March 7, 2011
A friend of Earlham’s who lives in Arizona writes with some concern about a bill before the Arizona legislature that would make it illegal for any undocumented person to receive an education supported by public funds (SB1611) in the state. He’s horrified at the prospect, but worried that it will become law and be upheld as constitutional. Then what? He has an idea:
“One idea that came to mind would be that a number of college teachers opposed to SB1611 would accept on our own undocumented students to sit in our classes even though they are not registered at the university and we’d grade their work and then submit a grade and that Earlham might then grant them college credit for. I’m sure you have your own accreditation issues that this may fly in the face of–and this won’t go into effect until the Fall semester if it’s passed, but I would appreciate it if you would begin some discussions on this idea and keep in touch with me regarding it, so we can begin to do our best to counteract this legislation should it become law.”
Should we do this? I think the issues to think through here are very similar to the basic issues around ROTC Programs. At colleges and universities, who attests that learning has taken place? Who warrants the credit? the degree?
My answer — I hope it’s your answer — is that it is a “faculty” that attests to the learning, that warrants the credits and the degree. A faculty here is a group of people (not individuals), a group of teacher-scholars who have substantive respect for and trust in one another. They are a deliberately formed group that know it shares high expectations and reasonably common standards.
At Earlham each year, our Faculty attests that a specific group of students have completed all the requirements for a degree, and affirm this together, formally. Acting on this assurance, the Board of Trustees grants me (as President) the power to grant the degrees. In the Arizona case, who would be the Faculty giving the assurance? It would have to be our (Earlham) Faculty now widened to include some selected individuals who teach at higher education institutions in Arizona. But why should the Earlham Faculty take the word of those individuals in Arizona? Have we, as a Faculty, developed the trust and mutual respect to take their word for it?
It’s tempting to say yes out of a concern that what the Arizona legislature is about to do is mean-spirited or unjust. But it doesn’t follow that the work-around is a good idea. The trust and mutual respect that forms a single Faculty has to be substantive, and has to be continuously renewing, not pro forma or agreed upon by convenience. To form a Faculty we need a real community or professional practices of assessment and affirmation of learning.
It’s the same with ROTC. Why should a Faculty (say Harvard’s) accept the credits given by instructors in courses designed by a branch of the military?
I think there are affirmative answers to this question: I believe that professional processes can be established that build the kind of trust and mutual respect for one another’s work that could lead a Faculty to affirm judgments made by others who are not really members of the Faculty. But we would want to identify and scrutinize those professional processes to see that they were substantive and thoughtful, and could be sustained.
I believe this could be done for ROTC Programs, and I imagine it could be done for the Arizona case, but on the latter I’m even more skeptical.
So what’s Antioch doing in the header for this post? A few years ago, after Antioch University had closed Antioch College (and before the College had found the possibility of new life), a group of Antioch College faculty “in exile” approached Earlham to see whether we would award the credits formally if they taught the students who wanted to continue on with an Antioch education, hoping that Antioch College would be formally rebirthed. At Earlham, we looked hard at the proposition, but couldn’t find a way, with integrity, to take the word of those distant individuals that would lead us to affirm the learning, warrant the credits. That was a hard decision. But I think there’s a common basic issue here with the ROTC and undocumented persons cases.