Faculty discuss student mental health, alternative credits at year’s first meeting
September 16, 2022
On Monday, College staff and faculty met in Daggett Lounge for the first faculty meeting of the year. The faculty discussed student mental health and the possibility of allowing students to earn course credit for business-prep classes taken outside of the classroom.
After moderator Associate Professor of Government Jeffrey Selinger held a vote to approve minutes from last year’s final meeting, Chair of Department of Government and Legal Studies and Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government Andrew Rudalegive read an obituary for the late John Rensenbrink. Rensenbrink taught political philosophy and history at the College for three decades and was a co-founder of both the Maine Independent Green Party and the Green Party of the United States.
For the first official order of business, President Clayton Rose delivered his Report of the President. Rose admitted his excitement to return to a campus reminiscent of pre-pandemic times but also stressed the importance of providing students with mental health options given the challenges of the last two and a half years.
“Learn more about how you can help our students,” Rose said. “This mental health crisis that we find in the country was with us before the pandemic but has certainly been amped up as a result of that. We are also going to spend time [discussing mental health] with the U.S Surgeon General [Dr. Vivek Murthy] … It will be interesting to see what he has to offer.”
Rose introduced the possibility of awarding students with class credits for career-prep courses taken through Career Exploration and Development (CXD).
“I wanted to ask the Curriculum and Educational Policy Committee (CEP) if there is a way to move forward where we can offer credit-bearing courses for skills that are necessary in the workplace,” Rose said. “We are disadvantaging our least-advantaged students in their search for work and their inability to get work in those areas specifically that have the highest opportunities for wealth creation.”
Specifically, Rose wants to give course-credit for classes taken in data management, data analysis and accounting that are currently offered as extracurricular courses through CXD.
“Students from less-advantaged backgrounds skew more to non-profit jobs and jobs that don’t require the kind of skills that I am talking about, and our most-advantaged students skew much more into those jobs in the commercial sector where there are opportunities for wealth creation,” Rose said.
Members of the faculty raised concerns with the matter, with some claiming that it would be more successful for the College to pay students who took these classes and others arguing that the approach is wrong in itself.
Associate Professor of Music Tracy McMullen was one of those who objected to Rose’s proposal.
“I would be much more behind moving the more advantaged students towards non-profit work rather than the other way around,” McMullen said. “I see that [as] more of the problem.”
Assistant Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Jay Sosa proposed a payment option in place of something more centered around course credit.
“Another potential option … would be to pay students for their time if they chose to engage in that training outside of the classroom,” Sosa said. “[I am] just thinking about different ways that we can compensate students in order to get the training that they might need.”
Next up, Professor of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Jennifer Scanlon gave the Report of the Dean of Academic Affairs. Scanlon announced that faculty symposium funding had increased from $10,000 to $15,000. Additionally, with the backing of an anonymous donor, all Faculty Development Committee (FDC) awards were increased from $4,000 to $6,000.
Additionally, Scanlon reported that her office is working to prepare materials for the next president of the College.
Following Scanlon’s remarks, Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs Janet Lohmann delivered the report from her office. As well as remarking on overall positive energy around campus this semester, Lohmann explained the restructuring of the Dean of Students office.
“The Dean of Students office is structured differently now,” Lohmann said. “We have class deans … a first year dean, a sophomore dean, a junior dean and a senior dean. We now also have a case manager [Lisa Hardej ’05], a dean who really works with students who require episodic or long term attention and needs. That dean is working with … all students who may have taken a medical leave or been gone for academic deficiencies.”
Lohmann encouraged anyone with questions regarding the organizational structure to reach out to Dean of Students Kristina Bethea Odejimi.
Later on, Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Inclusion Dharni Vasudevan led a session titled Balancing Compassion and Accountability. The session consisted of Vasudevan providing two hypothetical examples where students cited physical and mental health issues for shortcomings in class. Faculty then took ten minutes to speak with one another about how they would handle the respective situations before reporting back to the larger group.
Vasudevan acknowledged that whereas faculty should hold students academically accountable, it is important to activate students’ extensive support net as quickly as possible. She cited comment cards as the best way to reach other members of the College community who can best support students.
Lastly, Selinger opened the floor for announcements before moving to adjourn the meeting. The Faculty will meet again from 4:25 p.m. to 5:55 p.m. on Monday, October 3 in Daggett Lounge.
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I must take strong exception to the comment in this article made by Associate Professor of Music Tracy McMullen. It is not the College’s job to steer students toward for-profit careers or non-profit careers. It is, however, the College’s responsibility to equally present all career options to the students and let the students determine where they should begin their careers. Clayton’s observation of less advantaged students skewing toward non-profits was affirmed in a deep discussion that I had with a younger first-gen, entrepreneur, black alum a few months back. He was frustrated with this situation. The new mandatory sophomore January boot camp is a great start. The content of that program should and will evolve over time. Less advantaged students need more exposure to successful role model alums from the for-profit sector. Many of them would find such opportunities more stimulating and exhilarating – and wealth creating – than what they would find in the non-profit sector. Most importantly, starting out in one does not preclude ending up in the other. In general, however, it is easier to move from for-profit to non-profit than the reverse.
I echo a similar sentiment regarding the comment made by Associate Professor McMullen. I will say that it is not only the College’s responsibility to equally present all career options, but to ensure that all students have the same knowledge to work in for-profit careers. As a less advantaged student, it is so difficult to catch up with my more advantaged peers. More work is done behind the scenes to learn about certain topics (along with other things) and equality is not sufficient enough to check this DEI mark off. Equity would be a more appropriate goal to aim towards and I am in favor of incorporating the classes mentioned as a credit-based option.