Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shared Faculty Mission at UIUC?

On March 4, 2010, the Campus Faculty Association sponsored an event titled “The University’s Core Mission: Are We Really All in This Together.” The event was attended by faculty from six different colleges (ACES, Education, Engineering, FAA, LAS, Law) and the University Library. Those who attended the event discussed the contributions faculty make to the university, our community, and society. We discussed how the University of Illinois is different from a technical school, liberal arts college, or a job training center, and what it is that makes this university great.
Our discussions revealed some differences across disciplines. For example, the work of some faculty focuses on immediate contributions to society whereas others do work whose greatest contributions may only be appreciated in the future. More importantly, our conversations also revealed significant commonalities. These commonalities, and our discussions of them, helped clarify the components of what we believe is the university’s core mission.
Our discussions led to the drafting of a Shared Faculty Mission Statement, which is divided into two parts: (a) a description of our shared contributions; and (b) implications of our shared contributions for the future of the university. The version available on this blog is a draft version, which has been circulated to panel participants and is now open for comments from the University faculty community. Please post comments on this site (if you can) or e-mail comments to The final version of the statement will be transmitted to the University community, the president, the Board of Trustees, state legislators, and the public.

Shared Faculty Mission Statement

Shared Contributions

• The core contribution made by all faculty is to use their intellects in creative ways to generate knowledge, insight, beauty, wisdom, and practical products and applications that will make our campus, our community, the state of Illinois, and the world a better place in which to live.
o The ways in which faculty do this are remarkably varied. Here are only a few examples. Some faculty will create music that no one may be able to appreciate immediately, but which may be admired by thousands or even millions in years to come. Others may delve into agricultural production and consumption or engineering problem-solving with the goal of producing knowledge or other tangible products that will have an immediate impact, either locally or internationally. Other faculty do research, whether on the culture of a distant land or the biology of bees, that may not have an immediate impact, but which will prove to be remarkably useful at some future point in time for reasons we cannot currently even imagine. Many of us produce knowledge about our fields (be they in education, history, or the sciences) that is used to address inequities related to racism, sexism, or homophobia. But we also do research on topics that may attract little attention from the public at large, until and unless they have had the opportunity to participate in learning activities that excite new curiosities and interests.

• Through their teaching in the classroom, laboratory, and studio, their advising, and their sharing of their own creative work with students, faculty teach undergraduate, graduate, and professional students how to think critically, communicate effectively, engage the world around them, solve problems, and be thoughtful, productive citizens of this community, state, country, and the world.
o We teach 700 students at a time in some large survey courses, but we also give one-on-one training in skills that cannot be taught any other way. We teach students to appreciate chronologically, geographically, and culturally distant worlds they have never imagined, and the problems of people next door with whom they will need to work as fellow citizens. We train them in reading, writing, focused attention, collaborative work, and creative thinking they will need to succeed at work and with their neighbors – these are skills they will use to make their local communities, the state of Illinois, and the world a better place. We counsel our students with regard to the prospects of our professions and the skills they need to succeed there, and we grade their work in order to help them assess the level of their own skills. Finally, we instruct and learn from our colleagues across the globe through conferences, journal articles, and presentations, so we are able to bring the wealth of our fields’ knowledge to Illinois.

• Faculty help graduate and professional students reach an exceptional level of excellence in order to carry on, refine, and apply the knowledge that we create and disseminate. We work in labs, offices, classrooms, clinics, and libraries where graduate and professional students are trained and make vital contributions to the University and community.

• In addition to sharing their knowledge and skills with students, faculty engage in community outreach. The contributions made by faculty are not limited to the University of Illinois campus.
o For example, we talk to community groups, elder hostels, primary and secondary school classrooms and teachers about what our knowledge means to them. We reach out to many communities of lifelong learning and engagement. We provide free consultation and services. We serve on professional, business, and community organizations, from the local level to the international.

Implications of Shared Faculty Contributions for the Future of the University

• Given that the core contributions of faculty revolve around their ability and willingness to be creative, it follows that the key to a successful university is the establishment and maintenance of an environment that permits that creativity to flourish. This means that ideas must be able to flow freely — in research projects and applications of research; between faculty and students, among faculty and among students; across our global professional networks and down the street to a local reading group.
• Because we value the diverse ways in which we pursue, disseminate and apply knowledge, we value above all the varieties of creativity that the university promotes. For example, engineers and their students benefit from the opportunity to learn the skills of communication and group process from humanities and education professionals; humanists and their students benefit by the presence of scientists, engineers and policy specialists who are transforming the material foundations of our social, cultural and artistic networks. The different fields represented at the University of Illinois form an interdependent institution that cannot survive without supporting all of its parts. While groups of relatively homogeneous scholars and professionals, whether humanists at a liberal arts college or engineers at a technical institute, can make valuable contributions to society, the realization of the full potential of a university, as described above, depends on the ability of all fields to flourish.

• Given the diversity of contributions made to this common purpose by faculty who are experts in so wide an array of scholarly fields and teaching endeavors, we need shared governance to make sure that resources are distributed fairly, and that the contributions made by faculty in different disciplinary fields are judged by standards of value appropriate to those fields. Shared governance helps to preserve the clear, consistent, and permanent lines of communication among all members of the University community which are essential if we are to appropriately represent our respective contributions to our shared mission.


  1. I very much appreciate the effort and enthusiasm it took to produce this statement. As a next step, I think it needs to be subjected to a careful consistent editing -- I would suggest by one person -- to improve the wording, writing and logic.

    For example, as someone outside the process, I find the phrase "shared contributions" murky. "Joint contributions?" "collective creativity?"

    The idea that the worth of the faculty is that they "use their intellects" could be read as eggheadish and somewhat snobbish, as if faculty are saying they have superior brains, when in fact I would guess what we hope to represent is different kinds learning, of meaning to different parts of human life.

    "Faculty help students reach an exceptional level of excellence" -- reach an exceptional excellence? how about "help students excel?"

    Etc. Paging Strunk and White!

    I guess the fundamental question I would have is: how does this statement, rotating around the idea that the University is about "shared contributions" represent an improvement over a stiff restatement of the more traditional claim that we exist to support research, teaching and service, in a variety of recognized and emerging fields? And that we must have a disciplinarily diverse community to do so effectively, creatively, and meaningfully? The advantages of a more traditional statement are that teaching, research, and service are each quite concrete things, that can be concretely explained, with reference to historical experience. The disadvantages of such a statement I leave to others to point out. But I think one critical way this draft could be read is that the faculty see themselves as an (eclectic) collection of fields who suppose that (by being in some proximity) they will be particularly creative, generating "insight, wisdom, beauty and practical products" (?) which may be appreciated by thousands or millions, if perhaps not for a long time, hopefully reaching a high level of excellence -- so respect us and support us and leave us alone. And I'm just not sure that's a clear enough or compelling enough vision for these troubled times.

    I do think it is important to signal, somehow, that balance and diversity are essential to the university; Meghan McLaughlin's talk on Universitas, I think, hits this point very well, perhaps future drafts could incorporate some of that vision?

  2. Dave Roediger:
    I agree with John in applauding the effort here and in the wish for a little more. He's made me a little scared of infelicitous writing and typos in what goes below, but here it is. As is, the statement well captures the ego ideal of many faculty members and makes a good case for shared governance. To seek some forward motion on the latter issue, and to seek to prevent regression, seems right, but the questions of who shares and who governs remain.
    In a climate of cutbacks, givebacks and closures, the private capital/team concept solution has for three decades now been to share responsibility, in order to successfully implement austerity and abandonment, but not to share sacrifice. Universities seem particularly well-placed to pursue this strategy--they could be said to have pioneered it--and unless their leaderships are especially dense the further corporatization of campuses will involve much more talk of sharing, not less. So we need to be clear, at least internally, about debating what we mean by shared governance and about why the current balance of forces and sets of structures have not always worked for our purposes and those of students.
    If we take furloughs as an especially telling example of the thoughtless and coercive uses to which rhetoric of sharing can be put, it seems we must actually fight on several fronts at once: to defend shared governance, to expand and clarify its meaning and, perhaps most urgently, to win economic demands that prevent the dismantling of public universities as debates on who should run them proceed. That is, calling on the state to pay the debt to its universities now; for no furloughs and no layoffs; for a freeze on tuition and fees; and for increased efforts to recruit, retain and fund minority, poor, and working class students cannot be separated from matters of governance.
    To make headway on building support for those demands, the vision of what we value about what we do would have to be written with flesh-and-blood students and parents, now and prospective, in mind. I'd emphasize, for example, that the faculty member: Writes scores of letters of recommendation to help with job and internship placements and to secure further educational opportunities for students; delivers education beyond university walls, to farmers, labor unions, prisoners, families, and community groups; works hard to expand access to university education to groups traditionally not included centrally in the university's mission; teaches students to write, research and reason in ways useful within their field of expertise and employment and more broadly in their political lives.(Others would doubtless have many more/better examples.)


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