Letter from the Director: Looking Ahead 2010–2012

Donald W. Harward, Project Director, Bringing Theory to Practice and President Emeritus, Bates College

In an earlier newsletter, we shared a synopsis of the BTtoP Project’s work to date, looking back over the last few years. This piece instead looks ahead.

The BTtoP Project currently enjoys a period of significant recognition and support for its work. That work has had two persisting phases and themes. The first has been to understand and to help colleges and universities use their academic strengths to respond to patterns of disengagement (intellectual, behavioral, emotional, and civic) experienced by students (and by some faculty). That help began by asking institutions to reflect on how those patterns of disengagement were connected to the culture of the institution. Then the campus could consider whether creating an expectation and probable means for greater engagement would affect those patterns, while determining how and whether the interrelated objectives and core goals of liberal education were being realized.

From that phase and theme emerged a second: to provide help and support to those institutions willing to initiate the systemic and sustainable programmatic and process changes that would lead to transforming the culture of their campus—strengthening the campus culture for learning and making the necessary changes that would ensure that the promise of liberal education (to be itself a transformational experience for the whole student) would be sought as an institutional priority. Expectations, actions, programs, and rewards would have to be aligned to achieve that priority.

Reported on the Project’s Web site are some of the Project’s many past activities, conferences, sponsored research reports, and supported campus initiatives. Over the last few years, the BTtoP Project has extended over $5 million in grants to campuses; it has sponsored eighteen national conferences and workshops. Overall, the Project has had, and continues to have, a significant and unique impact on core issues of the work of nearly two hundred colleges and universities and the thousands of students they educate.

As we progress, maintaining both of the themes and emphases that characterize the Project, more specific objectives and plans have emerged as we consider the upcoming next few years. We are committed to:

(a) Having teams of faculty and administrative leadership from the final fifteen institutions to join the Coalition meet in a Follow-up Conference for Provosts, Student Affairs and Faculty on November 6–7, 2009, in Washington, DC.

(b) A major “Retrieval and Research” conference focused on civic engagement and its psychosocial consequences will bring together practitioners, scholars, researchers, and policy advocates for a major conference to be held November 5–6, 2009, in Washington, DC.

(c) Teams of three faculty and administrative leaders from each of the fifty-five Leadership Coalition institutions will gather for a one-day conference/workshop on Jan. 20, 2010. The objectives of the conference/workshop will include opportunities for update reports on campus initiatives, and to plan the year 2010 activities that will reflect BTtoP’s emphasis to make 2010 the “Year of Faculty.” We seek with that focus to understand and identify challenges, and support opportunities for faculty members to examine and champion their role as agents of transformational change. Detailed projects for the year, as well as approaches and patterns of support, will be identified, addressing such issues as discipline pressures, graduate training and modeling, reward structures, pedagogy and curricular design, and faculty intellectual leadership. The conference/workshop will also provide an opportunity for consideration of a pilot study of faculty attitudes, values, perspectives, and role assessment.

(d) The RFP announcing funding for projects to be offered during 2010–12 has been distributed to more than three thousand institutions. Two emphases will be given priority: (a) proposals focused on civic engagement and its connection to student psychosocial development; and (b) proposals focused on sustaining transformative change. Projects with the second focus could include revising funding priorities, sustaining change through curricular reform—e.g., general education reform—and sustaining change through faculty development and rewards projects.

(e) Layered on the work of the Project over the next few years will be emphases on evaluation and on the campus determination of an ‘arc’ of change that clearly suggest objectives to be achieved, and the determination of how effective the changes are in achieving those objectives. Also, the Project will be attentive to the “dynamic” or “logic” of change in an educational context. “What actually encourages changes in choices and behaviors?” Decision theory, the documentation of influences, behaviors, and choices that are currently part of the campus culture, as well as understanding how to alter those influences while maintaining the necessary conditions of intellectual freedom and campus autonomy—each of these are elements that will be receiving more significant attention from the Project.

(f) Finally, the Project will continue to serve as a catalyst for changes that are identified by, sought by, and sustained by the institution. For many, this means planning grants or funds for initial steps that are effective agents in encouraging lasting change.

In the immediate years ahead, the BTtoP Project will be seeking additional foundation grant and individual gift support in order to maintain the emphases and projects it has already planned, as well as to add occasional and desirable new opportunities.