Major Major and the L-Word

A little over two years ago the senior academic officer asked me if I wanted to chair a committee that would revise the general education core curriculum at my institution. I politely declined and informed her that my wife shuttered at the idea of me even balancing a checkbook.

Besides, I thought to myself, one only has to look at my list of leadership fiascoes to see the idea is absurd (revising the first-year experience, implementing a new assessment culture, coordinating a senior capstone). My leadership philosophy has always been you really don't want me in charge. Indeed, I only stumbled into academia by accident and have remained here due to a few quirks of fate. Good heavens, I'm the Major Major of the faculty. Even my office is hard to locate.

The provost gave it a day or two and then called back: "Everybody says you're the person to do this, so I'm just going to ask once more." I hemmed and hawed. I thought about how teed off my wife would get listening to me kvetch over the next few years. Then I agreed. That's how I came to chair the "committee to louse up everybody's life." I didn't want the job--still don't--but maybe that's the Catch-22 of core revision. Anyone who's eager to do it is by definition a lunatic and ought to be kept as far away from the work as possible. On the other hand, those desiring no part of it must be thinking clearly. Therefore...

True to form, my leadership on this project has been all over the place. I've made any number of blunders, fouled up the roll out and sent all kinds of conflicting signals. Just in the last week alone I've given half the campus a case of the vapors, ticked off the student newspaper and triggered an all-campus e-mail war. Nevertheless, in a few weeks we will vote on a new general education core. There will still be a lot of work to do after that, but passing the new core will be a milestone. Strangely, too, I find that this inept Major Major is even a little proud of what the committee accomplished. Among the thorny issues we addressed were the following:
  • We will have put in place meaningful assessment and oversight.
  • The new core will reiterate outcomes throughout the curriculum.
  • We have for the most part avoided the "turf wars" that often accompany core revisions.
  • We have not messed up the market for transfer students.
  • We reduced the total number of outcomes to a manageable number.
These aren't particularly sexy issues. In fact, there's nothing very innovative about the new core. It even looks a bit like the old one if you squint at it hard enough. Even so, it does address some longstanding institutional weaknesses and pushes the change envelope about as far as this place was prepared to go. Not sexy, but not bad.

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