Thursday, September 12, 2013

Letter to the Fordham President on Assessment and US Department of Education Mandates

Dear Father McShane and Esteemed Academic Administrators
   I returned to my 44th year of teaching at Fordham with great excitement and a growing sense of trepidation about national trends in higher education and how they might effect the Fordham community.
   My classes have never been better. I have wonderful students who are excited about the material and go the extra mile to bring new material and new issues to my attention. I have great graduate and undergraduate student workers for the Bronx African American History Project and have worked out an arrangement with the Fordham library staff to gradually digitize and preserve our entire oral history collection
   But yesterday, I received a document about assessment that reinforced my worst fears about how US Department of Education mandates may be affecting teaching and learning at Fordham.
On a section of the document entitled "Goals and Assessments: Are You Suceeding" the following phrases appear "Desired Student Outcomes" "Assessment of Student Outcomes" and "Assessment of Student Learning Outcomes."
   Rarely have I encountered language which undermines the goal of all liberal arts education than this. What it does to the ideals of Jesuit education is even worse.  Never, in all my years of teaching did I think of what I was doing was "producing outcomes." I was trying to inspire young people to think more creatively, to seek out new perspectives and new experiences, to build communities inside the university and out, and to develop greater confidence in their own capacity to take intellectual, moral and spiritual risks.
    While I will, as in the past, participate in legitimate efforts to assess what we do in our Department in a manner consistent with our traditions, I cannot and will not use language that violates my conscience as a teacher and a scholar.
    I know many of you agree with me in principle, but are afraid of the consequences for the University if we defy the mandates of the US Department of Education.
    But in moments like this, someone has to say "No" and it might as well be me
    I categorically refuse, even at risk of terminating my employment, of inserting the word 
"student outcomes" in any of my syllabi or sign off on any assessment document that uses that language.
     This, to me is a matter or conscience as well as of principle.
     And lest you think I fear being assessed, here are some of what be considered my "out comes"
      More than 50 of my former students who have received doctorates in the arts and sciences and are teaching in universities around the world
       More than 30 of my former students who have published books with university presses which are considered important works of scholarship in their filed
       Hundreds of my former students who are working in schools, community organizations, government agencies, trying to bring to life the commitment to a life in pursuit of justice they were exposed to at this University.
       Founding and administering, along with my former students and many Bronx community partners, one of the most respected community based oral history projects in the nation, the Bronx African American History Project.

   I take my stand on my conscience and my record
      Let the chips fall where they may

Mark D Naison
Professor of African American Studies and History
Founder and Principal Investigator, Bronx African American History Project.


Unknown said...

Bravo, Mark! The language is a gateway drug to a way of thinking about teaching and learning that is absolutely counter to all that you have and will continue to accomplish.

Rob Lively said...


Goody Miller said...

Our colleges and universities are the last stronghold of truth. You must expose the corporate raiders. They have the American public completely duped about public education and now they're coming after our finest institutions. Outcomes? The only outcomes they care about are dividends from their ill-gotten education booty.

BJ MacNevin said...

I applaud this letter. It is well stated. Unfortunately, I am also reminded of the words of Niemöller:

"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me."

I worry that in this case, it was the teachers and the administrators that they came for first before turning on the college set. Alas, now there is nobody of stature left to stop them.

Anonymous said...

I'm a computer programmer and an engineer. Humans cannot and should not be relegated to the status of a robot or a "program" or an "outcome." The Billionaires are not our elevated examples. Their cash cannot dictate conscience. We must stand up for what we believe in. Sometimes it takes just a few brave souls like Professor Mark Naisen to remind us of this- we must always fight to retain it when our very humanity is at stake.

GailBoldt said...

As a faculty member at a university, I will happily pledge your promise of never using that language in anything I do. Wisconsin just fired the first salvo aimed at the elimination of faculty governance from its state universities as "economically inefficient." It is coming for all of us.

Students Last said...

We need more people who are willing to be martyrs for education. Thank you for setting an example.