Building a new COLL: Faculty of Arts and Sciences votes to move forward with implementation of proposed social justice requirement

0
382
The Faculty Assembly voted on a proposal to implement a COLL 199 requirement. SARAH SMITH / THE FLAT HAT

The College of William and Mary’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted in favor of introducing COLL 199 as a formal requirement of the College Curriculum Thursday, April 3, 2018.

“If this proposal passes, it would just be a first step,” Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Kate Conley said before discussion began on whether or not to vote on the proposal. “I anticipate an intensive and possibly extensive period of implementation.”

The proposed addition of the COLL 199 would be a three-credit course that has students engage with issues of justice and equity. In February, the Task Force on Race and Race Relations’ Implementation Team and the Educational Policy Committee hosted a student forum to discuss the addition. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences convened March 13 to discuss COLL 199 but did not hold a vote at that time so that Student Assembly could discuss the requirement. SA released a statement March 16 that expressed support for the adoption of the COLL 199 attribute as a formal part of the COLL curriculum.

Chemistry professor and Educational Policy Committee member Elizabeth Harbron said the original content of the motion was shared with faculty members last week. According to Harbron, a letter from gender, sexuality and women’s studies and government professor Claire McKinney was also circulated. The letter expressed concerns that the EPC’s focus on the form of the COLL 199 requirement would hinder focus on developing the actual implementation of COLL 199 and consequently negatively impact the end result of the new requirement and affect the experience faculty and students would have in the course.

According to physics professor Marc Sher, six of the letter writers and signers and five of the task force members assembled to discuss McKinney’s concerns and reached a version of the proposal that addressed both form and implementation of the COLL 199 attribute. This version of the proposal was the version faculty voted to approve during the April 3 meeting.

During the entirety of the amendment and discussion processes, some faculty members supported the attribute while others raised various concerns. Director of Latin American studies and professor of Hispanic studies John Riofrio said he supported the addition, believing that the COLL 199 attribute would complement the College’s existing academic processes.

“I am asking us to strongly consider what it would mean to make William and Mary a place that commits to teaching COLL 199,” Riofrio said. “I think COLL 199 has essential, pedagogical values to what we do as an institution. So what I think we’re doing, and what I’m hoping we’re doing, is approving this idea that COLL 199, courses that focus our energies that require every student in our college to take a class on issues of marginalization and belonging, inclusion and exclusion, that every student on campus can’t find their way through our curriculum without dealing with those issues in a way that foments real public discussion where there are stakes involved so that we can learn reasonable and respectful debate on these issues or discussion.”

English professor and department chair Suzanne Raitt said that she believes the foundations of the COLL 199 course already exist within the courses taught at the College and supported instituting the requirement to build on that foundation.

“It’s not that what we are asking ourselves to do is something that we’ve never done before, that we don’t know how to do, that we haven’t already impacted many students with,” Raitt said. “So I think we are in the fortunate position of having a number of faculty who are already teaching courses that explicitly deal with justice and equity, [and] explicitly embrace more interactive pedagogical styles.”

Raitt also said that she felt the requirement allowed for faculty members to share the responsibility of engaging with material focused on justice and equity instead of a few individuals being burdened with that responsibility.

“One of the benefits of a requirement like this is that without forcing anybody to do any kind of teaching that they don’t want to do, you set up an environment in which faculty are encouraged and supported and learning from one another so that instead of having the burden of this work rest on the shoulders of a few, all of those who would like to are given the opportunity to share that responsibility and share that burden and have that kind of impact on the lives of our students,” Raitt said.

Biology professor Shanta Hinton said she worried that the addition of the COLL 199 attribute would impact the work she does as a scientist, particularly if the overall implementation of the course is handled ineffectively. Hinton said she was worried that as an African-American faculty member, she would have to do more labor than others to implement such a requirement, which would take away time from her research and teaching.

“I think that if you really are going to do this as an institution, it cannot be myself and all the colleagues who look like me only [implementing this],” Hinton said. “… I have to do what I was trained to do — that’s what’s most important to me.”

Despite these concerns, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences voted to approve the proposal. The final proposal states that the vote on how the COLL 199 requirement will be implemented will occur no earlier than December 2018 but no later than February 2019, when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences meeting will take place.

Correction: Originally, the article incorrectly stated that it was the Faculty Assembly that voted on the COLL 199 proposal. It was in fact the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Additionally, the article misquoted Riofrio as saying “ferments” instead of “foments.”