Published: Nov. 8, 2017

At the opening of Tuesday’s Diversity and Inclusion Summit, there was a great reminder on the need for the university to listen to its students.

Ruth Baheta, a third-year anthropology student and a panelist at the summit’s opening session, told the audience that CU Boulder must work harder to understand the experience of students of color and “close the gap of knowledge between students and those people [at the university] who are working on diversity.”

Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs Jeff Cox
Vice Provost and AVC for Faculty Affairs and Convener of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation Jeff Cox

Research & Innovation Office Grand Challenge Director of Strategic Projects Emily Cobabe-Ammann
RIO Director of Strategic Projects and Facilitator of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation Emily CoBabe-Ammann

The message was clear: Listen more carefully to everyone involved in the university’s diversity and inclusion efforts, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Listen, in particular, to the students you’re trying to help, and then prove to them you’re listening. Finally, form ideas and solutions based upon what your listening yields: a truer sense of how people actually experience the university.

That is the kind of listening we’re trying to do in the Academic Futures process. In our facilitated, themed conversations and our department-based and faculty forum meetings, it has yielded some candid and dramatic results.

In several of the themed conversations, we’ve heard a clear call for developing a more comprehensive approach to education regardless of modality. People described the need for developing an infrastructure that currently doesn’t exist to support flipped or hybrid coursework and the need for a comprehensive approach to online education, rooted in research-based best practices and moving in a defined direction.

At the heart of these conversations is the notion that we, as a university community, need to value and flexibly support faculty and staff to do the teaching they do with all of the needed tools at their disposal, including technology. Additionally, our educators want to be authentically recognized for their teaching excellence, both within our community and as part of their promotion and tenure.

Another forceful idea we’ve heard clearly in the facilitated conversations: Match the university’s desires to increase students’ learning experiential opportunities to the university’s need to improve interactions with our supportive external communities. We need to do more to connect our teaching and research to building and supporting community, and our students can help.

In unit and department-based conversations, our faculty have been equally straightforward in wanting to air and discuss the key questions that inform their experience at the university: How can we strengthen faculty governance? Should we have a campuswide core curriculum? Should we reorganize our academic structure, say, by eliminating majors or rethinking departments? Are our criteria for annual merit increases and tenure and promotion the right ones?

So, whether it’s the Diversity and Inclusion Summit that encourages speaking truth to power (and then drawing from the power of experience to create change), or a visioning process like Academic Futures that facilitates a conversation about aspirations and removing barriers to them, we’ve been reminded of the need for the university to listen first, then take action on what it hears.

And as the provost noted in his column on Tuesday, this listening—and the actions that emerge from it—will form an exciting new reality moving ahead. 

Jeff Cox,
Vice Provost and Associate Vice Chancellor for Faculty Affairs
Convener of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation

Emily CoBabe-Ammann,
Director of Strategic Projects for the Research & Innovation Office
Facilitator of the Academic Futures Campus Conversation