An Interview with Dean Anderson
By Steve Newman
On October 9, I sat down to interview Temple University’s new Dean of the College of Education, Gregory M. Anderson. I thank him for his time and his thoughtful responses. I think his answers are interesting enough to warrant being published in full, but you can jump to specific topics by clicking on one of the buttons below:
Temple’s Mission and Bridging the Research-Policy Divide
How Temple Should and Shouldn’t Be Involved in Public Schools
Truly Recognizing Diversity and Ensuring Educational Access
Evaluating Good Teaching: Disciplinary Limits, Competencies, and Finding Good Metrics
Tenure, Colleagues on the Teaching/Instructional Track, and Valuing Teaching
Conclusion: Plans for Research and Teaching
Steve Newman (SN): I guess I’m an emissary from the Faculty Senate and The Faculty Herald, so first let me welcome you to Temple! What drew you to Temple from the University of Denver?
Greg Anderson (GA): There are many reasons. First, I’m excited about the historical mission of Temple University; it’s very much aligned with what I personally feel education can do under the best of circumstances, which is to transform students’ lives. That was really attractive to me. Second, the College has so many strong faculty and they have so many assets. It really is a plum of a job. As a dean coming into a situation, you would ask: “What kind of strengths would you like to have in an organization?” And you always start with human capital. I felt that the faculty were really strong, and I felt that they were open, open to change and that they wanted to help improve the College…. Third, the students. I listened to President Theobald at his inauguration. He shared demographics in regards to our students, and I was really struck by the fact that Temple is the largest recipient of low-income students in the entire region, and others pale in comparison. If I heard the Chair of the Board correctly, I think he said that the number of low-income students at Temple was larger than the number from all the other area schools combined. That’s really attractive to me. I have that background myself. I’m a first-generation college student, and because my parents came from South Africa, and I know what it’s like, and they know what it’s like, actually, to struggle for educational opportunities.
And then Philadelphia. I really missed the East Coast. I like Philadelphia a lot; I went to the City University of New York, where I got my PhD in Sociology; I got tenure at Columbia University. I really love the East Coast. I like Philly: It’s a gritty town, it’s a real town, and it has real passion. I also think it’s a city on the upswing. So those are all the reasons.
SN: When people ask me what Temple is about, I cite that mission as well. I answer that it’s something like CCNY [City College of New York]—a place where first-generation college students have gone—with a more robust commitment to research and an array of strong professional schools. I know of colleagues here who could certainly get jobs elsewhere, and they stay here because of that history and mission. It’s not because they are full of some missionary zeal; they’re properly aware of the complexities that are a topic of your research. I think that mission is at the heart of this place, and it’s something that distinguishes Temple.
GA: It does. And you can see it in the research the faculty do, and in the way they teach. You don’t always see that sense of mission in other places. You’re absolutely right. Everything that I have experienced so far has reaffirmed that this was the right decision.
SN: I want to ask you about one thing that may be one of your priorities. I was reading one of your recent articles in The Review of Higher Education where you point to a troubling disjunction between what schools of education focus on in their research and projects and the issues that policy centers and institutes focus on. Since you were a program officer at the Ford Foundation, you’re particularly well-positioned to perceive this gap. One of the things that doesn’t seem to inform how policy centers operate is critical race studies, which is quite important on the academic side. This seems to me particularly important because of the growing importance of foundations setting policy—not just the Ford Foundation, but also the Lumina Foundation and Gates.
SN: Another phenomenon is that we’re looking toward more intervention from the states. I think you’ve probably already read the Pennsylvania Post-Secondary Ed report, and the faculty were not, let us say, very present in that effort. Sorry for the long preamble: is it one of your priorities to help us figure out how to figure out how to bridge that gap between policy and very vibrant academic work?
GA: It is. I think we need to widen the scope and engage in the arenas where the decision-making is happening. Both universities and colleges should also pay attention to decisions that impact our students and impact us.
One way I think we can improve in that regard is to extend the notion of what constitutes impact in research and scholarship. In particular, in colleges of education there has always been a complicated relationship between research and scholarship because education is a field, not a discipline. We have folks coming from the disciplines, but it’s a field. As a result, when we’re looking at evaluating the quality of their work, we’ve always been in a somewhat nebulous position in relation to disciplinary identities. And I honestly believe that that this diversity of expertise is a strength, and that we should own it.
SN: The prevailing model of impact seems to come from the sciences, with its ideas of productivity and journal impact factors.
GA: I’m not opposed to that under certain circumstances, and in certain subfields or disciplines that makes perfect sense. But impact can be measured in multiple ways, and I think one way to measure it is to ask: Do we have an influence on educational practices and policies that are being designed? Is research being used to make decisions? Often, truthfully, policy makers are data-proof.
How do we increase our impact in this way? I believe that we put ourselves in positions in the context of organizations and partnerships in which we take the assets that we have—and our ultimate asset is two-fold, our students and faculty—and we ask what do we do that our partners need that they don’t necessarily have the skill-set to do themselves. One is research, but we’re going to have to change the nature of some of the research that we do so to be relevant and have impact in the field.
SN: We’ll have to make the research look to them like something they could use.
GA: Yes. And sometimes it’s quick-and-dirty research. One way is to enter into research consortia arrangements in which we help school districts make good decisions. We’re trying to do that now in Philadelphia. That may mean working with Penn or Drexel, and we should do that as well. Another piece of that is helping faculty understand that there are many ways to do that. You might start with quick-and-dirty research that informs a decision or policy, but then gives you inroads into large databases and a relationship with the school district that allows you then to build your scholarly and research career.
GA: I think we should collaborate with the school district and not just with public schools but also charter schools when they are fulfilling a mission that is aligned with ours. And we should be humble about the way that we partner. We should recognize that we don’t have all the answers; however, we have strengths that can add value. We should figure out how we can work together. Those are the ways in which we can bridge this gap between research and policy.
We also have to engage with legislators. We have to. Traditionally, universities and colleges have had this notion that they have the luxury of being able to operate in a way so that the things we believe don’t necessarily have an impact.
SN: We’re insulated, for better and for worse. Actually, we’re not as insulated as we sometimes think we are.
GA: Right, and so we can take a principled stand. And we won’t have an impact on the legislators, but we leave the room feeling good about ourselves. I think we need to be strategic about the way we engage. We need to continue to be open to working across divides, and even working with folks who have a different perspective than ours, as long as what we’re doing has some sort of consensus about the outcome. For example, some may disagree that charter schools are the best way to reform the public school system, yet they have completely changed the Philadelphia school system.
SN: It’s not like they’re going away.
GA: Right. They’re not going to go away. So to me, a mature college or organization engages with them. Regardless of our ideological perspective.
SN: That doesn’t stop us if we wish to from advocating for fair funding formulas, etc.
SN: Back to the view that universities shouldn’t be running K-12 schools. I think you say that in one of your YouTube talks.
SN: It brings me to one idea that has come up here, actually, twice, which you may know well of, which is the possibility of our establishing an early college high school.
SN: From one perspective that seems exactly like a meeting point of research, policy making, and praxis in terms of training teachers. On the other hand, I guess the question is what you mean by “running” the school? I asked President Theobald about this when I interviewed him, and he has misgivings about professors running the day-to-day operations of a school; but, of course, that’s not necessarily what would happen in an Early College High School. I feel pretty certain that you know of these schools, but do you know the history of the idea at Temple, and whether that seems like an idea that Temple should consider?
GA: That’s a really good question. I think to do that you would need to have a clear sense of what the responsibilities of the universities were, and that those responsibilities would have to be codified over the long haul.
SN: No mission creep.
GA: Right. My philosophy on colleges and universities running public schools, is that I feel like this type of “partnership,” receives a lot of attention, and we’re a magnet for resources, and we prove that we can create something of value. But we need to sustain it or prove that we can scale it.
SN: As we did not do with the five schools that were handed to us a decade or so ago. I came to Temple just as the State took over the Philly Schools and initiated their Let a Thousand Blooms Reform. We were given schools to run, and the College of Ed had nothing to do, I think, with running them.
GA: There were many moving parts and things happened too quickly without a clear understanding of expectations from both sides.
SN: I have to admit that I have a personal stake in this because when I was Director of Undergraduate Studies of English, now some years ago, Michael Smith, a professor in the College of Ed, asked me if I wanted to play a role in this proposal. It was great that they came back to us. As you may know, when the Gates Foundation, working through the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, first came to us, if I have the story right, the person then running the schools through the President’s office said, “No. Not interested.”
They came back when President Hart was in office, and there was more interest, and we had faculty members who did site visits; we had a theme for the school, Civic Engagement; the School Reform Commission seemed interested, we were putting together a curriculum. My very minor role in this was trying to think about what the English curriculum would look like there. Then we were forced to say no a second time because in part it just sat on the President’s desk awhile. Who knows what led to that delay?
You and President Theobald are the experts in the field, and so your reservations would have to be addressed. And I think many of us involved in this project were scared as hell, thinking, “What if this fails?” On the other hand, if we could address these concerns, this idea is, to pardon the cliché, right in the wheelhouse of our mission. I mean, a neighborhood school that would head on address the question of educational access and that might put things like Critical Race Studies, into practice. Right?
GA: Yes. Look, the idea is enticing for a thousand reasons. Think of the possibilities of what we could do with the knowledge base that we have. But you have to interface with the school districts, and the politics. It’s the height of hubris to think we can control those interactions. That’s the other piece of it. I believe in partnerships, but I believe in each partner coming to the table with what their strengths are and what their needs are, particularly when we work with the school district. You cannot overpromise.
The other piece of it is that we can run demonstration or model schools. I’ve done that at the University of Denver. We had two of them. But they weren’t embedded in the public school system. And there weren’t promises that should be ingrained not forever but for the long term. There was always an out clause for us.
SN: We should really commit.
GA: We should commit. I believe, honestly that one of the issues is, and I’m not speaking for President Theobald, is that we already have a commitment to our students here, and can we do both exceptionally well? That’s an empirical question.
SN: As I was trying to figure out what are the costs here, one of them would be, if we had faculty here going to that academy, that would mean a section here that doesn’t get taught. Or do we bring those students to Temple, and what would the concerns be there? I think there would be a lot of sticky structural issues even I can sense as someone outside of the field.
GA: There are.
SN: And I wouldn’t minimize them. I hope, though, that an Early College High School is something we’d give a good, hard look at. I think that if we could do it in the sort of responsible, committed way that you properly demand, the upside is huge.
GA: The upside would be incredible. There’s one last thing: We’re confronted with choices in an environment characterized by scarce resources. Look at our school district and what it’s suffering through at the moment. In the case of North Philadelphia. I just went to Duckrey [Tanner G. Duckrey School], which is just down the road. And Duckrey, after staving off closure, was forced to double its enrollment in order to stay open.
SN: But I’m sure not with double its resources.
GA: No. Without an AP [assistant principal] though with a really wonderful principal.
SN: And probably no librarian.
GA: The College’s student organization is working on building up their library. And what I’m asking myself is: “Would we be doing the right thing by creating a new high school? Or should we be redoubling our efforts to work with schools that are in dire need of support?”
SN: What would you imagine that we would do for and with Duckrey?
GA: Again, let’s start with our assets, the faculty and students. We often think of our students as ambassadors. What if we built an incredible internship programs that addressed a severe scarcity or need in the school district that would give our students an opportunity to do service in the way we look for when we admit them. That adds value to their educational experience and their professional development and adds value to the children in the schools.
That I think we should be doing. What kind of programs? I have a school psychology program. I have a counseling psych program. How many counselors and psychologists are there right now in the system? We have students that could advise on college choice or support student in times of distress. So I think that before we talk about putting our eggs in one basket, we should look at all our assets and say, “Yes, we absolutely have to do something. It may not be that, but it should be spread across the system in ways that address immediate needs, the needs that are going to impact children for decades if we don’t intervene right now.” That would be my personal choice. Not to not do anything, but to say, “They desperately need help. Dunbar desperately needs help.” Our responsibility should first be to the schools that already exist.
So, for example, Ms. Scott, the principal at Duckrey told me that they have piles of library books they don’t know what to do with. They need to think about reconstituting their library. Those are the kinds of things we can do to support them. And here is the College’s student organization helping them build that. I feel way more comfortable doing those things because I know that if we get the right people in the room that we can do them than building up something, working with large foundations and putting together a beautiful, glossy thing but then always having an out clause, which is that if it fails, it was a great experiment, and we tried our best. But Duckrey is hopefully still going to be there, and Dunbar is going to be there. That’s my commitment.
SN: The further students get along in academic chain, it may be true that the less effective the intervention can sometimes be.
GA: It’s funny you should say that, because that’s something we’re grappling with right now. Knowing that the market is saturated in Philadelphia, we have to maybe move away from a mass-production model, from producing the most teachers to producing the most influential teachers. And so we need to be more strategic about where we are producing teachers. I would argue that the middle grades is an area that we really need to focus on because there’s a desperate need in math and science, in special education, in ELL [English Language Learning] and math and science. I feel like we need to be more nimble as well, and, again, when we put all of our eggs in one basket, we divert from all the other aspects of our mission.
SN: As the person managing the college, that has to be a question for you—
GA: Yes, it really bothers me that we end up singing that James Ingram song, “I did my best. But I guess my best wasn’t good enough.” But those kids are still there.
SN: I’d like to pivot a bit to talk more about properly engaging with race and diversity, which is clearly very important to you. Your interest emerges from your own family background, having emigrated from South Africa, and you returned there for your dissertation, which became your first book, to study these issues in action by looking at the University of the Western Cape. I’m wondering how your experience with that project informs your view your of how higher ed does or does not fulfill the imperatives and the promises of diversity. How are we doing and how are we not doing well, and how to make diversity real?
Even in South Africa, if I grasped your study correctly, where you didn’t have people stigmatizing non-white students as needing remediation, even that experiment has had mixed results. What lessons have you drawn from that research and your experiences since about how Temple in particular and how higher ed more broadly could be better realizing these goals of diversity?
GA: That is a huge question and one of the most important questions facing the nation. I think we really need look at diversity and socio-economic status simultaneously. We still tend to separate them.
I feel that there are a couple of ways in which we can intervene. We’re going to have to acknowledge that race and class are intertwined. If you actually look at particularly the way selective institutions admit students, they tend to separate the two. I feel that given the demographics of the country, we have to stop doing that, we have to acknowledge both at the same time. Pedagogically, we have to stop celebrating diversity—and I have to be careful how I define this—and we have to start contesting diversity. By contesting, I don’t mean not acknowledging the importance of diversity. I mean actually getting students to engage in what it’s like to come from different backgrounds and to have different perspectives and to figure out a way to learn from that diversity. Instead of just learning that we should celebrate it.
There is research in higher education around diversity that indicates that when you teach a diverse curriculum to a predominantly white, elite student body, they actually learn to mask their biases and to articulate them in a more sophisticated manner.
SN: They haven’t actually had to face up to their own presuppositions.
GA: That’s right. I feel that one of our responsibilities is to get students to engage in what might be challenging issues and to work through them in a critical, analytical way that allows them to come to some understanding of how complex these issues are in lived
Coming back to the idea of what we need to do as a College of Education, I believe we need to find more pathways for students to Philadelphia who come from diverse backgrounds to have access to higher education. That is not just access to higher education at Temple. I’m not sure yet that we have fully reached our potential or honored our commitment to educating as diverse a student body as possible. I fear that the way that post-secondary policy has been going is that we have been primarily thrusting that responsibility on to the community colleges. But one of the ways to develop a policy is to enhance the number of pathways and choices for students and try to avoid tracking them at all costs. So at Temple, we can do a better job of increasing our diversity, and I know that our President is committed to doing that.
But it’s going to be interesting to see how we balance, as you mentioned, the hybridity of this institution, as having aspirations as a research university and also an historical mission.
SN: Yes, this issue seems a local example, important as it is, of a larger question about the state of higher ed. I’ve had a couple of interviews with the Provost and heard him address the question of how we apportion our aid. Temple is hardly alone in this, but we have decided to send more money to merit-based aid, which then makes Temple more attractive to students with high SAT scores, which increases our US News and World Report ranking, which leads to more giving, which we then use to fund more need-based aid. That requires a lot of dominos to fall, and I think there’s some concern among the faculty that they won’t, though I know this isn’t the only tool in the Provost’s tool-kit, that his is not a one-track strategy.
On the revenue-producing side, we know that when you have scarce resources, you have to find some way to increase them. And marketing ourselves so that we have more students who can pay full freight is a way to do that. But then at what cost to our mission to serve less-advantaged students? And how do we ensure that we provide all of our students a quality education?
We’re admittedly in a tough spot. I was looking back at one of the issues in our archives—we’ve been around for 45 years now, and I read a column from way back in which the President of the Faculty Senate was waxing wroth over the subsidy from the state supplying only 55% of our operating budget.
[Laughter from both]
And I think we’re down around 15% now. I think that those tensions at Temple are tensions between our historical mission and research aspirations and then the challenges facing us to get the resources we need to fulfill either mission.
GA: Temple is not different than any other institution. That’s true because the demographic nature of the students is changing in front of us. They’re coming from lower-income backgrounds, more diverse backgrounds in terms of language, ethnicity, and race, and our system hasn’t caught up to that shift.
Now, I honestly think there are ways that de-centralized budgeting can allow us to address some of these tensions. But I want to be really clear about my perspective: I believe that merit narrowly-defined is not actually merit at all. I believe there are tons of ways to look at merit. Someone who overcomes difficulties in their lives, goes to a Title I school, has responsibilities for siblings, has struggled economically—all of those things should be factored in when we talk about the merit of a student because Acres of Diamonds, that idea, the idea of a diamond in the rough is something we stand for.
I feel what the de-centralized model gives us is the opportunity to calibrate a portion of the students that are coming in that are better-prepared—preparation is usually a proxy for socio-economic status, as the research has shown—and those students can help in multiple ways with the Research I aspirations but they can also support broader notions of merit in terms of the dollars we can put towards students. It’s a question of how we balance them out.
We’re not being responsible if we’re not figuring out a way to fulfill our mission in both aspects of it in a sustainable fashion. That means we have to change the economic model, and if we don’t do that, we could fall on either side of the equation and fail, regardless. That’s a pivotal responsibility.
SN: As the Dean of the College of Ed, you have something of a bully pulpit. You are saying that we need a new economic model because this one is not sustainable. How then would you go out and make that case? And to whom would you make it?
GA: Well, you know you have to make it on multiple grounds and to multiple stakeholders. To the business community, you have to say to them, we can acknowledge the reality of what’s it like for a graduate to leave the university and be in massive debt or to leave the university and not be prepared to fulfill the responsibilities of the job that they thought they were going to get. We need to vigilantly improve. I don’t think we’re beating up on ourselves when we say we need to vigilantly improve. We expect that from our students, and so we should expect that from ourselves.
I’m proud to be the Dean of a College of Education, of being a part of a College of Education. We need to focus on using our skillset to validate our record. We don’t use data as effectively as we can. It comes back to the policy issues we talked about. Also, we need to use metrics, legitimate and appropriate metrics, to see how we can improve, to get ahead of the curve, to get ahead of the critique. So that’s one piece.
To the school system, and I’ve had this conversation with Superintendent Hite, I shared with him that I understand and deeply appreciate the constraints; I told him, ”We have to partner with you differently.” For example, if we have access to a foundation, if one way in which we increase our Research I reputation is to increase our sponsored research dollars, we might have to re-direct those dollars toward the school district and we might have to make a choice to do so because that’s the right thing to do because that’s what the school district needs.
SN: Right. What you would do, I guess, is when you frame the research problem, you’d say, “Look. This money you’re giving us will yield important, useful research, but in order to accomplish those goals, I need to get those resources into action.” We wouldn’t have a lab school, but the schools would be labs for what we were doing in an ethical way.
GA: Right. Another component is that we need to find a way to this: If the students are good enough to admit, we have to ensure that they maintain their grades to graduate. If something is happening between admission and graduation, we need to vigilantly interrogate that. We need to focus on retention.
This is what I learned in South Africa. It’s one thing to open up a university and bring students in; it’s another thing to educate them; and it’s another thing again to fulfill your responsibilities to the students. This is what President Theobald’s been talking about, our responsibilities to the students. While we diversify, we have to ensure that we are actually retaining those students, and we have to change the way that we educate, and we have to change our practices and policies. All of those things, we’re capable of doing. We have to talk with the individual stakeholders and make good decisions and not get caught up with the idea that there’s only one way to meet our outcome. So if we want to increase our rankings, we don’t have to make an impossible choice—either we have to bring in high SES [Socio-Economic Status] students, and exclude low SES students. I don’t believe in those choices; I believe we can do both simultaneously, that’s our responsibility. And if not a College of Education, what other college is supposed to be leading that fight?
SN: I believe you’ve said in the same talk captured on YouTube that although we teach teaching and learning, we don’t do a very good job of applying that knowledge to the academy itself. This actually gets to a question I’d like to get to about evaluating good teaching, which is a hot topic on this campus right now with the discussion around Student Feedback Forms. As someone whose life has been the studying of teaching and learning, could you give examples of where faculty have a mote in our own eyes, that we can’t see what we can’t see about how we’re teaching and learning? Could you give me an example of a pedagogical practice that seems to you either unsustainable because of the fiscal environment we’re in or, just as importantly, that doesn’t seem to work.
GA: I’m a sociologist and come out of a specific disciplinary background. But I believe that helping resolve major social problems extends beyond one expertise domain and we need to stop just talking about interdisciplinary approaches and find major ways to incent and reward such approaches in our research, teaching and scholarship. Subject matter is critical, but subject matter can cut across disciplines. What we’ve done now is that we’ve created a system in which we’ve at times reified the discipline at the expense of teaching and learning. It’s almost as if we have to revisit our fundamental mission. What does it mean to be a faculty member? Again, it speaks to this tension between research and our other missions. We get this all the time in the College of Education, since we are known for our teaching but we also do cutting edge research as well.
I think that what we need to do, and where the College of Education can lead, is to work across these different areas of expertise, with one goal in mind: What adds value to our students’ experience? Maximizes their learning, their educational outcomes, and the opportunities they’re going to have when they enter into the labor market? I think collaboration is the future. Now, universities have talked about interdisciplinary research forever. But they don’t incent it. In fact, if anything, they punish it.
SN: There’s some worry that the de-centralized budget model will discourage it, though we’ve assured that that won’t be the case.
GA: It is a concern, and it’s an empirical question. I believe that as the Dean of the College of Education, one of my responsibilities is to promote within the college the way we want to operate on behalf of our students. We are working together to encourage and incent ways for our college to work across departments, disciplines.
SN: What I’ve wanted to do for years now is to teach a Gen Ed class: What is Literature (Good For)? What I’d hope to do is work to have grad students from both English and Education, and it would be a pedagogical training ground for them. They would lead break-out sections and then we’d be able to make the competencies we’re trying to foster more explicit. Not just what is literature good for, but what is teaching literature good for.
I had a discussion with the folks involved in Gen Ed that I’ll be publishing in the upcoming issue about competencies. We have to figure out a way to talk about competencies that aren’t like other ways, which will run us over like a Mack truck, which don’t care what we care about.
GA: That’s right.
SN: But we can’t pretend as if that talk is going away. And good teaching should be able to specify what it is that your students will be able to do or think or how on the other side of it.
GA: That’s absolutely correct.
SN: A more concrete question in this line: I read an article of yours about transfer articulation agreements. One of the challenges we face here is that we take in more transfer students per year than first year students. If I remember your study correctly, it suggests that states with explicit articulation agreements don’t do any better in terms of student achievement than those who don’t. But you also said that we needed more data, and whether it has proven out any differently.
GA: It’s starting to look like it’s having an impact. But at the end of the day, what matters is what’s happening inside the institutions in question.
SN: So it won’t be enough to have the state wave its magic wand and say, “You must admit these students.”
GA: To come back to the question about policy: We have so much to add to the policy world because we know what goes on inside. We just have to combine it and present it properly. On competencies, I totally agree. We need to say what in the 21st century our students need in order to have as many opportunities and choices as possible. If you look at how we’ve created the higher ed system, we have these very narrow competencies: “This will equate to being an engineer, and this will equate to being a physician, etc.” But if you actually look at the transformative industries that have emerged, they are coming from all sorts of disciplines. They have certain core competencies—the capacity to think critically and analytically, the capacity to communicate, to lead, to collaborate. Those skills aren’t in any one’s discipline per se.
SN: No one has a monopoly on those.
GA: I think that’s how we’ve been our own worst enemy as we are not particularly good learning organizations despite being producers of knowledge. If we can’t learn from one another with all of our knowledge then we need to think differently.
SN: You pin all of this on the Enlightenment, and as a scholar of the Enlightenment, I have to say that we’re going to have to differ on this.
GA: But I do believe—I believe Max Weber said it—we risk becoming “specialists without heart.” You can see it when we try to disciplinary work, we butt up against each other’s ideas of expertise, which is really a pity because the opportunity for our students is so great if we could learn how to collaborate with each other.
SN: The project I’m working on right now looks to a moment before the disciplines hardened and you had someone like Adam Smith who could write on political economy and aesthetics and moral philosophy and was a crack university administrator to boot...
GA: Right. If you look at some of the really impactful scholars, Enlightenment scholars, post-Enlightenment scholars, take someone like Jürgen Habermas, he cuts across philosophy, economics, sociology, political science...
SN: He’s not bound by those disciplines.
GA: That’s right. To me, that’s impactful. And our students, armed with that, enter into the world with a greater knowledge base. Again, to me, life is always about choices.
SN: A few concluding questions. On teaching and learning, first: How do we evaluate teaching, since we’ve having so much pressure put upon us through outcomes evaluation? This is a timely question, because we just got the memo from [Senior Vice Provost] Peter Jones on the sharing of some data from the electronic SFFs with certain students. And I’ve talked with him a fair bit about this.
GA: I’m meeting with him directly after you.
SN: One question that he and the SFF committee are considering and a question we all need to consider: How do we make sure that the SFF is only one tool in our kit in evaluating teachers? This is in part an abstract question, but then there are questions about resources. How can we observe all of us? How common is it for a peer teaching observation to offer truly helpful formative feedback?
There are questions about releasing data to the students through the SFFs—about whether they’re personnel records, for instance. And then there is what they’re actually presented with, which is right now a bunch of bars that look like a measure of cell-phone reception, when what the students need is something much richer with syllabi, etc.
I think Vice Provost Jones is amenable to adding those functionalities, and that the SFF committee has done an enormous amount of work for which I’m quite grateful. I know that they are interested in the same thing I and so many faculty care about: but how do we enrich the discussion around the evaluation of teaching? What have you seen as a dean and a program manager that might indicate how we could do that?
GA: It’s such a complicated, challenging issue, but it’s so important. We’re being pushed by metrics that I’m really concerned are at times perhaps the wrong metrics. And we tend to look toward shortcut answers to large, intractable problems. The work I did in South Africa in terms of celebrating a Rainbow Nation in post-apartheid society without actually dealing with the fundamental racial conflicts is analogous to what we’re doing now in celebrating metrics without engaging with what would constitute success and an equitable timeline we’d use to measure it.
The best, the most re-affirming things I ever experience as a professor is when I hear from students I haven’t heard from in 10 years or more. This just happened the other day and the graduate said—she’s now teaching in a charter school in New York—“What I learned from you in that class has had a massive impact.” (I still have to write back to her.) But there are systems we could put in place to evaluate impact over time. It would require us to really value teaching, and here we are back at that research-teaching tension.
SN: Let’s look at the merit numbers. Let’s be honest about this. This varies college to college. Your college tends, not surprisingly, you could phrase it either as mistakenly de-emphasizing research or as being more equitable. My college, CLA, not so much. CST, not so much.
GA: I think we are going to have to as a university community acknowledge that teaching is itself a core component of being a faculty member of equal worth. I shouldn’t say this, but I remember my tenure process at Columbia. My chair came up, and he was trying to be informative and supportive after the college-wide meeting regarding my tenure and promotion, and he said, “Good news, we had a great discussion about you in the college-wide committee. It was a wonderful discussion. We really focused on the merits of your research and scholarship only, and we didn’t focus at all on your teaching and service as these aspects were less important to the process.” And I thought, “You just threw out 2/3rds of the evaluation.”
SN: Right. At Columbia University Teachers College.
GA: Bless his soul, my chair was trying to be supportive. But I left feeling very confused as to what counts, though I felt supported as well. We should value teaching, and there are ways in which we can do peer-to-peer work, but it’s really difficult to do that work. We have autonomy in the classroom; we have autonomy in relation to our programs and departments, and we protect that autonomy with our lives.
SN: I think we are very frightened. Just thinking about my practices, I always tell students that teaching is about reverse engineering. I tell grad students this. But am I really doing that in my own courses? It’s scary. And if we’re on the tenure track we seem to get more defensive once we get tenure. We ask, “Who are you to come in and tell me...” Some of this is defensible standing on academic freedom, which is sacrosanct. But a lot of it is fear.
GA: It is, it is. Being an academic is deeply personal. Name another profession where 95% of the time people say no to you. When you’re sending out publications, you’re going to have to deal with rejection. If you’re passionate about your ideas, it’s a part of you that’s being rejected. But come back to de-centralization. What we have to say, “It’s ok to be great at that one thing that adds value to the college. Yes, you have to meet other threshold standards as well but not everyone has to excellent at the same things. And if we value that differentiation and diversity we should give you avenues to do more of what you are really good at because it adds value to our college and our student experience, whether the contribution involves research, scholarship, service or teaching.” We haven’t created a system sophisticated enough to evaluate each other in all our differentiated contributions as a faculty. But that has nothing first and foremost to do with metrics as such and instead starts with an acknowledgment of what we stand for as a college and then making a commitment to developing a system that can measure it equitably and fairly. Which we should be able to do. Right?
SN: This brings me to the recent controversy over tenure cases being turned back. Speaking as someone who has been charged with trying to think about the faculty perspective as a whole, I think that on these matters, it needs to be a conversation.
GA: It does.
SN: I would say, “I understand that we may have ideas about tenure standards not quite in line with yours. But we need to talk it out, and we can’t be changing rules in the middle of the game. We have to abide by the letter and the spirit of the contract, which sets rules for tenure even in non-TAUP units.”
GA: From my perspective, any college, any unit, any organization has to state a position and stick with it. Not if it’s empirically incorrect. But stick with it because that’s what we represent. That’s what I meant about not apologizing for being a College of Education. We are what we are. The diversity of our expertise is our greatest strength. You’re not going to then fit it into someone else’s idea of what should be valued without stating what you as a college values as a unified position. If this position is a divided one you know what happens with a divided organization. For me, it’s our responsibility to our colleagues to state what we are and then live that approach.
SN: One of the things that brings up, if we’re going to value teaching, we have an increasing number of colleagues not on the tenure track but are on the teaching/instructional track.
SN: How do value them more properly? This has something to do with wanting longer contracts but then there is the competing need for flexibility in staffing. I have so many non-tenure truck colleagues, who, by the way, are also publishing, but are teaching huge loads. And then they get one one-year contract after another. And I think that’s no way to reward good teaching.
GA: You know the weird thing about metrics? Often they’re misguided, but there’s always an opportunity in the metrics. It’s our responsibility to find those opportunities. One way to do that as the university moves to increasing its rankings, and everyone worships at the altar of the rankings, full-time positions are far more attractive than part-time, adjunct ones. Then there are ways to take what some people might find as the imposition of unrealistic metrics and still support our full-time colleagues. To me, all of this is building a case that you can validate using evidence and then building support for long-term contracts and paths to promotion. Those are things that are possible if you’re willing to engage.
SN: Right--you actually have to make the case. There are structural antagonisms at work in discussions about who gets tenure and who doesn’t. What concerns me is that this take the form of a conversation rather than fiat; so we can proceed at least knowing where we disagree. If we lack that, that’s where opacity and mistrust can be really corrosive.
GA: I agree. We also need to be mature about the process and honest about the process. Every hierarchy has points where choices are made. You can contest it as if you were flat-lining the hierarchy, but then you wake up and the hierarchy is still there.
I believe in this phrase, “sober engagement.” I believe in sober engagement. It’s not to lose your integrity or your principles; but it’s about engaging with the world as it is even if you see it as potentially corrosive. Because without that, you’re actually letting down, as in the case of tenure and promotion, a whole bunch of pre-tenured folks who are more disempowered than you (if tenured). We cannot afford to give up on them because we are perhaps skeptical or mistrusting about the process.
I remember this story, I’ll never forget it. I was in South Africa in 1994-95, and someone told me that they were at a stop light, which they call a robot, and the squeegee guy was there, and he said to the owner of this beautiful white Mercedes. “Come tomorrow (the day of the first truly democratic national election), I’m coming to your house to get the car.” But the day passed, the ANC won the election and of course he didn’t get the car. It’s not to say that we shouldn’t contest, and strive for a better more transparent world, but we should be realistic about it as well. We should take the same approach with the tenure and promotion process as it is our collective responsibility.
SN: Well, I’ve already kept you an hour, and maybe we could just do a follow-up over email. But I did want to ask you what sort of research you want to do as Dean and what sort of courses you’d like to teach, though I know it’s hard to make time for it.
GA: You know, I can tell you that I’m revisiting the articulating agreements, now that the data sets have been updated. I’m also writing policy pieces and how we can make lemonade out of those lemons.
SN: We have a whole bunch of those.
GA: And yet there really are ways to do this. As far as teaching goes, I love teaching, but in order to do it well, you need to have enough time and a clear head. As a Dean, sometimes I feel as if I’m living in fuzz. I love teaching courses that really interrogate core identities. My whole teaching career I’ve done that. I really love teaching courses where you can team teach. I’m going to go back to teaching again when I feel settled. I also love working with graduate students, both teaching them in courses and in my research. I will teach higher ed courses again, just like President Theobald is teaching a course on finance and leadership. As a Dean, I feel that I live vicariously through my faculty; I become sort of an editor as it plays through academic programs. It may be a proxy, but it does fill me with some joy and connection.
SN: I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.
SN: Thank you so much.•