Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Hi there! I’m Lisa Bao and I hope to be your Educational Policy Rep on Student Council for 2013-14. I am a member of the Class of 2014 and will be a senior next year, double-majoring in Linguistics and Computer Science. Currently I’m studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, which is why you won’t see me around campus this semester–but I will certainly be back in the fall!
I’ve been interested in educational policy ever since my freshman year at Swarthmore, when I decided on a whim to apply to the Strategic Planning Committee and ended up learning more than I ever knew existed about the world of higher ed policy and curricular planning. I learned so much in my three semesters as a student rep on a primarily administrative committee: not only the philosophical underpinnings of a Swarthmore education, but also understanding and working within a 10- or 20-year perspective on problem-solving, even if I wasn’t personally happy with that timeline.
The academic/curricular decisions made each year, directly impacting both current and future students’ educational experience, are presently surrounded by the heavy blanket of confidentality. I am absolutely aware of this necessity, but I also believe in the importance of answering questions about every issue at the deepest allowable level of detail.
For instance, I applaud the creation of Swarthmore’s newest academic department, Film & Media Studies–but how was that long process undertaken, how did it begin and continue to such a successful endpoint? Students could use this kind of information in lobbying for future curricular policy changes. We must distinguish between confidential details of a particular case and general principles of a process.
Another common policy issue that comes up every year, about which most students know very little but are deeply affected by, is tenure line allocation. What leads Department A to receive approval for a new tenure-track faculty member or additional adjunct teaching staff, while Department B (also overenrolled, from its majors’ perspective) has its request deferred? The details are of course confidential, but the decision-making criteria shouldn’t be completely obscured. Rather than make sweeping promises, I’ll advocate for a practical implementation of transparency that is feasible in the short term.
If you remain unconvinced by my philosophical explanation above, here’s an alternate one-sentence version: You ought to vote for me because I’m that slightly odd person on your hall (or your friend’s hall) who reads the course catalog for fun and helps out the freshmen with random knowledge of both Physics major sequencing and English pre-/post-1830 distribution requirements, despite having no formal connection to either department. A practical, immediate implementation of educational policy if ever there was one, and I’m always happy to refresh my memory with research when a lost soul asks about Interpretation Theory…
Thanks for your time, and if you have any questions for me, please don’t hesitate to drop an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). If I’ve been at all interesting to listen to, I hope to have your vote for Educational Policy Representative!
I think it can’t be stressed how huge it is that Lisa worked on the Strategic Planning Committee for three semesters. From my personal experience, I can also attest to the fact that she is a huge geek for the curriculum and the course catalogue. There aren’t too many people who are perfect fits for the Borgesian (and bourgeoisie, hehe) world of academic policy, but I think Lisa might be one of them.
There’s a lot of rumors that get kicked up around tenure-track appointments. So when you say you will advocate for greater transparency, what exactly does that mean?