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Malaspina at the Crossroads: Reflections for the Record
A Brief to the President of Malaspina University-College

[The following is the text of a report submitted to Rich Johnston, President of Malaspina University-College, in December 1993.  This text is in the public domain, released May 2000]

The recent distribution of the White Paper and the decision of the Malaspina University-College Curriculum Committee to give Level 1 approval to the proposal for the BA (General) degree prompt me to offer a few reflections upon current trends in undergraduate education at Malaspina (1). My concern here is not particularly with the process by which a very questionable proposal was approved with excessive speed in a very politicized climate, but rather with some longer-term questions which this event throws into starker relief. In my view, the most important consequence of the Curriculum Committee's treatment of this proposal--and an important contribution to our deliberations--may well be that it makes the questions I am about to raise all the more evident and urgent.

I propose here to be quite blunt in stating my personal assessment of the matters concerning the upper-division curriculum, mainly because I wish to draw attention to certain long-term issues which tend to get obscured in the routine discussions and arguments about short-term concerns. And I apologize in advance for the length of these reflections, but after such politically inspired haste there may be some point in considering more carefully just what is happening at Malaspina with regard to undergraduate instruction, especially in the upper-division. I am addressing these remarks to the College President, but, if in his judgment they deserve a wider audience, then I shall be happy to have this brief circulated among a larger group. I should add that the views in this paper are an expression of my concerns; they do not necessarily represent the position of Liberal Studies faculty as a department.

Some years ago, when Malaspina began exploring possible upper-division curriculums, there was an extensive discussion about whether or not we should adopt as our governing model a conventional structure, with a general degree made up of a selection of electives and with honours and majors programs. At the time, a number of important points were made against undertaking such a direction, and the institutional decision was made, with, as I recall, strong support from the Ministry and the University of Victoria, to devise alternative forms of undergraduate education. There were many reasons put forward for this decision. I have no desire here to recall all of them, but at least two are worth reviewing. The first was that, given its resources, Malaspina College could not hope to offer a sufficiently high quality selection of majors and honours programs to compete with larger institutions and that, therefore, for the foreseeable future, a decision to adopt the conventional structure for undergraduate degree programs would condemn Malaspina to a distinctly second- or third-rate status. Secondly, and more importantly, the enormous quantity of material calling attention to the pedagogical deficiencies of the traditional model and the lack of any provincial institutions offering significant alternatives to the traditional degree strongly urged some instructors and administrators to seize the opportunity provided by the establishment of Malaspina University-College to create a viable and desirable alternative curriculum, one which would seek, as a major priority, to address these well-known problems (e.g., excessive fragmentation of the curriculum, the impoverishment of the student's social learning, the growing emphasis on specialization, the lack of general skills, the research ethic, and so on). As a result of these arguments (and others) Malaspina College established as the major priority in its upper-division programming the provision of alternatives to the traditional system. And this decision is now explicitly reflected in the Mission and Goals Statement of the University-College and the mandate of the Curriculum Committee itself.

It was clear at the time that some faculty were not particularly happy with this decision, for they believed that the better course to follow would be the traditional structure leading to more specialized instruction in the conventional manner. These instructors did not agree with the institutional commitment of Malaspina College, and a few of them have, by and large, been consistently critical of the College's major effort in implementing these new priorities, the Liberal Studies program. There is, I should stress, nothing immoral, criminal, or even unexpected about such hostility (although, as I shall mention later, the tactics used are sometimes questionable). It is simply a fact of life that many, although certainly not all, instructors trained in traditional undergraduate and graduate programs and hired because of their manifestly excellent performance in a conventional education will hold firm to the belief that the way they were educated in the past is the only acceptable (or at least the most important) way in which students should be educated in the future.

Following that decision to develop alternative undergraduate programs in the upper division, Malaspina College went through a significant period of hiring new faculty to teach university courses. For a variety of reasons (prominent among which was the dominant role of specific departments both at Malaspina and at the University of Victoria in making the appointments), for all the talk of potential innovation, in most cases these instructors were hired primarily on the basis of their research qualifications, and so, not surprisingly, many of them brought with them expectations that Malaspina College would or could or should become as close to the institution with which they were most familiar, the research-based university. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that many of those faculty pushing for conventional upper-division programs are those hired in the last five years. And thus the hostility to the major commitment made by the College to alternative education, although still comparatively small, given the size of the faculty, has grown.

What has been happening at Malaspina University-College is nothing new. It is a well-attested phenomenon that collective faculty priorities in upper-division undergraduate programming tend strongly to reflect the conventional structure of the university and that, thus, endeavouring to pursue alternatives with a faculty which is conventionally structured (in departments and disciplines) and hired for conventional research and discipline qualifications is extraordinarily difficult. Such alternatives, especially those which require an important reorientation of priorities from traditional instruction and research to things like learning communities, team teaching, and integrated curriculums, can fly directly in the face of what many faculty have been trained to believe is most important or what their professional peers in the universities most highly esteem. Faith in and satisfaction with the pedagogical status quo have been important ingredients in the academic success which earned them their positions on the faculty; whereas, any commitment to serious alternatives has been irrelevant.

That is the reason many of the most successful and enduring alternative undergraduate programs (e.g., St. John's College, Evergreen State College) simply do not organize themselves into conventional departments or hire in the customary way. When we were seeking advice about the Liberal Studies program from various institutions, we were told again and again that the greatest obstacles in the way of the necessary and creative innovations in undergraduate education arise from the traditional departmental priorities, especially in hiring, and that any campus which tries to mix the two is going to experience great difficulty, because the professional interests of many highly trained specialist instructors perceive challenges in the name of improving undergraduate learning as a threat. The Liberal Studies program has often been praised by university professors, who generally accompany their admiration with an opinion to the effect that what we are doing here is something they would not have a hope of implementing on their own campuses. The best local example of this point is Arts One at UBC. The program has been running very successfully for over twenty-five years, its students are eagerly sought by departments because they know the students have learned important things, ex-students praise the program consistently, and UBC boasts of the Arts One program in its national publicity. Yet the UBC faculty has managed to prevent the program from expanding, from being applied to other areas of the curriculum (e.g., second year), and even from getting accepted as anything but a temporary experiment.

All this is well known, but we sometimes easily forget how pervasive and apparently uniform faculty culture can be in matters pertaining to the upper-division curriculum. The arguments over the BA (General) proposal should remind us just how inescapably here at Malaspina we are having to deal with a familiar phenomenon, and therefore we should, in our ruminations about the long-term development of undergraduate education, recognize clearly the factors at work. Faculty Culture has been intensively studied and written about; it has been central to a number of reports investigating and recommending changes to the undergraduate curriculum. And there is little doubt that often the inherently conservative and traditional nature of Faculty Culture, which seeks everywhere to replicate the conditions of a typical research university, is the greatest single hurdle in the way of urgently needed reforms to the undergraduate curriculum.

It is important to insist upon this point, because in presenting proposals for the establishment of a traditional curriculum instructors can often appear much more in agreement about educational issues than they, in fact, are. For what unites many instructors seeking a curriculum cloned from the research university, especially in Humanities and Social Science departments, is not a pedagogical vision of what undergraduates should be studying as a totality, nor any coherent idea of the institution, but rather a shared agreement about professional self-interest. Indeed, many faculty, even in the same departments, who agree on nothing else, concur that the main function of the institution should be to structure the curriculum in such a way that, as much as possible, individual instructors can concentrate upon their own special interests, both in the their teaching and in their research, without having to bother much about anything else of curricular importance to the students. Thus, the great attraction of conventional programming for many faculty has little to do with student learning and a great deal more to do with the professional interests of the faculty, who unite in pursuit of a curriculum which does not require them to integrate what they do with anything else or, indeed, to know anything about what goes on outside of their own courses, no matter what the evidence about student difficulties with fragmentation, overspecialization, lack of general skills, and so on suggests.

Gerald Graff, in his recent book Professing Literature, has named this predominant feature of Faculty Culture the "field coverage principle." According to his analysis, the main goal of many faculty is to secure adequate enrolment to guarantee support for their own particular upper-division courses. If the price of that is a structure which fragments the curriculum even further by opening the "field" to all sorts of other courses, even those they neither care about, understand, or agree with, then so be it. Maintaining the specialized, isolated study for all instructors (especially the senior ones with tenure) is the highest professional priority and the lowest common denominator, and therefore the institution must shape itself to fit that professional requirement. Such a professional ethic often includes those instructors who are very sympathetic to exploring significant alternatives but who see that there is no consensus about what such alternatives should be and who, therefore, often with some reluctance, accept as inevitable what appears to be the only basis for wide faculty agreement on curricular matters.

The BA (General) proposal makes no attempt to conceal that this important thrust of Faculty Culture is the main motive for the initiative. The proposal offers no pedagogical justification for itself, beyond the assertion that we are, in fact, doing this already. Such a claim ignores the main question, which Malaspina resolved in the negative some years ago: Should we be doing something like the BA (General) degree at all? In addition, the proposal makes quite evident the fact that the BA (General) degree is not the main interest of those proposing it. Clearly, this is to be the first step in a continuing process which the proposal's supporters hope will culminate in the establishment of Majors and Honours degrees, the very curriculums which Malaspina, for very good reasons, determined it was going to eschew in favour of alternatives more conducive to better undergraduate education.

Why then cannot a conventionally conceived BA (General) or a majors or honours program itself create an effective alternative? Well, the main reason is this: unless the curriculum proposed fundamentally alters the learning environment through which the students pass, so long, that is, as the basic experience of the student involves five separate courses, each taught by an individual instructor operating largely without regard to the other courses and to other instructors (even those in the same department), then no matter how the proposal dresses itself up, it is still going to create the same difficulties for the student. Alternative undergraduate education, in other words, becomes a significant alternative to the extent that it alters the relationships between students and their fellow students and between students and the instructors and between what a student is studying in one course and what he is studying in another. Only then does the learning environment begin to change significantly into something more pedagogically vital. In understanding the importance of the term learning community, we need to focus particularly on the second word.

Now, the establishment of a learning community is not only something traditional curriculums are not particularly interested in, but also something they actively and often deliberately prevent. The reason for this is straight forward: creating learning communities, significant social environments where the students can get to know each other well, work together, and take a firmer charge of what is happening to them, presents real challenges to the instructors, and such challenges, if taken seriously, will almost certainly require an important change in the instructor's teaching techniques and professional priorities. An effective learning community tends not to be a place where an instructor can sustain herself by the customary authority conferred by a course in which the students do not know each other, where they meet as that particular group only for that class, where the main part of their work consists of individual assignments undertaken in competition with other students, where the instructor's academic authority is unquestioned, where the student's success in the course is determined exclusively by the relationship the individual student establishes (through the assignments and, perhaps, other arrangements) with the instructor, and where the instructor's main intellectual excitement comes from research and publishing in areas of interest to her peers scattered throughout the continent. Of course, in an institutional climate ruled by Faculty Culture many excellent instructors do what they can to transform such conventional classes into meaningful communities, but in order to do that they have to fight against and compensate for the structure of the curriculum rather than have it work to their advantage. And any instructor who wishes to take refuge in the conventional structure in order to have as little to do with students as possible (especially in groups) and to maximize the time spent out of class and away from the institution can easily do so. The traditional structure, in other words, offers no built-in requirement or incentive to alter the power arrangements, the flow of information, or the social dynamics-all of which are significant in affecting the learning that goes on.

A number of examples at Malaspina will confirm much of this. When we were seeking inspiration for a new Liberal Studies curriculum, I had to look no further than to some extremely vigorous and valuable learning communities at Malaspina. In my case, I turned to the Music program, the Theatre program, and the Forestry program as examples (I know of others, like Nursing, but these were the ones I was most familiar with). I recognized that in these programs there was a level of energy, learning, and morale significantly higher than in the university transfer courses in which I had also been teaching for many years. And the reasons are not hard to discover: those programs have established a learning community because they require a group of students to spend a great deal of time together working on an integrated curriculum often in a cooperative way. The instructors function as a team and spend much of their time working together with the entire curriculum, as the student experiences it, and, in their discussions about students, the instructors necessarily take into account the totality of the students' experience in the entire program. In addition, the programs provide space and time for student activities, so that the social lives of the students become much more closely integrated with their academic activities. The results are truly remarkable, as anyone who has taught in the programs will corroborate. That quality, which I had for so long desiderated in university transfer courses, was something we sought to establish in Liberal Studies, and our greatest single success in the program so far, in my view, is that we have succeeded in such a transformation of the student's learning environment.

It is important to recognize what makes these programs such rich experiences. For it is not the case that the instructors in these programs consciously made the decision to teach classes as usual with some small concessions to the nature of the program, to, in effect, offer something conventional with the addition of something extra. No, what makes the experience for the student of Music, Theatre, Forestry, and Liberal Studies so different is that the programs are structurally integrated (although in different ways), so that the students work as a group through a number of different curriculums (which become, in effect, a single curriculum guided by a team of instructors) in a manner that has all sorts of important educational advantages. And I can personally affirm after twenty years of teaching in Forestry, that an instructor who sets out to teach in such a program and who wishes to act as he would in a conventional university transfer course is not going to be able to do so successfully. The learning community, once established, imposes its own legitimate requirements, and the instructor either enters the community and works with it or else leaves the program. I might add that working in the Forestry program taught me more about student learning and therefore about teaching than any other single experience (until I started in Liberal Studies).

Then, too, the history of Malaspina University College offers some useful material for reflection. For it is true that for many years the university-transfer division followed a traditional organization, and it is equally true that the College established itself as an effective place for undergraduates to learn. That might seem prima facie to challenge my claims about the deleterious effects of the traditional curriculum. However, it is important to remember that in most of those years, Malaspina College was a very different institution from what it has become: classes were smaller, instructors had a much greater chance to get to know each other, as did students, and we had not yet succumbed to the research and specialization ethic. Consequently, a great effort went into turning the entire college into a single learning community. I can recall many formal and informal activities over the years which helped to create and sustain a vital social environment for the students: plays in which students, faculty, and community members participated, regular poetry readings, intramural events, a regular faculty public lecture series, meetings of various student and faculty clubs, summer projects in the fine and performing arts, special events throughout the year, and, in general, a much more fully integrated community spirit within the entire campus. In such a climate, as Graff points out in his book mentioned above, many of the potentially troublesome inadequacies of a particular curriculum may be mitigated.

This college-wide community spirit has largely disappeared with the rapid growth of the institution and the increasing fragmentation and specialization of the teaching. It is clear the forces which have eroded this spirit are going to grow ever more strong in the coming years. The administration in the past has sought to address this issue, but in the changed circumstances, it seems difficult to make easy alterations which might bring back this lost feature of campus life. Where once an instructor might work, as I did, in three or four quite different programs in the course of a year, now more and more are teaching university-transfer courses only and are reluctant to teach the traditional "service" courses. The older faculty, like myself, have lost a good deal of energy, and the younger arrivals have no sense of that lost tradition. Even if they do, the college is so large and complex now that keeping track of it as a totality is virtually impossible. How many members of the Biology department, for example, could name or claim any acquaintance with all the members of the English department? Come to that, how many members of the English department could name or claim an acquaintance with all the members of their own department? Not so long ago, the MCFA could hold an important meeting in a regular classroom. Now, for routine meetings it requires an auditorium.

In other words, the undoubted success of Malaspina College's university transfer programs in the past has relied to a significant extent on factors which are no longer present to the same degree and which we cannot resurrect. Thus, we are not able to count upon the extra-curricular environment to help us to the extent that it has in the past. That is, in large part, why I feel so strongly about the importance of enriching the social experience of the student's learning within the university-transfer curriculum. Some large universities, aware of the acute social problems their students face in an institution that has become alienating and even physically dangerous, believe that more counseling or an extra Dean of Substance Abuse or a publicity campaign will be enough to restore psychic harmony. I am not convinced that that is enough. In my view, if we are serious about focusing on the problems of the traditional undergraduate curriculum, then we need to do more than go with the flow and hope for the best.

The point is (to repeat myself) that without significant structural changes in the curriculum, effective measures to transform the learning environment for the students, a proposal for a reformed undergraduate curriculum is going to be relatively ineffectual. This point obviously concerns a great deal more than the present BA (General) proposal. If our concern about viable and useful alternatives is sincere, the above principle of structural change in the curriculum might be a useful criterion by which we should assess any similar endeavour to alter or add to what we do here in undergraduate education. Such a criterion may well help us recognize many expressions of good intentions for what they really are: window dressing on an old model labelled "Business as Usual."

The transformation of the traditional classroom by the creation of a significant learning environment is important also in assessing the by-now very common argument that only a system based upon a wide range of elective courses, of the sort central to the BA (General) proposal, can be truly democratic, because it offers the student the widest possible selection of courses and, thus, as the current language has it, fully "empowers" the student, much more so than a program which offers a more structured curriculum with fewer options. This is a very old argument, first proffered with the invention of the elective system a century ago at Harvard. And although it has a certain plausibility, it is deeply flawed. For the choice of electives itself is, in some real respects, less significant than it

appears, if all the courses offered feature essentially the same power structure in the class room, with the instructors, each operating more or less independently, calling all the shots and the students passively accepting whatever they are presented with in a conventional atmosphere which does not encourage them to put their own needs on the table. If this is empowerment, it is a particularly impoverished emancipation, leaving the students as fragmented and powerless as before.

Conversely, and by a curious irony, a curriculum which, in effect, forces students to study together over an entire program, inevitably gives them a very powerful voice in challenging the status quo, in making sure the instructor hears and responds to their demands (which may well include significant changes to the methods of instruction, the grading, and the curriculum). The curious thing about students, which I have observed repeatedly in forestry and in Liberal Studies, is that from habit they will at the start of the program usually passively accept not having a voice (since that is the situation they are used to), until such time as they are given a chance to get to know each other and to be heard. Then, a remarkable and educationally valuable transformation occurs: they begin to take charge more and more of what is happening to them and to demand explanations, alterations, and attention to their own concerns. They also quickly discover the enormous value of cooperative learning. This process, almost without exception, makes their experience with the material of the course and with the interaction with instructors and fellow students much richer. Consequently, it improves and expands their learning. Once again, there is a considerable testimony to this process and to the extent to which the traditional elective curriculum hinders its development. So when one talks about empowerment, it is useful to bear in mind that merely offering a wide range of choices will not, in fact, be empowering to the extent that structural changes which bring about an effective learning community are. Moreover, such a transformation into a community does not just happen, unless one provides an appropriate structure which will encourage its development, rather than one which hinders such a transformation.

A second common argument put forward in defense of the traditional curriculum is the student-demand case: the argument is that many students want the BA (General) or Majors and Honours programs and that therefore we should provide them. The argument is often characterized (as in certain documents put out by Malaspina faculty) by a fairly slipshod attention to the distinction between student wants and student needs. Nevertheless, that argument also has a certain plausibility, particularly in a college which places an importance on being responsive to its community. Here again, however, it is wise to proceed with caution. For students often let instructors guide their perception of their own wants or at least rely upon them for crucial information. And it is a melancholy fact that Faculty Culture can often encourage students to make important decisions which meet, first and foremost, the enrolment requirements of the department rather than the educational needs of the students. It is no accident that one of the oldest and commonest complaints about the traditional university, an observation that goes back to the Middle Ages, is that it turns potentially happy and useful farmers, businessmen, and teachers into mediocre and unemployable scholars. And thus it is surely imprudent for those in charge of academic priorities not to take into account how a student's education may affect her later in life. In any discussion of how Malaspina University-College can best serve it students, for example, the high unemployment rates quoted by Macleans Magazine (in its recent review of Canada's universities) for students with undergraduate degrees in history and MA's in English might not be unsuitable for consideration.

Then, too, where alternative undergraduate programs are concerned, it is clear that students who have no familiarity with such programs are not always in a position to make an effective judgment. This point, indeed, encourages one to be careful about too readily making surveys of student opinions about such matters the major basis for an important curricular decision. For some respondents may well change their minds with better information. It is interesting to observe, in this connection, that some of the names on the petitions attached to the BA (General) proposal are students who have subsequently enrolled in Liberal Studies and who have expressed satisfaction with that choice. Moreover, the demand argument, even if the research is carried out far more scrupulously than in the studies attached to the BA (General) proposal, has a way of getting out of date very quickly. In the early days of Liberal Studies, for example, those opposed to it were very fond of quoting the statistics. Given that the alternative program had just started, the figures seemed to offer a certain justification. Once students discovered from other students just what Liberal Studies was all about, enrolment increased dramatically and quickly and, indeed, shows every sign of continuing to do so. So to the extent that the demand argument carries weight at Malaspina, its emphasis seems to be shifting (as is not unusual, once alternative programs get known). Perhaps that is the reason why, when the opponents of Liberal Studies make their case, we are hearing the demand argument less frequently than we did eighteen months ago.

Of course we should take student wants into consideration. But as educators at a time of rapid change and limited resources, we should also carefully assess student needs, a much more complex business. Recognizing that we cannot possibly fulfill on one campus what all our potential university students might want to study and taking into account what is available in other postsecondary institutions, we have to make some difficult choices, trying to ensure that, however we shape the curriculum, we end up with something which the unique qualities of Malaspina University-College will be able to carry out very well indeed. That is the best way we serve our students, even if it means that we will have to disappoint some of them.

In such discussions, it is obviously important that we give proposals for traditional curriculums a full and fair hearing and do not arbitrarily shut them out because of decisions made years ago. However, in assessing periodically the proposals for such traditional degrees, surely we must demand from those proposing them a full rationale, something which takes into account the learning and the future needs of the students, the resources of Malaspina, and the post-secondary educational resources of the province, none of which is adequately considered by the BA (General) Proposal. In other words, we should demand a full justification, which is considered carefully and at length, and not accept shoddy arguments or affirmations that the idea is ipso facto good because a certain number of faculty or students insist that it is.

Clearly, the BA (General) proposal will not be the-last attempt to divert Malaspina from its commitments to alternative education and to move the institution's upper-division curriculum in the direction of the conventional model. The Board, with final authority in matters of institutional direction, will have to remain clear about what it wants Malaspina to become. Faculty who believe the present commitment to alternative education is the important vision worth pursuing will have to be prepared to speak up and work together to transform this commitment into a viable curriculum. And the administrators will have will have to be particularly vigilant in making the many decisions which, however apparently minor, cumulatively will determine what Malaspina becomes. This process will obviously require patience and endurance, for there will always be a vocal groups urgently pressing for the traditional upper-division curriculum, and the administration will always have to answer them and those to whom they turn for support (e.g., the universities). Responding to this constant pressure is onerous and time-consuming, and the persistence of the requests has led more than one administration finally to give up and, in the interests of making the institution much easier to administer, turn over the curriculum to the lowest common denominator of faculty interests. That is certainly a direction with some attractions for those who are simply tired of making the effort to provide alternatives or of dealing with the constant bickering which alternative proposals generate in some quarters.

For the bickering will continue, no matter what decisions are made today. A few faculty very hostile to alternative education will not stop in the face of the sort of debacle we witnessed with the illegitimate MCFA meeting at Bowen Park three years ago. Here in Liberal Studies we have had to deal on a routine basis with a number of minor problems generated by the relatively small number of faculty who want a different curricular agenda and who make no bones about that in front of their students or in the pages of an MCFA publication. In Liberal Studies we bear these sorts of things patiently, because they are not unexpected (indeed they have become routine), and deal with them when we have time. But the criticisms will go on. It is part of the price for offering alternative programming on a campus where much of the university curriculum is organized on traditional principles.

So if we are going to stick by our commitment to an alternative undergraduate education, we have to be prepared for this sort of reaction from some of our colleagues. If we don't want the bother of dealing with it, then let us abandon the commitment to alternative education and adopt at once the plan to turn the university curriculum at Malaspina into a scaled-down version of what we can find on almost every campus in North America. But let us not deceive ourselves that there is some way finally of having it both ways, of making both traditional and alternative education equal priorities. I say this, not with one eye on the BA (General) proposal, which is such a pedagogically weak and imaginatively sterile offering that, if it remains in its present form, it will probably wither, but rather with my eyes open to what the BA (General) proposal is really about, the thin end of the conventional upper-division curricular wedge.

For with the BA (General) degree in place, if the College approves it, everything in the long term is going to depend upon how Malaspina allocates its resources over the next five years or so. And the key resource is going to be new faculty. No matter what the BA (General) Proposal piously affirms about needing no new resources, no one seriously believes that it is not going to lead very quickly to rising demands in some quarters for more departmental disciplinary specialists. That request will come almost as soon as the proposal is implemented. Staffing traditional departments with new faculty hired for their departmental upper-division qualifications will almost inevitably accelerate the demand to turn the BA (General) degree, which, to judge from what has happened on other campuses, like Okanagan, is not something in high demand among students, into a more specialized option, in precisely the way we have grown familiar with here in the past few years. And thus, soon enough, and long before it is time to emancipate ourselves from the University of Victoria, Malaspina will have, in effect, made the decision about which direction it is going to move in. That may well happen without anyone's fully realizing it. For the new faculty appointments made today determine the nature of faculty demands and faculty abilities ten years from now.

In the same way, hiring new faculty to work in alternative programs, if not a sure guarantee, is the best way to foster both the interest and teaching expertise required to make Malaspina's alternative curriculums an excellent undergraduate option in the long term. I should stress that the main point should be to staff existing alternatives and not to hire those who at the interview make certain vague promises about their interest in alternative undergraduate education. We tried that before, and in many cases the last expression of interest in such alternatives came in the interview. To put the issue as baldly as possible: if this institution really wants to foster alternative undergraduate programs, then we should make it quite clear that the faculty staffing priorities are, first and foremost, positions to carry out alternative curriculums and that new positions will not go in the first instance to departments who do not have suitable alternatives in place.

At this point someone may quite possibly object that what I am suggesting here is nothing other than a naked self-interested plea to develop Liberal Studies at the expense of the rest of the college, so that I can derive personal benefit from the process. That is an obvious inference, but it happens to be wrong. In the first place, whatever happens at Malaspina University-College, I shall be retiring soon and so will not have to live with the long-term consequences of decisions made in the next few years. The main reason I have by and large kept out of the debates about the upper-division curriculum until this point is that I felt that those faculty with the most at stake, that is, those whose careers here have much longer to run than mine, should take the main part. What prompts me to intervene at this point is my concern for the institution itself and for the long-term effects of decisions made in the next few months, not for the nature of the work I shall be doing here. I fully anticipate that Liberal Studies will last as long as my remaining career at Malaspina. Moreover, I shall always be quite happy to return to the equally demanding but less pedagogically complex world of the English department. After all, I am not so immune to the attractions of the traditional curriculum that some part of me does not respond with delight to the prospect of having total control over my own courses, with no need to consult my colleagues daily about what goes on in the class room and with more time for me to pursue my own creative interests. I should certainly miss the richness of the interaction with students and other instructors which Liberal Studies affords, but there are tempting consolations to enjoy.

Then, too, I do not by any means intend my remarks about alternative undergraduate curriculums to refer exclusively to Liberal Studies. Much as I support this program, I have a higher aim: working to make all undergraduate education at Malaspina University-College as rewarding for the students as it can possibly be. Thus, I hold as a high priority extending well conceived alternative forms of undergraduate education throughout the university curriculum. And this might well include proposals other than Liberal Studies (e.g., Arts One, Learning Communities), for which there is a demonstrated interest here both among faculty (and not just those in Liberal Studies) and among students. If some departments would seek to cooperate more with Liberal Studies or, through the concentrations and combined majors, for example, to develop better integrated curriculums, rather than falling back on a curriculum which brings with it a host of well known problems, they might find that their concerns over having a sufficient number of students in the upper-division would be resolved.

To judge from the interest shown by a number of faculty in the development of Liberal Studies and from many conversations with faculty since then, I know that there are instructors not at present in Liberal Studies who are keenly interested in alternative education. One roadblock in their way at the moment is that the Liberal Studies curriculum is a demanding form of alternative education. It carries a heavy workload which involves a wide range of different areas (including science, mathematics, and a large variety of texts) and a significantly different approach to teaching. Consequently, some of those keen to explore alternatives are reluctant to engage in an endeavour which will require such a drastic break with what they are used to or which will require them to move away from their departmental courses for at least two years. However, I have no doubt that some other possibilities, like the learning communities or, for that matter, a part-time Liberal Studies option, would secure enthusiastic participation. Indeed, we have already seen faculty on their own initiative successfully operate interdisciplinary learning communities in the first-year curriculum, and in the past there has been no shortage of people eager to try Arts One. In other words, there is a rich potential for instructors in alternative programs, even if they may prefer options other than the present Liberal Studies. This potential requires active encouragement. If our priorities become a conventional curriculum, then this vital pedagogical opportunity will disappear.

I have called this paper "Malaspina At the Crossroads" in order to emphasize the present critical stage in the development of this university-college. Malaspina has made a brave, intelligent, and difficult commitment, and the initial stage of that, the development of the Liberal Studies program, has, by all indications, been more successful than many of its originators (myself included) believed possible in such a short time. But now we appear to be wavering, succumbing to the expected and common reaction of some faculty who apparently are willing to settle for Malaspina as a pale imitation of so many other postsecondary institutions. What will happen is going to depend on a number of key decisions made in the next few years, particularly, as I have mentioned, those about hiring. I have no interest here in making predictions. In my more pessimistic moments, I see this courageous and worthwhile initiative at Malaspina going the way of Tussman's and Meikeljohn's experiments, torpedoed by interests of some faculty and the acquiescence of the administration in those interests. If that is to be the case, then at least this paper may serve as a lament of some sort for what might have been, so that fifteen years from now, when some curious student wishes to know why and how this college, faced with an unprecedented opportunity to do something really important in undergraduate education, failed to do so, she may, finding these pages in some archive, gain a better insight into that old truism about how much harder it is to reform a university than to move a graveyard.

There is one other reason for the title. For the crossroads, according to many folk tales, is the place where one keeps one's rendezvous and seals a bargain with Mephistopheles. That spirit, by all accounts, always keeps his word; he serves our self-interest to the limit. There's only one small catch, of course. The price of the Faustian pact never changes--neither for the individual nor for the institution. The price is always our soul.


(1) In this paper the term BA (General) degree refers to a recent formal proposal from some faculty that Malaspina should offer a standard general BA, on the University of Victoria model, made up a selection of elective courses. This BA (General) degree should not be confused with the multidisciplinary and team taught BA in Liberal Studies which the College approved a few years ago and which is currently in its third year of operation. [Back to Text]


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