The Louisville Cardinal

Letter to the Editor: Response to “21st century initiative”

By Amy Lueck–

 

I recently read an article of the above title, and felt the need to respond to clarify for students and interested others some of what the 21st Century Initiative is and is doing, from the perspective of a student participant.

 

First, I think it is important to clarify that, as the announcement of the open forums suggested, this was a sharing of a work-in-progress that was very far from complete. In addition to ongoing discussion on behalf of the committees, the missing component continues to be more input from stakeholders across the university—students, faculty, and staff. I know my own committee is thinking very seriously about how to do this better. More importantly, what I think is being overlooked in discussions of this initiative is that no one is dedicated to the outcomes as presently proposed.

 

I understand and respect the suspicions about the encroaching “corporate managerialism” or other ways of discussing the increasingly business-oriented tack that many universities are taking. In light of this legitimate criticism, and as a participant on one of these committees, I feel the need to clarify three things further:

 

  1. The committees involved in the 21st Century Initiative are composed of U of L faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and staff. If there are gripes with the committees’ adherence to a “corporate managerial” ideology, that is fair; it should not, however, be suggested that this process is somehow out of the hands of the invested constituents of the University, be they students or faculty or staff. The way this article positions the committees as a “them” against which “we” are responding “critically” is not only inaccurate but also unhelpful to this process.
  2. The resistance to the University as a “business” is understandable and laudable. At the same time, the University is undeniably and unavoidably responsible for supporting its intellectual, scholarly, and pedagogical endeavors within an increasingly strained economic context, where state funding is decreasing and many of us are reticent to increase tuition payments. To raise the question of funding is not necessarily to succumb to a “business model,” reductively conceived, but to acknowledge the very real fact that the university cannot function without some kind of funding resources. The committees on this initiative have been tasked with thinking about how to preserve our mission as a premier metropolitan research university as well as an institution dedicated to student learning and success while ensuring we have the funding to pursue this mission—i.e. To be responsible stewards of our funding resources. Pursuing funding and pursuing the generation and distribution of knowledge are not and have never been mutually exclusive emphases.
  3. People who have been active in this process throughout are dedicated to finding the best way forward. They do not have the answers, but rather they are seeking the answers through focused and dedicated discourse, which includes conversations with both the committees and other university stakeholders. From the beginning and throughout, these committees have framed themselves as work-groups, in which complex issues can be approached through a variety of perspectives—student and faculty, humanities and sciences, theoretical and applied, Belknap and HSC, centers and departments, etc. The reports at these town hall meetings have not proposed answers, but have instead been a way for the committees to keep themselves accountable and responsive to the university community through regular, if sometimes premature, reporting of their thinking.

 

A participant in the most recent Belknap town hall meeting suggested that the biggest problem in this process might be the deep-rooted suspicion of the process from people who have not been involved. I agree. Everyone should be involved so that they can see their visions for the future of the university reflected in the plan that we eventually ratify. Results are preliminary, based on the hard work of those faculty, students, and staff who have been involved. If you are interested in this process, there is a place for you and your voice. You can contact a representative on a committee; you can attend the town hall meetings; you can submit feedback to the online forms on the website. You can be involved.

 

As someone on one of these committees, I can tell you that student concerns are being heard, addressed, and worked through carefully by your representatives. As the recently–constituted student committee suggests, the process is responsive to emerging insights, and emerging areas of focus. Students were always an area of focus in the committee meetings, but the addition of a student committee was also appreciated as a crucial emphasis in this process, deserving of its own committee. Contrary to the suggestion of this article, student perspectives have been an important part of this process throughout, though organizers have struggled with how best to gather and focus student input. While the new student committee is extremely beneficial and important, it is also true that student representatives were assigned to each subcommittee from the outset of the process, and were no mere afterthought.

 

Because of all of the aforementioned, I believe it is not only unproductive but inaccurate to simply say that “students and faculty were critical of the upcoming 21st Century Initiative,” as the leading line of the aforementioned article does. Not only does that not represent a great number of positive responses in the forum, it also suggests that students and faculty are somehow not a part of the 21st Century Initiative, left only to respond to the reports at the forum.

 

Again, the 21st Century Initiative is being shaped by faculty, staff and students. If individuals don’t agree with their recommendations, that is completely understandable, and is the reason such forums exist—to share feedback on a work-in-progress. To suggest, however, that students and faculty are not a vital force in the shaping of this vision, and are only brought in during the public forums, is simply wrong.  Further, this article suggests that the 21st Century Initiative has more of an established form than it does—rather than responding “against” something that already exists, what I heard many faculty and staff at the forum doing was raising concerns that they wanted to ensure were addressed as the Initiative takes shape. In doing so, they were creating—not just “criticizing”—the 21st Century Initiative.

 

Disagree with the proposals. Such feedback is invited and encouraged. Such feedback is a necessary part of the process. From what I have seen on this committee, your representatives on the faculty, student, and staff levels are working hard to think through these very complex issues, and welcome your input in this very challenging process.