Teaching, learning and listening: An open letter to the Chancellor of UAA

Many of us have been there. You are one night or even mere seconds away from a presentation you know people are expecting. But this time, you are unprepared. You have been in damage control for some time. You make determinations on whether to go for time or for content. Yet, had you worked half this hard for even twice this time, you would have been far more prepared.

This is what many of us saw between Friday and Monday this week via email, social media, in person and on the news. We received a vague email late Friday afternoon which when replied to, offered us “out of office” replies. We were given a meeting time that directly conflicted with the one thing the School of Education had to know about our schedules—that we were nearly all student-teaching during Anchorage School District school hours. We were offered no product, report nor summary sheet that addressed how the SoE failed to meet the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation’s standards. Even without being armed with many answers, you did not seem to have gathered a fair amount of reasonable questions or paths to answering those questions in the period of two and a half days.

How did you not assume students would ask about tuition? About resume or degree competitiveness? About how this affects our student veterans?

Or generally, how did you not consider that, in the wake of either negligence, incompetence or perhaps fraud, that our trust in the university would be tainted to a level below a point where reiterations of “things are going to be fine” were certain to ring hollow?

We have a real crisis before us, and I’m not convinced that a venting session was more important than addressing how we move forward and how we got here. But in the eye of this storm, we needed and deserved some real leadership. Leadership is not calming down a group by saying “everything is going to be fine” or “we care about our students.” Leadership is leading us through a process, giving us checkpoints and giving us the confidence that you have a plan that isn’t dependent on the goodwill and compassion of people outside UAA.

In terms of this process, many of us weren’t convinced you were teaching us about the path behind us or ahead of us, but winging a best-guess summary. Had we been led or taught, we would have learned a significant amount more about the accreditation process, how CAEP looks at programs, what feedback we were given over the last 12 months, how probationary statuses work and what we did or did not do to prepare.

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Going forward, we need to learn how the university plans to make the students whole and redress our situation—which will require more than hope and compassion—but action. We can understand that we are at the mercy of the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, or DEED, when it comes to scheduling, and so we wait for Jan. 22. But what can we learn before then? If we are waiting for a certification denial by the state before we plan a contingency, then the university really did not learn much. Instead, we need to learn what DEED needs from us. We need to learn how strict the UAS transfer policy of accepting only two-thirds of our coursework is. We need to learn how much power or influence does UAA President James Johnsen have to support a preferred and deserved “seamless transfer.”

You and SoE Interim Director Claudia Dybdahl are routinely using the term “diligently,” and I hope you indeed are employing a steady, earnest and energetic effort. I hope we are awaiting no deadline. I hope we are exercising the utmost oversight as we venture to learn what we do not know thus far.

But only students should be hoping. This university lost its privilege to hope when it admitted to us that no contingency plan was put in place for the event that accreditation was revoked when Master of Arts in Teaching graduate student Jessica Aho asked this of you on Monday. Your responsibility going forward is to learn, listen and act, not hope.

I mention listening because Monday’s forum too quickly turned to “student brings up an issue” followed by “administrator admits they understand.” The students ought to own their part in not letting you roll up your sleeves on several of our questions before interjecting another and a constant barrage at times, but as I said in the room, our temperament was a symptom of how little we felt heard. Even when pressed for an apology, you both apologized for the situation we were in, not for failing to oversee the various schools and colleges within UAA adequately. Not for failing to address accreditation expectations of the CAEP before our accreditation was revoked. Insufficient apologies are a tell-tale sign of poor listening.

Listening to us also means not ignoring our frustration with this meeting being scheduled at 12:15 p.m. on a school day when we are student-teaching and then touting increased advising resources from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekdays. Listening to us and learning what the university needs to do will take you past 5 p.m. on weekdays. You might want to prepare for that. It might mean moving staff to assist the SoE’s research and collaboration as it aims to take action on everything on Dybdahl’s would-be poster board. The SoE should set up a command center, complete with sectors of emphasis and subordinate faculty. All the irons need to be in the fire until this is solved, and that means staff allocations and schedules ought to adjust to meet the needs of the mission. If you are listening, then you know that is how important this is. If you are listening, you know how offensive it was to have you walk out after only an hour, barring a similar forum somewhere else on campus because another university school lost accreditation. We deserved to have your attention as long as it takes.

Because we are listening. And that told us something.

We are listening when you tell us to talk to faculty in the coming days when we all know this is too over their heads to say anything of credibility.

We are listening when you tout the line about the last two Alaska Teachers of the Year being UAA graduates as if it was UAA preparation of them and not primarily their talent and effort. Now is not the time for political post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Lastly, please learn that the time for releasing information as you deem appropriate has passed. Hearing that the exact deficiencies listed for accreditation revocation would be released “if you decide to” is quite tone deaf amid a crisis that, to some degree, downplayed and hid concern from students. Unless every deficiency was related to student specifics and as such would be a FERPA violation—which I doubt. Thank you for your attention and in advance, your time and effort.

 

Respectfully,

Nick Tabaczka

MAT Graduate Student (Class of 2018-2019)

 

Nick Tabaczka is graduate student completing his Master of Arts in Teaching degree within the Social Studies content area. He also earned a B.A. in Political Science in 2017. Tabaczka is also a student veteran, having served in the U.S. Army, with tours to Afghanistan and Iraq.