Friday, January 18, 2013

Smart growth

I want to start simply with a brief note, in part because I'm too tired to know what to do with everything I'm thinking about UVic's in-progress efforts toward smart growth. The process is influenced heavily by the Educational Advisory Board consultancy practice, which appears to be led by David Attis.

Over the last few days, I've put a lot of time into following up clues from the Provost's web site, including this video by Attis, accompanying a suite of complex, valuable slides. My gut reaction is that this process could work out positively at UVic, but a few things have me really worried.

First, Attis notes several times that faculty need to be involved in this process, because faculty are the only ones with the intimate, disciplinarily appropriate knowledge to know the right questions to ask, and to answer these and other questions. At the time of his presentation, maybe 10 months ago, he mentions that he's been involved for 18 months and has done 100 interviews.

In every way that matters, I'm just another faculty member, even though I'm on the Faculty Association executive, and even though I coordinate the university's first-year composition course (the university's single largest-enrollment course, with more than 2000 students). But I work hard to stay plugged in, to know what's going on, because I'm keenly interested in the evolution and the future of this institution.

And someone else stumbled across this 10-month-old video and told me about it. That's the only reason I've now seen this video, and I'm not finding any other faculty members who know about it.

Second, this process can only work -- can only avoid generating confrontation, flashpoints, worse -- if it's handled sensitively, perceptively, and carefully by the university administration. The behaviour of the administration's representatives during contract negotiations and mediation have ... well, have not emphasized these qualities.

Third, the University of Victoria has long prized its more or less collegial governance. This "smart growth" process depends on big data, generated only through deeply searching through the university's databases, and so far, the administration has held its data close. This data MUST BE SHARED. If the administration refuses or declines to release its data into the university community, to be parsed and reconsidered and ruminated upon, the university community will see this as an assault on collegiality.

Let me repeat: the consultant's presentation describes a process that I really believe could have positive outcomes at UVic.

But the outcomes can only be positive if this university's administration is prepared to be transparent, respectful, and open. David Attis and the Education Advisory Board need to lean heavily on this administration to do this, or their good work will all go for naught -- or worse.

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