CLAS Acts April 2016

Monthly newsletter of the TT faculty of CLAS



It’s the time of year that focuses on students—when we reflect on how proud we are of our most accomplished seniors, when we nominate those bursting with potential to the Fellowships Office and the Cook Leadership Academy, when we offer our classes culminating experiences, and when I at least try to figure out where I might have put my regalia.  But even at this very student-oriented time of year, I’m compelled to celebrate our faculty.

You’ve worked hard to bring in top notch scholars such as Professor Sara Skrabalak who will give the Ott Lecture on April 14.  You’ve made time to bring your expertise the media, notably in the last month Erika King commenting on the election cycle and Scott Stabler’s impressive mic drop on WoodTV 8, insisting on an accurate historical narrative when it comes to racist symbols.  Karen Libman is making the news in India for her production of a Dorothy Parker play while a Fulbright scholar in Assam. Peter Riemersma wrote a very helpful piece on the Flint water crisis for the Interchange Newsletter which helps inform our area science teachers.  And CLAS faculty are prominently featured in the Laker Effect commercial that is airing on tv (you can see it here:

Meanwhile, Diane Rayor snagged a very prestigious external grant to support her translation work—which she notes is a first for her. Alan Steinman has been appointed to serve on the Science and Information Subcommittee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Great Lakes Advisory Board. Professors taking on new challenges is like Spring coming to our college.

And prepare to be further impressed on April 6 at the meeting of our college to hear from governance, present awards, and marvel at the products of our colleagues’ sabbaticals. More on Sabbatical Showcase.

Faculty Council designed this year’s Out of the Box event to provide greater access to exactly the sort of discussion that was on the minds of many, as intuition and statistics both show that our student body is evolving in ways that challenge us to adapt and grow professionally. Next month our Faculty Council will perform the important duty of being your representatives in the process of our College prioritizing the hiring requests we send to the Provost.  Your CLAS Personnel Committee and CLAS Faulty Development Committee have also done great work this year.  And this month, our feature article describes the critical work of the CLAS Curriculum Committee, work which every year it does so well.  These committees are incubators for our future—from these committees emerge unit heads and campus leaders of every type.

I just cannot let this semester end without recognizing with pride and gratitude Brad Ambrose, Donovan Anderson and Merritt Taylor who took on the challenge of working as part time interim Assistant Deans all year, and Janel Pettes Guikema who took on the mantle for a whirlwind semester.  Kevin Tutt began the year as an interim Assistant Dean and in January transitioned seamlessly to Associate Dean for Curriculum, Pedagogy and Academic Opportunity.  Betty Schaner became an Assistant Dean and has been holding down a sort of hybrid fort between the first and fourth floors of MAK.  The whole College is indebted to you all; we found you to be a creative and energetic booster rocket for our whole team.

This month is likely to spin by us very quickly.  Just a reminder that every class is to have a culminating experience at its appointed “exam” time.  Commencement is April 30.  If you need regalia, you can (but right away!) order it through the Laker Store (or in a pinch, we have a couple simple robes we can lend).  Grades are due on May 3 by noon and your compliance with that strict deadline helps our students and your PSS colleagues. 

Was it just a coincidence that Pirandello’s 6 Characters in Search of an Author opens on April Fools Day to remind us of the absurdist tendencies of this time of year?  These days, it’s hard to think so.  Enjoy what remains of the term, give your students the most uplifting end to the semester that you can, and I hope you spot some daffodils along the way.  I also hope, as you imagine the productive summer that awaits, that you take pride in all you’ve accomplished this year.

Curriculum, Clarity, and Contributions with the CCC

In her report at the 2015 Sabbatical Showcase, then CLAS Curriculum Committee (CCC) chair Regina Smith (MLL) explained the committee in a nutshell: “This committee provides a broad, cross-disciplinary curricular review and is proud of its tradition of 'diligence, integrity, good humor, and esprit de corps.'”

The current chair, Beth Gibbs (MUS) uses similar terms to describe their approach to the work.  “It’s rewarding to see what others are doing,” Beth points out.  “Many of the changes submitted for review reflect the efforts of departments to align with the standards of their disciplines—for accreditation or to keep up with new directions in the field.”

The committee sometimes detects trends, such as submissions in content areas that interface with the College of Education and the changing state educational standards.  “That’s a balancing act,” Beth states.  “Kudos to the programs doing that difficult work.” 

The Committee also sees units offering more General Education Issues courses for non-majors.  “We try to let the authors know when our reaction to a submission is to chorus, ‘We want to take that course!’”

Not everyone realizes that the CCC is never trying to obstruct the progress of proposals, and in fact sees its role as assisting respectfully so that proposals will make it to the University Curriculum Committee and be successful at that level.

Tips for successful submissions include:

  • Check for accuracy and consistency in documents such as the syllabi of record, catalog copy, and course description because these are public documents.  A good strategy is to review these documents from the perspective of a student.
  • Watch for overlap between courses in other departments.  Communicate with potentially affected departments and keep a record of that communication.
  • Consider resources.  Is the proposal truly resource neutral?  Proposals should address needed resources and be transparent about those needs.

“We are in the process of updating our helpful hints document for the CLAS website so that proposers have clearer guidelines.  The issues that crop up most include the need for basic editing, missing documentation, or unclear objectives.  For program changes, the verbiage used in the proposal needs to align with the updated catalog copy.”

Meetings of the committee usually have an agenda of eight to ten items.  A particularly large package might take two meetings to consider.  The chair keeps in mind the reading load for the committee members because most of the review actually takes place before the Friday meetings.  Authors may attend to provide clarifications to the committee and hear suggestions for moving the proposal forward.

“The best proposals,” Beth notes, “have very clear and concise rationales, the objectives on the Syllabus of Record align with the methods of evaluation, and it is obvious how the proposal fits in the curriculum as a requirement, a Gen Ed course, or as an elective.  We see that it helps proposals if they have already undergone some sort of departmental review; multiple eyes on it really help.”

The CCC members want to be a resource as faculty develop proposals because they know the sort of comments that are likely to be made.  They are happy to answer questions. 

Beth notes that her committee colleague Todd Carlson (CHM) has been particularly helpful to proposers by consulting during the proposal preparation.  Some other committee members have a special talent for channeling the student perspective.  Charlie Lowe (WRT) is working on guidelines for navigating the SAIL system—the new proposal interface which CCC works to refine and make clearer. Sheila Blackman (BIO/CMB) has been excellent at identifying potential content overlap with courses in other departments. Coming from an array of disciplines, they provide different perspectives that strengthen the proposals and the system itself.

“There are faculty who have some misconceptions about the committee,” Beth observes.  “They may believe we intend to hinder the progress of their proposals, but when we take the time to suggest several amendments, it actually means we believe the proposal has the potential to be successful if communicated as clearly as possible.  There are also those who worry that serving on CCC would be dull—it’s not!  This is a great group of people and not a bad way to spend a Friday afternoon.”

The chair tries to send out memos to proposers early the week following consideration by the committee.  If only small edits are needed, they are able to approve pending changes, and then it is off to the dean’s office after the chair reviews and accepts the resubmitted proposals.  Those proposals that are not approved are reviewed by the full committee a second time. 

Roxanne Mol notes that once the SAIL system submits proposals to the dean, “Fred’s pretty quick—often 24 to 48 hours.”  Betty Schaner looks over the CCC agenda and is often able to provide a heads up on issues that might not be obvious at the department level.  “Our goal,” Beth stresses, “is to help authors of proposals make it through to UCC with minimal issues—ideally in one semester.  We have a good record with UCC so it is rare to have them disapprove what we have approved.  We aim to be in good alignment with them and understand UCC practices and those of Gen Ed.”

“I’ve been on CCC for 4 years and have one more year to go.  That’s not unusual—people often come back for another term because as a group we accomplish things every week, learn about course content across CLAS,  and contribute in a meaningful way to the College through our service on the committee,” Beth states.  

Resources From Out of the Box

The CLAS Faculty Council has brought together a great content collection on a Blackboard site called CLAS Faculty Out of the Box Book Discussion which you can access to read relevant articles on teaching the modern student.  Here is a taste: 


Read Recite Review      What type of valuable changes should be made in our education?  The “read-recite-review strategy” is a scientifically-proven technique for learning from a textbook that is more effective and efficient than hand-written notes. (McDaniel, M. A. et al. (2009). The read-recite-review study strategy: Effective and portable.  Psychological Science, 20(4), 516-522.)

Refining Study Habits     Students can refine their study habits by watching this video series: How to get the most out of studying, by Stephen Chew, Professor and Chair, Samford University, named the U.S. Professor of the Year Award in 2011 by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Clarifying the purpose of the video series, Stephen writes: 

The lack of adequate preparation of high school graduates for college level work is of tremendous concern. In 2011, only 25% of high school seniors met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmarks in math, science, English, and reading. That means a large percentage of high school graduates are capable of college level work, but ill equipped to handle it. The success of these students depends on their ability to transform themselves into effective college learners.

The video series is intended to help students accomplish that.  The videos present a comprehensive, empirically validated framework of principles on how people learn that enables students to develop their own learning strategies and skills. There is really no other resource like it.  The videos translate cognitive theory and research into simple, accessible, and practical practices that students can use in their study.”

 The first of the five video series is available here:

After watching the first video, you will find links to the remaining videos in the series.