• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Title

Running AMOC

Jumbling committee members can help.

February 13, 2020
 
 

Longtime readers know that I love a good acronym. My favorite ever remains a grant at CCM called KISMET, which stood for “kindling inclusionary science, math, engineering and technology.” Drawing on an old DeVry acronym, I’ve started running AMOC at Brookdale.

AMOC is the Academic Management Operations Committee, which is a blend of folks on the academic side, the student affairs side, marketing and noncredit. It’s a very in-the-weeds group, focusing on the nasty little details of implementation that sometimes trip up otherwise good ideas.

This week’s AMOC had a moment that reminded me why it’s important to work across silos.

The math department wants to change the cut scores on the placement exam as soon as possible. (Yes, it also uses multifactor placement to allow students to bypass the exam. This discussion was about the students who don’t otherwise place out of remediation.) When Accuplacer changed its exam last year, it didn’t issue concordance tables to the old test, so colleges had to sort of spitball scores. Now that we have the first full semester of results of the new scores behind us, it’s clear that some students were placed incorrectly. The department is concerned that leaving the very low scores in place will put more students in harm’s way.

The folks on the registration and admissions side were concerned that some students have already started testing for the fall under the old rules, and more will test over the next several days. Double standards are not a good look. Worse, changing the scores apparently involves a fair bit of work behind the scenes; even if we decided in the moment to go forward, it could take several days, during which more students are testing.

The discussion went on for a while, resolving with a decision to convene a smaller group the next day to reach a resolution, which is fine. I don’t know where it will land.

But that wasn’t the gratifying part. The gratifying part was that in the beginning, neither side knew the other’s world or the reasons behind what it wanted. Once the discussion got going, it became clear that both sides were right. Wherever we wind up landing, the disappointed folks (if any) will at least understand the reasons why we landed there. The change side had good data in its favor, and a real concern for students. The wait side had real operational issues in its favor, as well as a potential argument from long-term, as opposed to short-term, data.

In other words, the other side -- whichever side that is -- may disagree, but it isn’t nefarious or oblivious. It’s trying to do the right thing, as seen from its angle.

When the same groups meet separately and repeatedly over time, they tend to wear certain grooves into their thinking. Shared frames of reference start to look objective, at which point, opposition to ideas has to be explained through sinister motives, or worse. But when those groups (or parts of them) are recombined in unaccustomed ways and have to face each other, it’s harder to be dogmatic. The “I hadn’t thought of that” moments are disarming in the best possible way.

I don’t think the key was necessarily the committee itself, but the fact that it crossed silos and doesn’t meet terribly often. It hasn’t worn any grooves of its own yet. Just by virtue of combining members who aren’t often combined, it forced a certain honesty. Nobody could take for granted that everyone in the room agreed with them.

Although I settled on the committee name mostly for the chuckle, I’m beginning to think there’s something to it. Running amok means, among other things, breaking out of usual patterns. Every so often, it’s healthy. If nothing else, it throws those patterns into sharp relief, and offers the possibility of deliberately changing them. Not a bad charge for a committee.

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