Open Letter to SMC Commnity sign now

An Open Letter to the Saint Michaels College Community
Summer 2008

Dear Saint Michaels College Community,

As teachers and scholars, we support the vision of Saint Michaels College expressed in our history as an institution, our mission, the goals and aspirations of our students and alum, the academic community we have forged, and our engagement with the broader communities around the College and the world more generally. As President Neuhauser explained recently in the Burlington Free Press, what we do yields concerned citizens who, student by student and graduate after graduate, appear to give back to their communities after they graduate.

We have signed this letter because we are concerned that a variety of efforts to remake the College, including the strategic planning process and review of the LSR:

Do not adequately account for our strengths as an institution and shared vision as a community.
Overlook the extensive discussions we have had in forging our community.
Do not address the transformative essence of a Saint Michaels education and the vibrant experiences offered as part of a residential college.
Could remake the institution in ways not compatible with current resources, including the collective knowledge expressed through our teaching and scholarship, in our experiential learning, the social justice work of the Edmundites, and in our mission.

We all agree that Saint Michaels College is unique among liberal arts institutions in the variety of ways we engage the student as a whole person and in the process of education in its fullness, offering a profoundly moral notion of the college experience. We also embrace the diversity of perspectives reflected in our individual approaches to a liberal arts education.

In this letter, we are brought together by our commitment to five key aspects of a St. Mikes liberal arts education: an International/Global Focus, Interdisciplinarity, Experiential Learning, Social Justice, and Diversity. Whether or not we incorporate each of this in our teaching or scholarship, we value these perspectives and appreciate their role near the heart of our institution. We view these five dimensions not only as part of our central mission, but also as closely integrated and mutually reinforcing. An environmental studies program, for example, needs to:

Bridge natural and human sciences to examine social impacts on the environment as well as environmental impacts on society.
Expand student global awareness of these phenomena and practices as no ecosystem is immune to global problems like acid rain and climate change.
Understand why environmental degradation disproportionately affects poor and marginalized communities and less developed countries.
Bring students literally into the field for research or policy change.
Examine alternative development paradigms.

We welcome efforts to include Social Justice, Diversity, and Experiential Learning in the proposed strategic plan, but remain concerned about how the plan will address these issues and why the proposed LSR guidelines fail to mention them. Our concerns result as well from a process that has not been an inclusive dialogue. With regard to an International Focus and Interdisciplinarity, we are deeply concerned that the proposed Strategic Plan is silent on both.

International/Global Focus

It is our contention that internationalization with a clear global focus should continue as a central part the direction St. Michaels College charts into the future through specific goals included in the strategic plan. Over the past half-century, SMC has developed a deserved reputation for the excellence of our international programs. During the past 10 years, the College has continued to make considerable strides in the development of internationally-focused initiatives which build on existing strengths and interests among faculty, staff, and students. This is something which has been directly identified in nearly every accreditation and marketing report performed at the College over the past decade. The following are examples:

The 2000 NEASC Report and 2005 NEASC Interim Report clearly identify the growing strength of the Colleges international programs and their connection to fostering a greater cross-cultural awareness and campus diversity.
Maguire Reports 2006 which articulate internationalization as a key trend in higher education and the express need for the College to build upon its existing programs.

Additionally, in the most recent strategic marketing analysis commissioned by the College, George Dehne and Associates (GDA Report, 2008) single out Global Citizenship as one of the 3 Big Ideas that St. Michaels College should pursue to capitalize on its strengths and to gain market competitiveness. In fact, the Dehne Report concludes that unlike many colleges and universities, St. Michaels has the foundation to substantiate a true global citizenship program through the following key areas at the College:

30 \% study abroad rate,
Language Requirements,
Access to French-speaking Quebec
Global Studies Program
International Business minor
French, Spanish, and Italian minor
Applied Linguistics
MOVE International
Service Learning Programs with Refugee Resettlement Organizations (GDA Report, 2008):

The importance of educational institutions with a strong global focus has certainly not been lost on prospective students, parents, and other national liberal arts colleges. Students and parents are becoming aware of the way in which globalization affects all of our lives and are interested in incorporating international experiences within their college experiences. Even simply as individuals, our economic, political, environmental, and cultural lives are global, whether we like it or not. Students are seeing this and realizing that the careers they enter after graduation, and the personal lives they will live, will require global competency. Additionally, more and more colleges and universities are adding global studies to their roster of courses, minors, and even majors (AAC&U, 2009; CASE, 2008). This is a trend which is particularly evident among national liberal arts colleges. Whether its Williams, Middlebury, Wellesley, and Whitman or Trinity, Emerson, Boston College and Sarah Lawrence, the message is extremely clear: in order to attract high-caliber prospective college students, institutions such as ours must extend their visions into international arenas and redefine their commitments to educating students in a global context. Global perspectives are at the core of emerging disciplinary and interdisciplinary work in a variety of fields, including environmental studies.

St. Michael's College is well-positioned to take the lead in this direction, and in many ways we are in a strong position to be at the forefront of that development. For example, with the Global Studies Program at St. Michaels College, the data speaks for itself in terms of existing student, faculty, and staff interest and enthusiasm. Global Studies is currently the second largest minor at the College, with 50 students. Those students come from more than 12 different departments at the College. Since its inception, the Global Studies program faculty have represented 16 different departments. Additionally, the program has developed cross-program connections and facilitated numerous collaborative research and co-curricular projects with the Peace and Justice Program, the Honors Program, First-Year Seminars, Study Abroad, Multi-Cultural Affairs, and MOVE. There is simply no interdisciplinary program at the College with this kind of cross-disciplinary interest and appeal.

Fostering Academic Excellence. Its worth noting that in recent years, some of St. Michaels most outstanding students and faculty the ones that the College itself celebrates have chosen to pursue Global Studies. This has included: (1) the Colleges most recent Rhodes Scholar, Jamila Headley; (2) Michelle Kayser, who received a Pickering Fellowship and will be attending the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs for graduate studies at Princeton University; and (3) Kate Mooney, the Katherine Fairbanks Memorial Award winner for 2009. Five of the 26 graduating seniors in Global Studiesnearly 1/5th of the classwere members of the Honors program at SMC and each of them will be pursuing graduate research related to the internationally focused honors projects theyve developed in the program. Similarly, two of SMCs four Vermont Professors of the Year, Trish Siplon and Adrie Kusserow, have long-term involvement in and enthusiasm for the Global Studies program.

At most colleges and universities, a relatively new program would be an obvious choice in terms of emphasis and strategic direction if it would offer:

such broad appeal
such vigorously demonstrated student and faculty interest
verification and validation by the marketing studies done for SMC in the last decade
a connection to the Colleges strong tradition of social justice
the participation and enthusiasm of award-winning students and faculty

The benefits of strategically building upon the international foundation weve established at St. Michaels are numerous, and the potential for creative innovation is great. Only a handful of schools within our peer and aspirant categories currently have the kinds of dedicated global and/or international studies initiatives such as we have at SMC. With the appropriate support, St. Michaels would be well-positioned to capitalize on the strengths of its internationally-oriented efforts and further distinguish itself as a liberal arts college with a multi-faceted commitment to issues of global citizenship, international social justice, and environmental stewardship.

Parents, students, faculty, and staff have joined the St. Mikes community because of the Colleges vision, which in part supports and promotes an array of interdisciplinary programs that will prepare the current generation of students to be effective in 21st-century global work environments. As we appreciate the rigor of our disciplines and SMCs appropriate support for deeply rooted teaching methods, we are concerned as well that interdisciplinary teaching and inquiry is marginalized far from the center of student learning in the current planning processes despite being a professed aim of the College.
In their Advancing Interdisciplinary Studies, Klein and Newell consider interdisciplinarity an accepted standard for student learning and scholarship because it provides concrete and comprehensive methods for approaching complicated and broad topics or problems. Such intellectual inquiry and research acknowledges that each of the disciplines is absolutely necessary in its own right, and also provides a foundational pillar for meta-level inquiry into complex human phenomena, problems, and experience. In fact, as Allen Repko notes in Interdisciplinary Curriculum Design, The disciplines are foundational to interdisciplinary research because they provide the perspectives, epistemologies, assumptions, concepts, theories, and methods that inform our ability as humans to understand our world (2005; 46-48). One of the qualities of the St. Michaels education that we find very valuable is the opportunity that we ensure for students to have a well-rounded education that hinges on learning from the broad array of disciplines.
Requiring students to take courses in all the disciplines, hoping that they see the connections, divisions, common themes or problems, is what Repko calls multidisciplinarity. Merely bringing the different disciplines together in some way but failing to engage in the hard work of integration is multidisciplinary studies, not interdisciplinary studies. Interdisciplinary work is unique in how it approaches examination of our world, and it is unreasonable to expect students to be capable of such intellectual engagement without direct and intentional guidance from their intellectual mentors and teachers.
Similarly, it is important to distinguish interdisciplinary work from integrative work. While integration of insights and perspectives is an essential part of interdisciplinary work, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for interdisciplinarity. Integration of insight and perspectives is an essential part of what takes place within a disciplinary major, for example, or referring to integration in a broad sense. It is often used to talk about interdisciplinary curriculum as we have described it, but there are many other forms of integration that may or may not connect disciplines, such as integrating varied teaching and learning styles; integrating ethical, social, emotional, kinesthetic, and spiritual dimensions into more traditional rational/intellectual curriculum; integrating varied cultural texts and perspectives, integrating community based experiences; or integrating student choice and direction. When people discuss integration, they are not necessarily referring to interdisciplinarity.

Our interdisciplinary effort is not unique, as Colleges and Universities across the country are encouraging interdisciplinary work and are incorporating interdisciplinary courses, general education requirements, minors, and even majors into their curricula. The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities is leadiung an emerging research university consortium in this regard with UC Berkeley, UI at Urbana-Champaign, UNC Chapel Hill, the Universities of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin at Madison, and Brown and Duke Universities. The consortium will propose how to integrate various university functions, including diversity offices, faculty, and finance administrators, to support interdisciplinary programs.

Existing and new programs address the concern that interdisciplinarity at SMC is less rigorous. This concern is legitimate, and, as with any academic program, requires a thoughtful elaboration of a specific project with measurable goals for student learning and research. A careful examination of the ways in which interdisciplinarity is currently being handled by our faculty, staff, and students provides clear evidence that those engaged are aware of this danger and are committed to maintaining the quality of intellectual inquiry that takes place in their own more traditional research and classroom learning endeavors. A secondary concern is that the disciplines are, in some way, threatened by a move toward interdisciplinarity. It should be clear that those of us at St. Mikes who are engaged in interdisciplinary work are not arguing in favor of a radical promotion of interdisciplinary models in place of more traditional models. We are simply arguing for interdisciplinary models in addition to the core teaching in disciplinary programs. We believe the disciplines are ESSENTIAL and provide a grounding for interdisciplinary inquiry. Further, evidence does not support the claim that interdisciplinary inquiry, either in general or at St. Mikes in particular, is necessarily non-rigorous. In our experience, in fact, students who have shown a great deal of initiative, forethought, and innovation in creating a course of study for themselves that seeks to thoroughly investigate a complex human phenomenon through as many disciplinary lenses as possible have often met with stiff resistance. These students tackle the difficult task of learning as much as possible about (and from) multiple disciplines so that they can engage in a rigorous analysis of a particular human phenomenon about which they are passionate. We believe that it is a very big problem that such intellectual engagement is seen as less worthy of a students time than intellectual engagement within a discipline. The same applies to faculty engagement in such programs, courses, and research.

Experiential Learning

As with the other educational strategies discussed in this document, experiential learning is a critical area of opportunity for expansion on the part of Saint Michaels College, important on its own merits and as a mutually supportive and intrinsically linked strategy in connection with the others.

The idea of experiential learning is more simply described as learning by doing, and the concept embodies a huge array of formats, from science experiments to wilderness outings to simulations to study abroad. It also encompasses the pedagogic strategies of service learning, civic education and community-based research, all of which have implicit or explicit normative goals of community benefits in addition to learning outcomes. It is gratifying to see that the value of experiential education has been explicitly recognized within Strategic Goal 2: Student Learning in an Academic Context of Excellence. It is specifically named in Initiative 2.3 Experiential and Integrative Learning Opportunities, and one of its forms, student-led research is also explicitly discussed in Initiative 2.4 Student Research and Creative Scholarship.

However, though these Initiatives 2.3 and 2.4 suggest that experiential learning will be a key focus of the school via the strategic plan, specifics within the Plan, as well as in presentations discussing it, seem to disregard vital forms of experiential learning already being employed or explored by faculty in favor of the development of academic components of currently non-academic programs, such as the Wilderness Program and Fire and Rescue. This is not to disparage these or other programs, which have long-standing superb reputations, and have produced outstanding leadership and other skills in the students with whom they have worked. However, it is to suggest that other areas of experiential excellence, which currently suffer from weaker financial and staff support, have been overlooked as opportunities to strengthen student experiential learning. Some of these specific areas include:

Coursework incorporating service learning and civic education (broadly defined)
Co-curricular service and advocacy through student organizations
Community-based participatory research with local and international partners
Alumni participation and leadership in the activities listed above.

Within the four categories listed above (though it is hardly an exhaustive list) exist a great many individual initiatives which have served as powerful learning opportunities for our students, as well as outstanding recruitment and image-enhancing tools for our college. Course-related service learning and participatory research abounds through numerous departments and at levels from the first year to senior capstone. From the multiple sections of the interdisciplinary Peace and Justice First Year Seminar, which mandates a minimum number of hours of service learning from all participants, to first-year ecological research experiences facilitated by the biology students for all students in the first year sequence, to senior-level participatory action research courses offered in both Sociology/Anthropology and Political Science, there are already a wide variety of courses which explicitly offer students the opportunity to engage with the local (and often the global) community.

Although the College seems to be suggesting its interest in the second category (explicitly tying co-curricular service and advocacy with student organizations to academic experience) with its discussion of the development of leadership programs with Wilderness and Fire and Rescue, it seems to be overlooking such programs that already exist, and could be immensely strengthened with additional support. Experiential learning is a valued part of nearly every discipline at St. Mikes, not only Journalism and Mass Communications or Political Science and Anthropology/Sociology. Such courses allow students to directly apply their knowledge, moral perspectives, and developing skills to advocacy and support within a broad range of campus organizations and initiatives, including the Vermont Global Health Coalition and the New Sudan Education Initiative. Saint Michaels College is seen as a national leader, though internal recognition has been slower in materializing.

Finally, experiential learning is an outstanding vehicle for fostering life-long learning, and one of the manifestations of such learning is the continuing participation and leadership of alumni. The continuing participation in experiential learning by alumni is a source of peer leadership, heightened engagement and relevance to students, and potential connections and networks for future success of current students (e.g. through enhanced career opportunities and mentoring for graduate school). The college should recognize the willing volunteer contribution (as MOVE currently does in its extended and international service learning programs) of alumni in community-based research, service learning and civic education, and advocacy work as an exciting resource to be incorporated into our experiential learning initiatives.
Diversity is clearly linked to the promotion of Education for a Social Conscience as an emerging identity for Saint Michaels College, and it is a Guiding Principle in the Strategic Plan, which asserts that diversity is an essential component to creating a learning environment that prepares students for citizenship in the 21st century global community so that we seek to foster a culture of inclusion where differences are celebrated, valued, and recognized as crucial to the work we do as an educational institution. This principle echoes the more extensive language of the Mission Statement on Diversity submitted last spring by the Diversity Working Group and embraced by the President and VPAA (though not yet implemented) as the colleges official document on this principle, which considers diversity to be a scholarly and social imperative. We are also glad to see that Recruitment of a Diverse Student Body shows up as Initiative 1.1 in Strategic Goal 1: Our Students. This goal has long been articulated but, as the Diversity Working Group has demonstrated, has not been realized; in fact, the College has recently lost ground in its efforts to recruit a diverse student body, so we applaud the commitment to finally addressing this challenge.

We are concerned, however, that the commitment to diversity is not fully articulated in other parts of the Strategic Plan and is completely absent in the CEPC current Liberal Studies Program goals. The Diversity Working Groups detailed report of May, 2008 and the 2009 NEASC report authored by the DWG highlight the crucial need to increase the recruitment and retention of a diverse student body, particularly among under-represented ALANA students from the U.S. These reports also address the dependence of student recruitment upon a diverse faculty and staff, curriculum, and programming. We believe the Guiding Principle of Diversity should be more explicitly and widely incorporated into the Colleges Strategic Plan and all conversations about SMC goals, priorities, message, and markets. To put it bluntly, we hope that we have finally emerged from the long period of good intentions into a period of true institutional commitment to this goal, but we do not believe this will happen unless it becomes a stated aim with specific means, goals, and assessments.

In our view, the Guiding Principle of diversity could be more explicitly incorporated into the following initiatives:

1.2: Marketing and Image Development. Make sure that Education for a Social Conscience includes commitment to diversity in all areas of college life, and that this is a true rather than a token image.

1.3: Retention and Student Success. There is a need to develop specific programs and strategies to address the particular challenges faced by students of color, ESL, and other so-called differences in our community. There is also a need to educate all students more thoroughly in the value of diversity.

2.2 Curricular Diversity and Quality. Here, the term diversity seems to be used in a generic sense to ensure a challenging, high quality mix of academic programs, which is laudable, but a liberal arts education in the Catholic tradition, which emphasizes the search for truth, can begin with the diversity within a church that spans the globe and extend to an embrace of the ways different peoples and cultures have sought knowledge and developed art. To do so, we need to address in a more pointed way 1) the underrepresentation in our curriculum of texts, courses, majors, and programs that expose students to the diversity of cultures and perspectives in the world and 2) the systemic nature of injustice and inequality in social life including knowledge that are not revealed by celebrating diversity and multiculturalism. As stated in the Diversity Statement: Diversity recognizes historically underrepresented communities and those individuals and peoples marginalized globally whose contributions to human knowledge have been undervalued. We embrace the inherent worth of sharing perspectives and beliefs in an increasingly interconnected world, seeking to understand the importance of experiences that arise from differences in culture and circumstances, including those based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, age, religion, language, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and geographic origins. We refer the Strategic Planning Committee (as well as the Curriculum Committee) to the Diversity Working Groups report on Diversity in the Curriculum, which contains numerous specific recommendations for ways to enhance diversity in our educational program.

Initiative 3.3: Academic and co-curricular Programming. The goal of supporting inclusion and differing points of view through programming is essential to a liberal arts education and provides an opportunity to promote our commitment to diversity outside as well as inside the classroom.

Initiative 3.4: Community, Cultural Competency, and Global Citizenship. In addition to encouraging the value of an inclusive community that is safe, civil and balanced, the College can take a stronger stand in helping students understand that diversity is often not simply a neutral condition but often exists within a history and a context of injustice, inequality, and systemic power imbalances. In other words, by strengthening connections with local as well as global diverse communities in a context of social justice, we offer students real opportunities to develop empathy, cross-cultural competency, and social conscience.

In addition, we believe the Plan should address the following areas:

A greater commitment to hiring a diverse faculty and staff in order to develop a more diverse curriculum, to provide role models for non-majority students, and to assure that the community at large is inclusive and representative. This goal will require more aggressive programs to recruit faculty and staff of color, and the creation of initiatives such as ABD graduate fellowships, visiting scholars, etc.

A greater focus on Catholic peace and social justice teachings, as well as the specific civil rights and racial justice work of the Edmundite Southern mission. This could be incorporated into the curriculum (as in Susan Ouellettes course on the history of Edmundite work in Selma) and could be given more attention through M.O.V.E. service trips and other service learning opportunities.

Develop more support for service learning (and other experiential learning) opportunities that foster our students exposure to diverse local communities.

Social Justice

The principle of social justice is fundamental to the unique identity and mission of Saint Michael's College. It authenticates not only Saint Michaels Catholic identity, but especially its Edmundite foundations. The Edmundites, with their long history of commitment to and strenuous work for social justice should be the inspiration for our teaching, our advocacy and our experience-based guidance of student learning.

The Edmundite history is replete with examples of long-term, committed work on behalf of social justice, including racial justice and civil rights and economic justice in the United States. At the same time, the Edmundites have infused Saint Michael's College with an appreciation for, and experience of working towards global economic and political justice, both through mission work in developing countries and in the tradition of hospitality and international educational opportunities that have long been a hallmark of the Saint Michael's College campus.

Although service and volunteerism are an integral part of social justice work and education, the term includes as well the development of a deep understanding of the conditions that foster social, political, and economic inequality and discrimination. Volunteerism or service and greater understanding require a values-based decision that inequality and discrimination are problems that need to be overcome, structurally as well as individually. A commitment to social justice requires the willingness to engage not only in empirical analysis, but equally in normative evaluation. The promotion of social justice is an inherently values-based exercise, and Saint Michael's College recognizes this with its clearly stated mission that includes enhancement of the human personin light of the Catholic faith and the supporting wording in our vision statement, especially the goals of advancement of values-based education; the practice of open and civil discourse; respect for the fundamental dignity and worth of each person; and fulfilling the responsibility of good citizens in an age of cultural diversity and internationalization .. These and other official statements of school policy demonstrate an institutional appreciation for the value of helping to shape student values at the same time as their knowledge and skill sets.

Some of the institutions within Saint Michael's College that have helped to promote the value of Social Justice have become hallmarks of the College. Clearly, Campus Ministrys MOVE Office and the Edmundite Center for Peace and Justice are two such examples that have helped to shape the values and experiences of thousands of students. Saint Michaels has also shown strong leadership by, for example: connecting social justice with international education; promoting study abroad experiences particularly in developing countries; with service learning opportunities; promoting a variety of College-led academic and nonacademic international service trips; and showing national leadership in advocacy (often connected back to academic courses) on international social justice issues including global health, development and environmental justice.

All of these efforts can and should be recognized and expanded. By connecting the underlying social justice value that has always animated Saint Michael's College to the other four values discussed in this document (internationalization, interdisciplinarity, experiential learning, diversity, and social justice), we celebrate what is unique and special about our institution at the same time that we fulfill our highest educational obligations to our students.

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