Campus News

Faculty Weigh in on Academic Restructuring and Shared Governance

By Nathan Villiger

Change is in the air at SMCM. Beginning in 2022, the St. Mary’s College of Maryland plans to embark on a process of academic restructuring that would change the way academic departments are organized and the process through which they will interact with each other. As announced during the Oct. 15 Board of Trustees meeting, three new Associate Deans will be created with each new Dean heading a separate division, and each division being composed of multiple academic departments. However, this change has not occurred without eliciting concern from faculty concerning the decision-making process and lack of shared governance.  

The stated goal of the new division-based structure is to lift the burden of administrative work off the shoulders of Department Chairs and allow them to offer additional classes, expand advising, or engage in greater research. In addition, the names of the three Associate Deans, as proposed by President Jordan, have been released to the Board of Trustees. Drs. Kelly Neiles, Sahar Shafqat, and Randy Larsen have been tapped by the administration, with each heading a corresponding division. However, the model as currently planned bears little resemblance to the one approved by the faculty senate in January, and thus has left many faculty members feeling somewhat blindsided. 

Though the intentions behind this administrative reorganization are undoubtedly noble, the process through which it has been proposed and implemented has come without comment from students and faculty alike. Many feel that this action, which was undertaken with limited input from either faculty or students, is symptomatic of a wider rift between college administration and the rest of the academic community. In a report addressed to the Board of Trustees, Faculty Senate President Dr. Libby Williams outlined some of the faculty’s concerns. “The faculty remain committed to implementing a well-conceived model that addresses the goals set out for academic restructuring. However, it is also very important to the faculty not to rush the process but rather fully consider the range of good, creative ideas presented before making decisions about implementing details that will have long-lasting implications.” 

This sentiment has been echoed in numerous conversations with faculty and students alike; they are hopeful for the result but are worried about the speed through which progress has been made. In one discussion with a junior faculty member, they remarked that restructuring in and of itself is not that uncommon, but that the St. Mary’s administration in particular seems dead set on seeing their goals achieved at a rapid pace. However, they assured me that little would ultimately change for students. 

During an interview with a senior faculty member who preferred to remain anonymous, similar concerns were expressed. “I think the issue is the process by which decisions are made up to this point… there are still questions and details that haven’t been announced.” On the topic of shared governance in general, they remained skeptical: “Certainly, anything having to do with academics, whether that’s curriculum or academic affairs, relates directly to faculty life and so faculty are inherently interested in that. Per our understanding of shared governance, faculty expect to be a part of major changes. I think a number of faculty … are worried that we are not being given opportunities to provide input or when input has been asked it is either after the fact or doesn’t have impact. The faculty are asking: where is the “shared” part of shared governance?” 

When it comes to the issue of academic restructuring, and shared governance in general, the onus is clearly on the administration. It still remains to be seen how the new academic structure will ultimately be implemented, and whether or not it will aid in attempts to bridge the administrative-educational divide. The outcome will likely have to wait until next Fall, when the divisional framework is fully implemented.

SGA Exec Board Getting a Paid Position

by Jordan Williams 

The college is planning on creating a paid job position for the Student Body Government (SGA) executive board members with the Office of Student Activities (OSA). Executive board members will be given the chance to apply and interview for the new position and if accepted, they will be given more responsibilities in OSA. Executive board members will have exclusive access to the application, and it will not be available to other students.

The executive board has mixed feelings on this new initiative. Some members are excited to have new responsibilities and a paycheck, while others feel like the position is unnecessary. Lily Riesett, the SGA secretary, said that she will not apply because she is too busy to take on another job on campus.

Because of these mixed feelings, there are not any concrete details as to what the job will entail, or even if the initiative will go through at all. The school would ideally like for all the executive board members to apply for the job, but it is unclear if that will happen at this point.

The Point News will be following the development of this initiative. Stay tuned!

Students and Faculty Discuss the New Marine Science Major

By Morgan Babylon

There is a new Marine Science major that began with the freshman class, and according to chemistry professor  Randolph Larsen III, the first full-time marine science faculty member, Dr. Elka Porter. Incoming marine science majors have the unique opportunity to engage with the environment around them and use Chesapeake Bay to their advantage when studying marine life. Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Cassie Gurbisz told The Point News that “hands-on learning is one of the most famous” forms of learning around the world, and is especially impactful in the most well studied estuaries in the world.” Having the Chesapeake Bay in your backyard as an SMCM student has a lot of advantages, and as Larsen explained, researching and taking entire labs of students out on the largest estuary in the United States is a great advantage for students. SMCM has recently received a grant by the Department of Education to enhance the marine science curriculum. This helped fund a new research vessel which  is large enough to take students to the mainstream of the Chesapeake Bay, Professor Brownlee told The Point News. 

Professor Larsen said that this grant demonstrated how well this new major has been received among donors, local partners, alumni, faculty, current students and prospective students. Having this tremendous opportunity to study the bay means there can be more diverse research into the sea life such as oyster reefs, seagrass meadows, and deep open water to explore, as brought up by professor Gurbisz in an interview. SMCM is also located right on the coast of Maryland, just a short drive from DC and Annapolis where students can meet and work on marine policy and management problems that affect almost everywhere around the country. The issue of marine life is important in a lot of different facets of human life as well. The cleaner our bodies of water are, the more likely that fish and other species can survive and provide more food to feed the growing population. 

According to Freshman Maren Bleiss, the marine science major is grounded in biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics. This makes students more well-rounded in their studies and able to fully understand the duties they will perform in the marine science fields. Bleiss told The Point News that Chemistry 105 is a self-paced class which allows students to work through the assignments at their own pace while keeping with a certain schedule of due dates. This is helpful because students can take their time to learn content when it is most convenient to them, however, there is a tendency to “slack off” because of this more flexible schedule. Three Biology professors– Dr. Brownlee, Dr. Santos, and Dr. Latchney– work together to alternate between units,  so each professor teaches what they are most knowledgeable about. With overall feedback for the Marine Science program being positive and getting a grant for more research and educational tools for students it can be said that it is a current success. Even if students do not want to join the program, they can still benefit from Chesapeake Bay and all the opportunities it provides students academically. 

SMCM Offering Winterim Classes

By Ella Sudduth

The fall of 2022 stands out from other semesters at St. Mary’s due to the significant changes to our academic course matrix. The decision to alter the schedule was unanimously approved by faculty members earlier this year, resulting in 25% shorter class times, engaged learning tasks and blocks of free time at lunch. The Point News reached out to several students and faculty members from different departments to see how the course matrix has changed academics at SMCM.

Dr. Todd Eberly from the Political Science department explained his reasoning behind the loss in class time; “St. Mary’s College isn’t the only college that has four credit classes, but other peer institutions with four credits have three hours of class time and the other hour is done outside of class. We were out of step with that. We’re an honors college, so having that hour expectation of work outside of class also fit well.” 

There are some benefits to having three hours of class instead of four. Chemistry professor Dr. Andrew Koch said; “In hindsight now, I wonder if the longer time didn’t keep the students’ interest. I think it’s a lot easier to keep someone’s interest for fifty minutes, and I’m going at a faster pace, but the students seem to be moving at that faster pace…I’m not sure how productive students would be in that last twenty minutes compared to the shorter fifty minute period.”

Junior Political Science student Madeline Roberge noted that the shorter class periods have made it easier to focus and is “keeping [her] more interested in classes.” However, engaged learning was one thing she said needed some work, “With all the extra work you have to do outside of class, it doesn’t equate with the amount of time we’re getting off of classes. With 20 minutes less, we’re getting so much extra work especially in Political Science because it’s all essays…In all of my classes it always ends up being so much more than an hour of work, it takes much more time.” Even with breaks in the middle of the day, it does not feel like enough time to complete a task like writing an essay. 

Junior Laik Meadows, English and Sociology major with a Creative Writing minor, when asked how engaged learning has impacted her workload said, “Engaged learning adds more to my plate on top of all the work I now do outside class. I love having community time as part of the new matrix, but I would appreciate if classes could be a little longer so we could engage with the content a little more.”

Some professors’ experiences with adjusting course material to the new matrix have been favorable. As Dr. Eberly said, “As an instructor, [I’m] being forced to look at my classes and ask, how much is here just because I’ve always included it versus how much is here because it’s essential to a student’s understanding of this course?” He likes the fact that he’s had to review his courses, yet he has struggled to adjust after sixteen years of teaching four-hour classes.

Biology professor Dr. Emily Brownlee teaches Principles of Biology which consists of mostly freshmen and sophomores. She commented on the shorter class times saying, “I find with these introductory classes, more class time with the students is helpful…With less time [for Friday workshops], we have had to restructure student engagement in these activities to occur during their engaged learning time. We have seen some positive outcomes…the students typically come into workshops more prepared than in previous years.”

Dr. Koch has been teaching at St. Mary’s for 25 years. When it comes to adjusting to shortened classes he said “I had to give up some aspects of the lecture…but now I’m back to just asking questions at the whiteboard…I think students are doing better this semester than they were for the last few semesters in the lecture, it seems they are retaining stuff at least as well, if not better from the standard lecture format.” 

Engaged learning tasks are not always clear to students before they sign up for a class. As Dr. Koch said, “To throw in these time commitments that aren’t upfront when you’re signing up for a class, I think is really going to be tough on commuter students.”  Many commuter students work part time jobs. Committing more time means missing out on these important responsibilities.

Second-year Political Science student Kyleigh Elmore commutes to campus throughout the week. On this topic she said “With engaged learning, it can be hard to understand the expectations of a course beforehand. For example, in one of my classes the professor only makes assignments available on school computers. Additionally, the limited class time means it’s impossible to finish these assignments in class. This is extremely inconvenient for people like myself who are commuters who have to spend additional time and resources coming back to campus to complete assignments. I also feel that the shortened class times makes coming to campus more costly than beneficial.”

I asked Dr. John Schroeder from the Philosophy Department why he supported the new matrix when the vote took place earlier this year, he said, “I supported it then primarily because it allows for faculty with child care duties to attend meetings. It’s trying to be friendly to faculty who struggle to attend events and things like that.” 

Meeting times for faculty used to happen at the end of the day around 4pm, the same time when parents pick their kids up from school after they commute from work. One of the promises of the new matrix was that meeting times would be moved to common times so professors wouldn’t be missing out because of their responsibilities at home.

Professors made additional comments in the anonymous Faculty Pulse poll conducted by the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees in September. Among these concerns, they said there is “No set time for faculty to get lunch given the meeting schedule, impact on athletes, wanting to have evaluation including student perspectives, classes being held during community time, science labs conflicting with other course times, and needing more MW slots [for classes].”

Community members’ feedback shows that course expectations for completing certain engaged learning tasks aren’t realistic for some students. Although it has advantages for some subjects, other courses would benefit more from longer class times rather than students using additional resources to complete required participation on campus. With engaged learning, some students have a disproportionate amount of homework to their peers. The course matrix can be improved if students are encouraged to advocate for themselves to professors and administrators on issues that shape their academics. 

Students and Professors Reflect on New Academic Matrix 

The fall of 2022 stands out from other semesters at St. Mary’s due to the significant changes to our academic course matrix. The decision to alter the schedule was unanimously approved by faculty members earlier this year, resulting in 25% shorter class times, engaged learning tasks and blocks of free time at lunch. The Point News reached out to several students and faculty members from different departments to see how the course matrix has changed academics at SMCM.

Dr. Todd Eberly from the Political Science department explained his reasoning behind the loss in class time; “St. Mary’s College isn’t the only college that has four credit classes, but other peer institutions with four credits have three hours of class time and the other hour is done outside of class. We were out of step with that. We’re an honors college, so having that hour expectation of work outside of class also fit well.” 

There are some benefits to having three hours of class instead of four. Chemistry professor Dr. Andrew Koch said; “In hindsight now, I wonder if the longer time didn’t keep the students’ interest. I think it’s a lot easier to keep someone’s interest for fifty minutes, and I’m going at a faster pace, but the students seem to be moving at that faster pace…I’m not sure how productive students would be in that last twenty minutes compared to the shorter fifty minute period.”

Junior Political Science student Madeline Roberge noted that the shorter class periods have made it easier to focus and is “keeping [her] more interested in classes.” However, engaged learning was one thing she said needed some work, “With all the extra work you have to do outside of class, it doesn’t equate with the amount of time we’re getting off of classes. With 20 minutes less, we’re getting so much extra work especially in Political Science because it’s all essays…In all of my classes it always ends up being so much more than an hour of work, it takes much more time.” Even with breaks in the middle of the day, it does not feel like enough time to complete a task like writing an essay. 

Junior Laik Meadows, English and Sociology major with a Creative Writing minor, when asked how engaged learning has impacted her workload said, “Engaged learning adds more to my plate on top of all the work I now do outside class. I love having community time as part of the new matrix, but I would appreciate if classes could be a little longer so we could engage with the content a little more.”

Some professors’ experiences with adjusting course material to the new matrix have been favorable. As Dr. Eberly said, “As an instructor, [I’m] being forced to look at my classes and ask, how much is here just because I’ve always included it versus how much is here because it’s essential to a student’s understanding of this course?” He likes the fact that he’s had to review his courses, yet he has struggled to adjust after sixteen years of teaching four-hour classes.

Biology professor Dr. Emily Brownlee teaches Principles of Biology which consists of mostly freshmen and sophomores. She commented on the shorter class times saying, “I find with these introductory classes, more class time with the students is helpful…With less time [for Friday workshops], we have had to restructure student engagement in these activities to occur during their engaged learning time. We have seen some positive outcomes…the students typically come into workshops more prepared than in previous years.”

Dr. Koch has been teaching at St. Mary’s for 25 years. When it comes to adjusting to shortened classes he said “I had to give up some aspects of the lecture…but now I’m back to just asking questions at the whiteboard…I think students are doing better this semester than they were for the last few semesters in the lecture, it seems they are retaining stuff at least as well, if not better from the standard lecture format.” 

Engaged learning tasks are not always clear to students before they sign up for a class. As Dr. Koch said, “To throw in these time commitments that aren’t upfront when you’re signing up for a class, I think is really going to be tough on commuter students.”  Many commuter students work part time jobs. Committing more time means missing out on these important responsibilities.

Second-year Political Science student Kyleigh Elmore commutes to campus throughout the week. On this topic she said “With engaged learning, it can be hard to understand the expectations of a course beforehand. For example, in one of my classes the professor only makes assignments available on school computers. Additionally, the limited class time means it’s impossible to finish these assignments in class. This is extremely inconvenient for people like myself who are commuters who have to spend additional time and resources coming back to campus to complete assignments. I also feel that the shortened class times makes coming to campus more costly than beneficial.”

I asked Dr. John Schroeder from the Philosophy Department why he supported the new matrix when the vote took place earlier this year, he said, “I supported it then primarily because it allows for faculty with child care duties to attend meetings. It’s trying to be friendly to faculty who struggle to attend events and things like that.” 

Meeting times for faculty used to happen at the end of the day around 4pm, the same time when parents pick their kids up from school after they commute from work. One of the promises of the new matrix was that meeting times would be moved to common times so professors wouldn’t be missing out because of their responsibilities at home.

Professors made additional comments in the anonymous Faculty Pulse poll conducted by the Faculty Senate and Board of Trustees in September. Among these concerns, they said there is “No set time for faculty to get lunch given the meeting schedule, impact on athletes, wanting to have evaluation including student perspectives, classes being held during community time, science labs conflicting with other course times, and needing more MW slots [for classes].”

Community members’ feedback shows that course expectations for completing certain engaged learning tasks aren’t realistic for some students. Although it has advantages for some subjects, other courses would benefit more from longer class times rather than students using additional resources to complete required participation on campus. With engaged learning, some students have a disproportionate amount of homework to their peers. The course matrix can be improved if students are encouraged to advocate for themselves to professors and administrators on issues that shape their academics.