integration.
With these as the banner headlines, here is a selection of the specific ideas put forward for possible immediate action or for spring task forces and working groups:
- A better coordinated/cooperative approach to student internship opportunities, community based learning, and off-campus study, including ‘re-entry’ courses following study away;
- Shared resources/centers/speakers to support faculty development around teaching and learning;
- One or more Five College intellectual institutes, centers or resources, perhaps and institute focused on environmental policy or perhaps something like Smith’s Kahn Institute that would bring faculty members, staff members and students together around different common intellectual theme each year;
- Seamless video conferencing resources more widely available on each campus, both for teaching blended courses and for connecting with students studying away and partner research colleagues and or classes in other countries;
- An improved Five Colleges, Inc., Web site with integrated information about our Five College course catalogs, directories of faculty members and their intellectual interests, and more connections for student groups;
- Greater consideration of whether technology now enables us to collaborate even beyond the geographic proximity that formed the basis of our initial alignment as a consortium;
- More involvement of faculty members in advising Five Colleges, Inc., such as a faculty advisory council meeting once every semester or once a year.
Those assembled were also asked to propose “quick fixes” (things of considerable value that could enhance the Consortium promptly and at modest cost of time and money). Among the primary things on those lists were:
- More integration of people and course offerings at the level of departments and programs;
- More direct transportation (fewer stops) on the longest routes (and perhaps more support in those vehicles for academic endeavors ala Google’s transportation);
- Integrated on-line registration systems;
- More programs that bring Five College faculty members together in the operation of each department and program;
- Better calendar coordination;
- Consolidated technology platforms;
- Improved options for Five College faculty members visiting other campuses;
- Improved on-line access across the Five Colleges to electronic resources on each campus.