11 May 2008
Dear Colleagues and Friends,
We are in danger, and so is the integrity of education at Valley College. The threat we face is the device of “Student Learning Outcomes” (SLO’s). This is a gimmick whose imposition is ultimately political, from the federal Department of Education, and it arrives at our doorstep because our accreditation agency has rolled over and accepted the Diktat of the Department. So far we seem to be rolling over in turn, and there really has been precious little discussion about the matter among the faculty in general, let alone actual consultation, "shared governance," or any attempt to persuade or inform any of us about the value or necessity of the thing.
Over the years, there have been many fads in education, and it is at least arguable that they have done more harm than good. We all know how unprepared our students have become in areas that it used to be possible to take for granted. How SLO’s are supposed to improve this, especially at the college level, which is not the source of the problem, remains mysterious. SLO’s have the look, not even of something from education, but something from management, the source of other familiar recent introductions, like “vision” and “mission” statements. It is questionable whether such things are even effective tools in business management. We don’t want to waste time repeating the tricks that made Enron famous.
It is time that all of this be brought out in the open. How much of the faculty are even paying attention to SLO’s? There is no reason why they should, of course. If this were merely another layer of bureaucratic red tape, well, it’s a waste, but we could file it, forget about it, and move on. But that is not the way it is going to be. SLO’s are a dead but probing and malicious hand that is being inserted with the intention of controlling our teaching, our grading, and our evaluation as teachers. You may have already noticed that we are expected to give the SLO on our syllabi, but you may or may not have heard that next year there is supposed to be the beginning of “assessment” at our effectiveness at meeting the SLO. This is an attack on our autonomy and judgment as teachers, and so on academic freedom, at a level of education where we are certified as the experts (Magistri et Doctores Artium et Scientiarum). It is the same instinct for bureaucratic control and edu-babble that plagues primary and secondary education and does not belong in higher education.
We are being told that there is nothing we can do about the imposition of SLO’s. This is ridiculous. Since SLO’s have already been written for about 47% of our courses, it may be too late to stop that part of the process. But it is never too late to begin protesting. It is never too late to alert everyone about what is happening – especially when, you can be sure, this sort of thing is only the beginning. It is never too late to organize, not only among ourselves, but in league with our colleagues elsewhere – there is not exactly general enthusiasm for SLO’s at colleges around the State. And it will never to be too late to simply call a halt to the business, if every teacher at Valley, in the District, and in the State simply refuses compliance.
We, the undersigned, urge everyone to speak your mind about this. Let the Academic Senate and the AFT Union know what you think. You will find that there is already opposition to SLO’s and the intrusion that they represent. It has been simmering ever since the question of SLO’s was first introduced. You don’t need to worry about being alone. But so much of this has happened outside the attention of most of the faculty. It is time to burst the bubble and expose what has really been a covert, underhanded, and dictatorial imposition.
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