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Credit where credit is due (#990)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

As I’ve noted, about a month ago, a bit after I mused about what I called Grinnell’s persistence rate, I got invited to run a Faculty/Staff Friday on what I think of as persistence, belonging, thriving, retention, and all that good stuff. I’m pretty sure that the musing had a role in the invitation. However, although I value all of these things, I’m not an expert; much of what I know comes from listening to the experts and on personal reflections. Hence, I thought it better to put together a team of the folks who are experts: Andi Tracy, Georgeanna Robinson, Joyce Stern, Kaitlin Wilcox, and Tim Arner.

The Faculty/Staff Friday is coming together well. In preparing for the presentation and discussion, I sent some questions to Dean Harris. She responded thoughtfully and promptly, as is her norm. But she addressed the message to Sam and all.

Since we now have at least two occasions on which I seem to be receiving some of the credit for work that is not my own, let me make sure that credit is assigned where credit is due.

A host of people have done important work on trying to understand issues of persistence, belonging, thriving, and retention. Joyce Stern, Jen Jacobsen, Andi Tracy, and many more have worked on task forces, reflected on issues, conducted studies, and so on and so forth. Georgeanna Robinson and Kaitlin Wilcox of Analytics and Institutional Research have conducted about ten close studies of these concepts that should be informing the institution.

They deserve the credit.

Many also deserve a lot of credit for their work on improving students’ sense of belonging and ability to thrive, including not just those I’ve mentioned above, but also the Student Affairs staff, Disability Resources, SHAW, and many others of whom I am not necessarily aware. It’s hard work, and they deserve commendation. I know that they often get pushback on strategies they attempt to make a positive difference and I appreciate that they persist in the face of opposition.

In spite of their efforts, we have a lot more to do. I’m glad to see that one of Dean Harris’ first major efforts was to create a Belonging and Persistence Steering Committee whose job is to make sure that the studies and reports that have been produced get diffused and that people across campus look for new ways to address the issues raised in those reports.

Thank you to all those mentioned explicitly and implicitly above. As Dean Harris says, I am humbled and inspired both by your work, as I have come to know it in your reports and your commitment to the student experience, and as I now see it shaping campus conversations.

Postscript: I’ve been trying to figure out why people seem to be assigning to me some sort of knowledge, understanding, or leadership in these matters. Is it a gender thing? Most of the people I’ve listed above present as female and I present as male. Is it a faculty thing? That is, I’m a full professor; the others mentioned above are staff members [1] or much younger faculty. Is it a combination?

That’s not to say that I don’t do work related to persistence, belonging, and thriving [3]. One could argue that writing about these topics, even in the absence of careful study, can have a positive impact [5]. And I do try to have course policies that encourage wellness, including the legendary There’s more to life than CS policy in CSC 151. But that work is small compared to that of the others I’ve mentioned. So, when you think about efforts to support students, please credit the people who deserve the credit.

[1] Some have been here long enough and are distinguished enough that they would be tenured if we awarded tenure to staff [2].

[2] Tenure for staff. That’s something I should muse about, along with the concept of staff governance or at least the inclusion of staff in whatever shared governance is.

[3] I need a better way to refer to these interlinked concepts [4]. I know that some call it student success, but I have difficulty with that term.

[4] I’ve also learned from the folks above that while these concepts are interlinked, it’s also important to reflect on them separately.

[5] Careless writing can also have a negative impact.

Version 1.0 of 2020-01-18.