Future of education minor under discussion

By Alicia Wikner
News Editor

Due to the upcoming retirement of education minor chair Mae Wallace, the future of the education minor is under discussion. According to concerns cited by current students and Wallace, some feel the process to determine the minor’s future lacks transparency.

On December 3, Dean of the College Terry Papillon sent out a faculty-wide email to explain the status of the education minor, mentioning that “[they] are gathering information in the form of data about aspects of the program and interviews with students, faculty, staff, and community members involved with the program.”

According to the email, “this will allow all students who have declared the minor to be able to finish the minor. Second, we will continue to gather information this spring and will do an external evaluation of the program in the fall.”

When Papillon was asked how likely is it that the education minor will be completely removed from the curriculum, he told The Purple, “I think it is unlikely that it will be removed, though it still is part of the question. I think that it will probably be at least revised after an external review next year.”

Last year, students saw the elimination of the Japanese language department due to budget issues. The department was a subsection of an already smaller and constantly shrinking department, Asian Studies. With the status of some departments potentially in jeopardy, some students are wondering what power small departments have as opposed to some of the more popular options.

Edgar Huerta (C’21), one of the students involved with the minor, said that he hasn’t felt included in the process to decide the fate of the education minor. “I feel like I haven’t been given the info,” he commented.

After hearing the education minor could also be discontinued, The Purple contacted Wallace, Director of Teaching Education, who is retiring. She is one of only two people directly overseeing the education minor at Sewanee, along with Karen Vaughan, Coordinator of Education and Head of School Placements. In this context, “school placement” refers to the part of the minor that requires its students to be directly involved with teaching at local schools of varying education levels.

According to Wallace, “No one knows what is happening. I talked to the curriculum committee and told them about the program and the direction I wanted to take it in… [It is] a community service program, it is pre-professional, and we have a lot of students…we make a big impact in the community.”

Suxin Chen (C’19), an education minor, was one of the students invited to a listening session about Sewanee’s education program and how it has impacted their experience at Sewanee. The event was facilitated by Dean of Faculty Development and Inclusion Elizabeth Skomp.

“The purpose of this session was to get student reflections and testimonies about how education courses shaped their experiences as a Sewanee student and what we would like to see improve or change,” she said.

When discussing the small staff available for the education classes, Chen explained that “another professor that has taught a class each semester has passed away. Nearly all of the education courses offered at Sewanee are taught by teachers of both elementary and high schools nearby. Because of the soon shortage in staff, Sewanee is considering outside sources to partner with the program.”

For Wallace, the impact of the education program serves to bridge the divide between the local towns and the University, which has sometimes been referred to as the “town versus gown” issue.

Vaughan expanded on their connections with the surrounding schools, saying that “80 percent of academic classes with community engagement are through the education department. Tracy City, Winchester, Decherd, Cowan, South Pittsburg…we go all over. It’s a huge benefit for our students, but also it creates the community that the administration wants to create.”

Wallace explained, “One of the strengths of the program is that we send so many Sewanee students to high poverty schools, and they learn about life there. [The students are] not there to change anything or to save anyone, they’re there to learn, it’s part of their education. The teachers are happy to have us…there’s a whole other context. We mean to spread goodwill.”

Due to the Charlie Rose controversy and the removal of the Confederate seal in All Saint’s Chapel, many students have found themselves struggling to understand their relationship with the faculty and administration this past year.

When asked if the professors currently teaching classes for the minors would be moved to different departments if it is removed, Papillon explained, “The only tenure line faculty member is retiring. There are some adjunct faculty who teach classes for the program, but if the classes no longer existed, we would not contract with those adjunct faculty. But again, I think that it is highly unlikely that the program will go away.”

Papillon added, “Even if we were to decide to end the program, all students currently declared in the minor would finish it. This is called ‘sunsetting a program’ and we would always make sure current students would be served.”

During the process of her retirement, Wallace recommended to the administration, “Hire a faculty member for three years to study what direction the department might take. There ought to be some study with students and faculty to see how to improve the program and so forth. The Curriculum and Academic Policy Committee agreed positively.”

She continued,“When retiring, you expect for there to be new leadership and direction, but I haven’t seen any indication of that.” The lack of direction also causes unnecessary unease for the students with a declared education minor.

The Education minor not only benefits students outside of Sewanee. According to Chen, “the Education department provides for students not only the tools to become an educator, but we learn how to be a member of society…  Because we work with children, I have learned to be a friend, to be patient, to be compassionate, to be organized, to plan ahead, leadership and interpersonal skills and so many more.”

In contrast with the shrinking Asian Studies department and the uncertainty surrounding the education minor, Jennifer Michael, chair of the English department, confirmed that discussion is underway for a potential Creative Writing Major. The faculty also continue to discuss the possibility of the much-debated business major.