Cross-listing Courses and Interdisciplinarity, part 1
This is actually one of those few times where I'm posting about something of particular relevance to something happening at SLAC, even though I'm sure that y'all have all dealt with such things before. One of the reasons I'm posting is because I told a colleague I would, and would share with hir the comments that are left. So zie is sworn to silence about this blog. And cannot share it with anybody else. Otherwise, I might not be able to continue blogging, if a ton of my colleagues start reading this. And that would be a shame, since I'm up to judge the Cliopatria Awards this year. Dunno which category yet, but watch this space for more on that.
Anyhoo ... cross-listing. Last week, a colleague asked me whether zie could cross-list a course as a history course. As department chair, it's my call. This ended up opening up a few cans of worms, not the least of which is a conversation about interdisciplinarity. One of the other cans was how different my own ideas about cross-listing seem to conflict with what seems to have been the norm at SLAC. The feeling I've got from speaking to more senior colleagues is that cross-listing has often been treated as a sort of unofficial barter system based on the way FTEs have been counted: a faculty member wants to teach a course in a special topic, but the course won't make unless it's cross-listed with another department, because students don't have a lot of electives to spare. So the course gets cross-listed, the faculty member gets to teach the cool class because there are enough students, and the department that allows the cross-listing gets credit for additional FTEs that accrue into the departmental total.
To be honest, I've never seen anything like this before, but then, most of my teaching experience is at state schools. My response to the request was in line with what I've seen done elsewhere -- I asked for a syllabus and typical assignments, and said that, in order for a course to be listed in my discipline, it needed to clearly address and fulfill my department's outcomes and assess them in ways consistent with what my departmental colleagues and I have agreed are acceptable for courses at that level, and are consistent with what we actually do. My initial rationale for this was pretty basic -- our accreditors require that we show that we do the things we say we do, so if a course is listed as history, it has to do those things, and I have to be able to work the assessment data into my annual assessment report, which means comparing apples to apples. Period.
There are other ramifications that have come to light here that I want to talk about, because they touch on things like gatekeeping, interdisciplinarity, and our own definitions of our fields. And my own personal pet peeve, which I sort of worry plays into it: the idea that anybody can teach history. But before I go there, I'd like to put out a call for input especially on how your campus goes about cross-listing courses. If you could comment below, I'd really appreciate it. I checked with the institution where I taught for the longest time pre-SLAC, and it was even more complicated than I remembered. First, a faculty member would approach the cross-listing department or program with a syllabus in hand. That syllabus would have to reflect the outcomes of the cross-listing department and assessments for those outcomes. Next, once verbal agreement was reached, the faculty member would fill out a course proposal form and get sign-off from both department chairs and the dean. Then, the proposal would go through the regular curriculum committee process, which could take up to several months, and the course would be approved for the next academic year.
Now, one problem with this particular approach at SLAC is that, if in a case like mine, it's a special topics course being cross-listed as a special topics course, then that would mean that all courses taught in both departments under the special topics numbers would be forever linked. That's just a bad idea. But we have a rule that we can't add new courses permanently until they've been taught twice successfully as special topics. Be that as it may, my own impression is that most institutions handle cross-listing more as former college does. Or am I wrong? How does it work at your place?