On Thursday, October 23, President Bowen met with faculty and staff in a two-hour meeting, where he discussed several possible changes for the college. A week prior to the meeting, Bowen e-mailed a memo to faculty titled the Big Ideas Group (BIG) memo. There were six attachments, including the memo itself outlining the potential changes, and several pieces of data about Goucher, liberal arts colleges, and higher education.
The memo stated that Bowen had met with the Board of Trustees, where they recognized the need for change in a variety of areas of the college involving both short-term and long-term plans. In order to make changes, the memo explained that the college has to come up with a clear way to articulate its uniqueness. There has to be something that distinguishes Goucher from other small liberal arts colleges. The data presented in the attachments will be used as a jumping-off point for thinking about what the next steps are for Goucher. Bowen presented a wide range of related topics in the memo. These included the budget, facilities, recruitment, retention, curriculum, diversity, and defining Goucher’s value and identity.
During the meeting, Bowen encouraged faculty and staff to voice their concerns and ideas relating to the changes for the college. The biggest question was “where to start.” Geoffrey Miller, the Director of Athletics, said the college needs “to work on the identity crisis first,” and establish who the college is as an institution in order to attract more students.
Bowen read the college’s mission statement, and explained that while it is good, it is similar to those of other liberal arts colleges. Goucher needs to market what its talents and differences are in order to brand the school.
Ailish Hopper, the chair of the Peace Studies Department, bought up the topic of mentoring as a way the college can distinguish itself. She believes that mentorships don’t necessarily have be between professors and students, but between students & students and faculty & faculty as well. Hopper also brought up the idea of teams faculty and staff mentoring students. “We would be showing…that we, at our best moments, are that community of collaboration. I think that really is a strength at Goucher… I think naming not just mentorship, but a culture of mentorship that also includes the skill of collaboration, would be great,” she said.
Bowen and the faculty and staff discussed various possibilities for academics and curricula. One idea is getting rid of freshman grades. Bowen said, “I think we could get rid of all grades, but I’d settle for freshman grades.” He also suggested cutting the number of majors that are offered or get rid of them all together and have students design their own majors. Students would also partner with an advisor to help them select classes that would suit their interests. Bowen stressed that if the college moved towards this model, students would still be able to do tracks like pre-med, but they would just have to ensure that the requirements fit into their course of study.
The idea of self-designed majors brought up the idea of changing the academic nomenclature. Students would declare a mission rather than a major. Bowen explained this would be a “repackaging” of a major, and “a way to filter through what matters to you.” This would enable students to choose a course of study replete with classes that are of importance to them.
Maureen Winter ‘13, an instructor in the French Department, noted that she sees first-year students who are anxious when the topic of choosing a major is mentioned. She agrees with Bowen’s philosophy that “your major doesn’t necessarily matter all that much.” As a student at Goucher, she chose to study French because she felt supported by the faculty in the department. This demonstrates how choosing a major and finding a mentor or advisor can be seamless for some students.
Bowen noted that in designing one’s own major, there would be an issue of progression that could affect students who wished to study in STEM or education fields. “We could do that [progression] with thinking skills, rather than disciplinary knowledge,” he said. Other countries use a similar method to the one Bowen described.
Nina Kasniunas, assistant professor of Political Science, raised some concerns about the demographic changes the college will face in the coming years and how the new model could impact students if it is put in place. For the second year in a row, the majority of first-grade students in the United States are minorities. This kind of demographic change may have a huge impact in the way colleges need to teach. “Not doing anything isn’t an option…,” Kasniunas said, “we need to be aware of this demographic shift.”
Bowen also wants to reevaluate the Liberal Education Requirements (LERs) at Goucher. This system is still relatively new but has already become a part of Goucher’s identity as a college. This school year is the first in which every class is under the LER system. “The LERs are the classic example of the liberal arts ideal,” Bowen said. The LER is also a major topic in the discussion of changing the curriculum, as it’s unclear whether they will provide structure for first-years and sophomores or if they could become streamlined in the in the process of creating one’s own curriculum. One faculty member brought up the concern that LERs would just become a “laundry list” from which students must check things off.
Eric Singer, professor of International Relations and Interim Associate Provost for International Studies, said, “What we’re thinking about…is how to change the organizational philosophy and culture here.” He explained that all constituencies on campus need to recognize the need for change, and be “open to experimentation” in order to do so. “People have to actually be willing to rethink their characteristic way of learning in a common environment,” he added.
One of the many things about Goucher’s identity that should be taken into consideration is the identity of its students. Chaplain Cynthia Terry pointed out that identities are not singular, and that the reality is that “we’re all intersections of multiple identities.” Terry explained that if students designed their own major it might increase the possibility for them to intersect their academic, religious, and extra-curricular identities. It could “allow for the space to grow and make changes,” she said.
One of the major aspects of Goucher’s identity is its study abroad requirement. Terry pointed out that the college should articulate why it requires everyone to study abroad, and needs to explain why it makes a difference that everyone does so. Daniel Marcus, associate professor of Communications, described the requirement as “a hurdle for the college” as none of the other colleges in the country require such a commitment. “It should remain an important and vibrant program, based on great incentives rather than as a blanket requirement,” he said.
Not all parts of Goucher’s identity lie within the realm of academic requirements. Winter, who is a contingent faculty member, mentioned the union as something that is currently a part of Goucher’s identity. The union “is part of our commitment to treating each other with respect and dignity,” she said, “[and] a testament to our commitment to social justice.”
“It really matters that we’re all talking and listening,” Terry said when the meeting concluding. However, the role of students also needs a place amidst all of the possible changes. Peejo Sehr, Director of the Academic Center for Excellence (ACE), pointed out this concern. She believes it is important for students’ voices to be heard, and their concerns to be addressed and taken into account before making a decison No matter what course of action Goucher decides to take, change is inevitable. President Bowen is beginning to ask questions about how Goucher will choose to define itself as a liberal arts institution, and how it will shape the way it is defined.