New Year, New Learning Opportunities

Happy 2018! May it be a year of growth, development and productivity for us all.

The year starts with faculty professional development opportunities offered by Academic Affairs and VIT’s Academic Services, the first of which will be held next Tuesday, January 9. Workshop topics include preparing your class for campus closure, how to deal with accommodations and accessibility issues, Blackboard and One Drive. For a complete schedule and descriptions of sessions, check the Faculty Development Opportunities site.


The Meaning of the Week

I’ve heard some questions and confusion arise about the academic regulation regarding the 15th week of the semester; it’s a topic around which a fair amount of folklore has grown, so I’d like to disambiguate. It seems to be commonly referred to as “dead week,” but is actually called Closed Week in Academic Regulation 78, which defines it as follows:


No examinations or quizzes (other than laboratory examinations, make-up examinations and make-up quizzes) may be given during the last week of instruction.  Paper-proctored exams given for Global Campus courses are exempt from this rule, only if scanning and emailing the completed exam is not possible due to lack of equipment or infrastructure.

Here are some of the piece of folklore that I’ve heard regarding Week 15 which are not true:

  • No new information can be introduced in a course during this week. [There is no such prohibition. It is a week of instruction; only exams and quizzes are interdicted, not teaching of new material.]
  • Classes don’t meet this week. [They do meet! This is why I particularly dislike the practice of calling it “dead week,” a term which historically referred to a week between the end of classes and the beginning of finals that was meant to be used for study.]
  • Make-up exams can’t be scheduled during this week. [Not true. See above.]

Academic Regulations 74-89 pertain to examinations; most of them pertain to final examinations, and collectively they provide the framework in which we operate at the end of the semester. I encourage you to check them out, rather than falling for the folklore.

Inclement Weather Statement

The following statement has been developed by the Council of Faculty Representatives and the Vancouver administration, and has been adopted by the campus:

Adverse Weather or Natural Hazard Statement

WSU Vancouver is a commuter campus, with faculty and students arriving from diverse regional micro-climates. Conditions in one region may significantly differ from conditions in another region. In the event that an adverse weather event (e.g., snow or ice) or natural hazard that poses a safety risk occurs, course instructors can use their discretion to decide whether they would like to offer students an alternative learning option that does not require travel to campus. Faculty and students should take personal safety into account when deciding whether they can travel safely to and from campus, taking local conditions into account. Faculty will not be penalized for working remotely to provide students with alternative learning options and students should not be penalized if they are not able to attend class in person.

The faculty member is responsible for choosing the best mechanism for alternative learning, if WSU Vancouver is open and the instructor decides to cancel the face-to-face meeting and substitute an alternative learning activity. A repository of alternative learning options is available on the WSU Vancouver Knowledgebase website or you may contact Information Technology for help. Faculty are encouraged to use universal design when possible, to make online content accessible.

Faculty are expected to notify all enrolled students by email or through Blackboard, along with letting their Academic Director and office support staff know the status of their course, within a reasonable time after the determination has been made to open or close campus. In the case of a course taught by AMS over multiple campuses, AMS should be notified, if possible.

If an instructor holds class during a weather event or natural hazard, but a student does not attend due to adverse conditions, the instructor should not penalize the student. Allowances to course attendance policy and scheduled assignments, including exams and quizzes, should be made by the instructor. Faculty delivering a course via AMS to a campus that closes for inclement weather should make similar allowances for students enrolled at that campus. Students who attempt to gain advantage through abuse of this policy (e.g., by providing an instructor with false information) may be referred to the Office of Student Standards and Accountability for disciplinary action.

Syllabus statement: In the event that an adverse weather event (e.g., snow or ice) or natural hazard that poses a safety risk occurs, you should take personal safety into account when deciding whether you can travel safely to and from campus, taking local conditions into account. If campus remains open and your instructor decides to cancel the face-to-face meeting and substitute an alternative learning activity, you will be notified by your instructor via email or through Blackboard within a reasonable time after the decision to open or close campus has been made. Instructions regarding any alternative learning options or assignments will be communicated in a timely manner. If travel to campus is not possible due to adverse regional conditions, allowances to course attendance policy and scheduled assignments, including exams and quizzes, will be made. Students who attempt to gain advantage through abuse of this policy (e.g., by providing an instructor with false information) may be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for disciplinary action. If a student encounters an issue with a faculty member, the student should first talk with the faculty member. If the issue cannot be resolved, the student should follow the reporting violations of policies outlined on the student affairs website.

Happy Ada Lovelace Day

[author’s note: this should have posted yesterday. Ah, well]

The second Tuesday in October is celebrated annually as Ada Lovelace Day, to encourage women to enter the STEM fields. Ada Lovelace, daughter of the poet Lord Byron, is widely considered to have devised the first programming language, and her work later inspired Alan Turing. In a reversal of stereotypes, her father was an emotionally tempestuous poet, one of the founds of the Romantic movement, and her mother was a mathematician.

More information can be found about Ada Lovelace Day here.



What we talk about when we talk about “us”

The Council of Presidents, State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Independent Colleges of Washington, and the Washington Student Achievement Council have put out a joint statement supporting Washington’s DACA students, denouncing the termination of DACA, and urging congress to find a legislative solution. Reading the statement, I was struck by some of its language: “These students and those who came before them are not strangers on our campuses, in our communities, and in our homes. They are our neighbors, our co-workers, our friends and our family. They are us.”

That last sentence led me to thinking about how people form a picture of “us”–that is, when someone says “we,” who is included and who is excluded in the mental picture formed by the words “we” and “us”? “They are us” could function as a grammatical oxymoron, or it could serve as a revolutionary and transformative way of thinking about our relationships to our communities, to our neighbors, to our fellow residents, to our fellow Americans, to our fellow occupants of planet Earth. Who do you picture as you think each of those terms? Who is your “us”? Is the “us” that you automatically picture the “us” that you would like to picture? Or would you like to have a more inclusive picture, to move people from “they” to “we” in your mind?



“Don’t criticize something if you haven’t read it”

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the publication of the first of the Harry Potter books in Great Britain. Reading those books as they came out was one of the most enjoyable literary experiences of my life. One of my favorite memories of the series is reading Goblet of Fire aloud to a friend who was recovering from a back injury and getting to do my best Dobby the house elf voice. Another favorite memory is buying Half-Blood Prince at a bookseller’s in the London underground, as I just happened to be in London on the day of its release. And, of course, whizzing through Deathly Hallows to find out whether or not it turned out that Neville, rather than Harry, would be the one prophesied to defeat Voldemort (the ending I always wanted to see).

It’s not the ending of the series I really want to talk about, though, but rather the beginning, and how I came to be a fanboy of the series through my students challenging me to practice what I preached.

In the late 90s, when the first three books of the series had been released and the series’ popularity had really started to become a phenomenon, I made an offhand comment in a graduate seminar I was teaching. I don’t remember what prompted the comment, but I’ll never forget what I said, or what one student said in response.

“Nobody reads anything anymore but those Harry Potter children’s books!” was my expression of exasperation.

“Have you read them?” my student asked, and in challenging her professor modeling the courage of Dumbledore’s Army.

“Of course not!” I replied in Umbridge-like fashion.

“Well,” my student persisted, “haven’t you always told us not to criticize something we haven’t read?”

Reader, she had me there. So, in a more McGonnagall-like fashion, I told that class that I would, indeed, read the first book, so that then I would be entitled to criticize it to my heart’s content.

I read the first book and found it so intriguing I read the next, and the next. And reported back to my students that I had to eat my words and admit that I was quite wrong and that they and everybody else should read all the Harry Potter books they wanted. (Not that I don’t have criticisms–like, boys get to do all the good stuff in the books, but the Hermione-is-really-the-hero meme is good on that score). And how could I not appreciate the terrific boost to interest in reading that the series produced while the release of each new book created such excitement that kids and adults waited in long lines at actual bookstores to get them?

My real point here, though, is this: my students were right to hold me to the standard of don’t criticize something you haven’t read. If we all followed a simple protocol: read first, think second, respond third, we might be one step closer to the wisdom of Dumbledore.


Welcome our new Campus Director of Equity and Diversity, Obie Ford III

Please join me in welcoming WSU Vancouver’s first full-time Campus Director for Equity and Diversity, Dr. Obie Ford III. Dr. Ford comes to WSU Vancouver from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, where he served as the founding Director of Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity since 2014. Prior to his time at Warren Wilson, he held positions at Columbus State Community College including Multicultural Facilitator and Career Counselor. He holds a BA in Psychology and an MA in Educational Policy & Leadership from The Ohio State University and a PhD in Higher Education Administration from Ohio University. Dr. Ford is also a poet who has carried out the projects #HaikuForJustice and #HaikuForLove. As Campus Director for Equity and Diversity at Vancouver, he will join the Chancellor’s cabinet and have campus-level responsibilities for carrying out the objectives of our strategic goal to promote an ethical and socially just society through an intentional commitment to inclusion, equity and diversity.

I had the opportunity to serve as chair of the search committee for this position, and am very pleased to have such a successful outcome for the search. I look forward to working together to advance our strategic goal relating to equity, and on improving our recruitment and retention strategies for faculty of color.


Association of Faculty Women meeting with the Deans and VCAAs

The annual AFW meeting with the Deans and VCAAs took place this week. I represented Vancouver and joined several of the Deans from Pullman along with a couple of the Deans in Spokane. We had a great discussion; AFW had designed two questions to pose to us. The first was, “we hear a lot about the budget situation recently and about the impact shortages may have at WSU. As you navigate these waters, what innovations or creative approaches are you considering for the near and far future?” I addressed that question by talking about our need to grow in order to achieve three goals: to be able to expand our participation in graduate education, to be able to hire more faculty into our emerging research areas, and to be able to offer a broader range of options to our students in terms of scheduling sections (such as being able to offer more than one section of required courses). The Deans talked very frankly about the challenges they’re facing, and the need to innovate in order to continue to be a great university and to work toward the drive to 25.

The second question was, “with regard to President Schulz’s ‘Drive to 25’ initiative, what ideas are being discussed in your unit to pursue those goals, generally and particularly as they relate to women?” I talked about our focus on hiring faculty with strong research potential to complement the strong researchers we have on our faculty; on leveraging our location, which can provide advantages to researchers in some fields; and about what a great campus Vancouver is for women. Not only do we have many women in leadership positions (3 Vice Chancellors, 3 Directors on the Chancellor’s cabinet; 6 of 7 Academic Directors, both Associate Vice Chancellors in Academic Affairs, and most of the leadership team in Student Affairs), but we have a strong representation of women in STEM fields, as well distinguished scholars and teachers across many fields. 

I enjoyed being on the panel with academic leadership from Pullman and Spokane, and I felt very good about the things I was able to say about our campus. I emphasized what a substantial portion of the WSU system we are–about 10% of enrollment, and about 10% of tenure-track faculty, and that we’re a 10% the system can be proud of.

Welcoming Holly Beck to Academic Affairs

Please join me in welcoming Holly Beck to Academic Affairs in the role of Principal Assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs. Holly is joining us from the Chancellor’s Office, where she served as Principal Assistant from 2014 until her move to Academic Affairs, where she will support the Vice Chancellor as well as playing a major role in planning and supporting commencement, faculty recognition and other events, facilitate the faculty appointment and other personnel processes, work with the Council of Faculty Representatives, the Diversity Council and the Collaborative for Social and Environmental Justice, and respond to in-person and phone inquiries and contacts. This position will entail a wider scope of responsibilities than she had in the Chancellor’s office, and she is looking forward to working more closely with faculty and staff across our campus, as well as across other WSU campuses.

Holly has a strong background in this work, having previously worked for the Oregon State University Foundation’s Portland office, at Legacy Health’s Graduate Medical Education Department, and for a private medical practice. She has a BA from Marylhurst University.

Holly Beck is the person to contact to schedule meetings with me, or for questions relating to Academic Affairs in general. And yes, Holly Davis is also part of the Academic Office, supporting the two Associate Vice Chancellors and the Director of Blended and Networked Learning, so we now have two Hollys in our office! You can reach Holly beck via email at or 546-9535.

Inspiring Talk at AAC&U Conference

I attended the Pre-Conference Symposium of the American Association of Colleges and Universities conference, where the keynote presentation was titled “Reclaiming the Racial Narrative.” The speaker was Gail Christopher, Vice President for Policy and Senior Advisor, W.K. Kellog Foundation, who talked about the Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation project.

She noted that we Americans have built our history on a “false taxonomy of the human family,” which does not value every human being equally, but groups people according to a racial hierarchy. She said that we must replace that false taxonomy with an absolute belief in our equal and equitable right to realize ourselves. I thought that was a particularly eloquent way to express the racial history of our country, and to encapsulate the change we need to make.

She pointed out that because of the power of narrative, we need to change our stories, to create a new narrative and allow multiple narratives to expressed. To which I say, yes.

Part of the Kellog Foundation’s project is racial healing. She says that one of the reasons we have built our false taxonomy of the human family is because of our separation. In order to heal that division, we need to come together and know one another. “We are one human family descended from a common ancestor on the continent of Africa,” she observed. The notion that there is a hierarchy of values of human beings is an absurd notion, she insisted, and I again completely agree.

A very powerful question that some of us engaged in equity work on our campus have been talking about recently is this: when was the last time you had dinner with someone of a different racial identity from your own? The answer to that question will serve as an indicator of how racially isolated you are, or are not. That can serve as a way for each of us to start thinking about our racial experiences, our commitments to equity, and the steps we need to take to move toward jettisoning that false racial taxonomy that has shaped our world.

Christopher’s inspiring talk, thought-provoking, and offering, I think, some powerful rhetorical tools with which to examine our own thought structures and begin to talk with others to ask them to examine that false taxonomy, as well.

For more on the Kellog Foundation’s project click here.