A look at how the sausage that is college policy is made

Shia Aaron Lloyd Fisher, Student Senator Chair for the Racial Inequity Ad-hoc Committee 

Two major policies have landed on the desk of President Dr. Jack Daniels III for him to consider. One policy could ensure that faculty communicate with their students in a timely fashion, while the other policy is a lengthy, over 20-page document addressing racial equity within our campus. Both of these policies were born from extensive research and data collection and given the opportunity, both could greatly impact teachers and students alike. 

            The verdict on the policy to the College Assembly that touched on the efficiency in which faculty responds to student emails or report grades were casted by 28 people, 17 in support, six undecided and five voted down. After everyone was done casting their one vote, 30 members of the College Assembly voted that this policy was at an impasse and would require Dr. Jack Daniels III to make the final decision. Along with the policy, Dr. Daniels may also receive alternative plans from folks who had voted in opposition. 

            The “Focus on Focus” initiative and others like it paved the way for academic guidance and student prosperity. For instance, early assessment to guide students toward success early in a semester and digital access to provide resources for students. Students also benefit from Madison Colleges’ textbook rental program and other provisions supported by meetings held within the Student Senate, such as food and housing initiatives. 

            The key language of the Academic Council’s proposal would force faculty to “respond to student inquiries as promptly as possible, preferably within 24 hours, but certainly within 48-72 hours,” and “assess and post grades within 7 days,” with the exception that for longer exams or larger assignments, faculty are expected to post grades within 2 weeks, sparking a lively conversation during the second read at the October 2020 College Assembly. 

            Meanwhile, the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) is working to finalize a plan that would outline a racial equity policy; faculty and students may have additional feedback in response. The OEI’s policy recently got some input from the Student Satisfactory Inventory survey and most recently from a Student Forum on Equity and Inclusion in late September. In a closed-monitor meeting between Lucia Nunez and several other faculty members who are part of an unstructured group called Racial Justice Collective (RJC), faculty and leadership struck a middle ground in obtaining a draft version of the Equity Plan to read and provide feedback, not edits. 

Referring back to the 2020 Oct. College Assembly, at least two College Assembly members seemed to minimize the importance that the Academic Council’s policy has on students, suggesting that the significance of this policy is of greater concern for faculty whose job may be impacted, than students who simply want grades to be reported and emails answered in a timely fashion. Another member of the College Assembly suggested an alternative plan involving an individual course syllabus to convey their own grading and communication policy, stating that this alternative plan could be reassessed after four years. 

On the eve of the very next day, Dr. Daniels registered for public comment at the Student Senate’s General Assembly. When asked to comment on decision making methodology with regards to policy in general, Dr. Daniels had this to say, “What happened yesterday should never have happened… I was a little angry. When you think about impasse it is when people can’t agree. I am concerned about why you [sic] don’t agree.” 

“When there is an impasse… I look at what is being recommended by a council, what is the rationale? What’s the impact of a policy on studentson faculty and staff and administratorsand does it have any relationship on the community in which we serve?” 

“Some decisions are not necessary because there are expectations you [sic] have. When I was in the classroom, I taught psychology. I had to make it a point to make sure that my students, average of 120 per class, would get responses from me no later than four days after they asked, because that’s reasonable. Why would I treat someone different if I was expecting the same thing?” 

President Daniels can slow down the racial equity plan to get substantive feedback from people who have had the opportunity to see the plan. President Daniels can also swiftly implement a policy that would hold faculty accountable for time budgeting as it pertains to communication and grade reporting. The student’s expectation for consistency across departments in courses as it pertains to communication is reasonable. The process for forming new policy is more important than the product itself, though ultimately sausage must be made to feed the people. 

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