FROM INSIDE THE EARLY CCV
Originally published November 19, 2013
I began my love affair with CCV (It was called the Vermont Regional Community College Commission at the time) in 1970. I was hired by Charlie Parker to teach a class in Understanding Human Behavior to twelve adults, mostly women. Charlie (known commonly as Parker man) was one of the first employees hired by founding President Peter Smith to help get classes for adult learners started in central Vermont. Charlie was also one of three recent St. Lawrence College graduates who roomed, mostly on weekends, in the ski lodge I and my partners had built in Warren. I had a psychology degree and had been teaching parenting workshops in Waterbury. This along with my elementary school teaching and counseling experience was enough for Charlie to virtually cajole me into becoming a member of one of the first Montpelier cadres of CCV teachers. Little did I know when I agreed to do it, that it would be a life altering and fateful decision.
My first class was held in the basement of the Bethany Church in downtown Montpelier. All CCV classes, at that time, were held wherever free or cheap space could be found. I think the CCV central Vermont headquarters was in an old building on Langdon St. in Montpelier. My first class had twelve students, mostly adult (over 30) women. Their names were recorded on a lined yellow pad (I really wish I still had that one). At that time, there was no formal registration, no tuition, no teacher pay, no grades, and no credits. This amazing experiment in community education was strictly a matter of matching adults in the community who wanted to learn something with other people from the same community who had the appropriate talents to teach them. How cool was that? As one might guess, my first experience alleviated most of my substantial anxieties and exceeded my most hopeful expectations. From that first class on, I was hooked on teaching adults.
The typical student in my early Montpelier classes (which was not necessarily the case in all early classes) was a married or recently divorced adult woman who had suspended her educational goals to raise a family and in some cases, find part-time work. These women (of course there were also a few men in my early CCV classes and there were lots of men in early classes like welding) were smart and highly motivated. CCV was providing the opportunity for them to ease back into formal education at the college level and do it locally. I could tell that this was an incredible innovative experiment that had the potential to fill a large gap in Vermont’s existing system of higher educational offerings. Many of these early students got hooked on learning in the same way that I got hooked on teaching them and learning from them. However, even the best situations often have a downside somewhere. More than a few of the women students, in my early classes, expressed to me that their enthusiasm for learning and the changes they were experiencing were not appreciated at home. In effect, their participation in college courses served to disrupt their marriages, especially marriages that may have been somewhat fragile to begin with.
From ’70 to ’75, l continued part-time teaching each semester, learning a little more about teaching adults and about the college as time passed. At some point, I think during 73, the college began to collect tuition which was set at $30 a course. But students were advised that they were free to determine how much they would pay based on what they could afford and what they felt their courses were worth. In this infamous “bank by mail” scheme, each student was given an envelope for each class that was addressed to a local bank in which they made their contribution. I later heard that this experiment died an early death because an examination of the first year’s results revealed that some of the least financially capable students were the most reliable and generous contributors. Instructor pay was instituted at about the same time at $230 a course.
As I was teaching a variety of psychology and human development courses during the early seventies, the college staff was developing a special way for students to put their experiential and formal classroom learning together into a degree program. One important feature of the program was for each degree student, with the help of a CCV advisor, to develop what was called a “contract to complete.” As I understood it then, the contract was a tentative plan for how the student might gain the learning she/he needed to attain the degree. I now know that at some point, a “contracting course” was developed to make the process less labor intensive and more effective. The other key innovative program element was an assessment of experiential learning and advising mechanism called the Local Review Committee (LRC) that was set up for each student right in their community. These committees were designed to evaluate the student’s learning already accomplished and to identify specific learning needs that remained as yet unfulfilled in his/her contract. The LRCs were made up of a CCV staff member (who usually but not always chaired the meetings), a local instructor, a community practitioner with an appropriate background, and sometimes, another student.
Any student intending to graduate would bring their contract, evidence of their knowledge and skills (which often included their handicrafts and culinary delights) to their local committee where a discussion would ensue as to whether the evidence for their learning was enough to satisfy the requirements of their contract. All decisions were made by consensus but it was usually somewhat subjective as to just how much learning was enough to satisfy the requirements for a degree. In most LRCs where I was involved, the student’s prior learning was determined to be a little short so a decision had to be made as to exactly what learning they still needed and how they might get it. This decision was made by the group as a whole (including the student involved) by consensus. When the student and their local counselor felt that they had accomplished the learning specified in the contract and by the committee, the student returned to the LRC for confirmation. This was also a consensus process. The first of many LRCs I served on was in 1974 and I remember how impressed I was at this incredibly personalized approach to community education. My first committee was chaired by Marjory Walker, the central Vermont regional director and another one of the amazingly smart and talented CCV core staff at the time. The LRC was truly a grass roots process and it seemed, from my perspective at the time, to be working. By serving on LRCs I was exposed for the first time to some of the other CCV centers in places like St. Johnsbury, Johnson, and even Hardwick where CCV had a small outpost site in the home of Duane Wells, a close friend of Peter Smith. Rumor had it that Duane ran his own version of a miniature CCV there in Hardwick.
I was hired in the spring of 1975 to manage the Central Vermont summer program out of Montpelier. It was during that summer where I really got my CCV feet wet, so to speak. My job was to fill out a listing of about 30 courses (some courses and instructors had been previously identified), develop a schedule, find missing instructors, locate classroom spaces, and even help to market our classes in the community. Once we got the semester underway, my job was to provide oversight, respond to student and instructor needs, and solve any problems that inevitably come up. For example, one class we offered that summer was called something like “Wild Foods and Flowers Identification.” The instructor, who I had been told was highly experienced and well qualified, turned out to have an interesting idiosyncrasy; his personality would change rather dramatically on the full moon so we had to schedule his class around the full moon to avoid any unwanted surprises.
Another interesting and unsuspected occurrence happened in a course called Seminar in Alcohol Education which was taught by two key figures in the Department of Corrections. At least two of the students in that class were state troopers. As I remember it, to clear up any doubts about the effect of a relatively small amount of alcohol, at least one trooper managed to get quite inebriated from drinking a few shots of beer and had to be driven home from class. This was the result of an in-class experiment to show what just a small amount of alcohol could do to a large man.
It was during that summer that I was introduced to the college’s business office and the staff of the Program to Advance Veteran’s Education (PAVE). Their offices were downstairs from the Central Vermont site on Langdon St. in Montpelier. This PAVE program was aimed at returning Vietnam War veterans and provided them, as I recall, with a complete package of educational benefits. The Langdon St. PAVE crew was determined to capture as many vets as they could and they used vigorous recruiting tactics to get them enrolled. This was all fine and as it should be except that some of the recruited veterans had no interest whatsoever in furthering their education but a strong interest in receiving their benefits. These disinterested vets could raise havoc in a class especially those taught by women. This was literally brought home one evening when my wife at the time, a very experienced and popular instructor, returned home from her class one evening nearly in tears after being harassed by two of her veteran students. I don’t remember exactly what was done about it but we somehow managed to deal with it.
During the late summer of 75, the college received a $500,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation and I applied for the position of director. I had developed a strong affection for CCV from my teaching, LRC, and summer coordinating experiences so I couldn’t pass up the chance of working full time for the college when it came up. Somehow, I managed to get the job and that fall, began an adventure I could hardly have anticipated as a rather naïve elementary school guidance counselor. Firstly, I found myself in the company of an amazingly talented group of educators. It would be hard to exaggerate this aspect of the early CCV. Peter was only in his mid twenties and he had already been president or its equivalent for nearly five years. One of the first rumors I heard about Peter was that he had hitchhiked to D.C. in his combat boots (actually hiking boots) and leather vest to solidify one of the grants that funded CCV’s beginnings. Peter seemed to be one of those people who was completely fearless with little doubt about what he could accomplish when he set his mind to it. So when he decided to do something, he just went ahead and did it, confident that it would work out. Another popular story (supposedly true) circulating was that when he was a boy and playing little league baseball, he was such an optimist that one day when he came home after a game and his mother asked him how it went, Peter said it was a great game; we only lost 22 to nothing. I have a cartoon drawing picturing this event. The prevailing scoop on Peter’s CCV initiative was that instead of developing an elaborate plan to get this new “college” underway, he decided to jump right in and offer courses in the community, see what happens, and do the planning later- let people see that it works right from the start.
Then there was Larry Daloz, a long, tall Harvard grad who was the academic brains of the early college and one of the most intelligent people I have had the privilege of knowing. When I came in Larry was working with CAEL (Cooperative for the Assessment of Experiential Learning) on ways to formalize and refine CCV’s fledgling competence based approach to learning and assessment. Larry’s HMIE (how Much is Enough) project was a key academic initiative at the time. I quickly came to realize that CCV, still in its infancy, was right near the forefront of adult higher education in the country. Cloe Pitkin and Mary Wade were the “brains” behind the counseling program, Don Hooper and Tim Welch supported the Central Vermont teachers and were the creators of the first teacher handbook (Educational Wampum), and Margery Walker directed the Central Vermont program. Ken Hood, former Superintendent of the Washington West school district, came in at about that time to help Peter with the management side of the college. Scott Bassage was the registrar who led the college’s effort to organize, institutionalize, and articulate registration procedures and incorporate a record keeping system. In the sites some of the Key figures that come to mind were Tom Yahn, John Turner, Nancy Chard, and Priscilla Newell in the Southern Region, John Findlay in the NEK, and Peggy Williams, Susan Smallwood, and Pixley Hill in the Northwest.
But my main focus during the fall of 75 was to get the Kellogg (Integrated Service Team IST) project off the ground and in place. And, here is where my real education started. In a nutshell, the project called for CCV to recruit graduate interns and their faculty advisors from the state colleges (with the exception of VTC), UVM, and Antioch New England to work in five teams with CCV staff to improve the college’s ability to assess learner needs and provide effective instructional and advising systems to support them. This seemed like a great way to get additional resources to support an idea rich but resource poor institution. Besides that, this was a project that emphasized collaboration and collaboration was just what the higher education community was pushing in those days. What could be a better model than getting all these Vermont colleges together in a cooperative initiative. As is often the case with initiatives like these, however, there was an unacknowledged (at least to me) fly in the IST ointment. I came to discover this when I went to LSC to recruit the Lyndon faculty representatives.
I soon learned that the VSC faculty union, based at the campus colleges, didn’t like us one bit and that the hub of the Vermont Federation of Teachers (VFT) was at Lyndon State, my first stop on the faculty recruitment tour. The extent of how vitriolic the nature of this dislike came when I attempted to recruit the two paid faculty liaisons. I had reserved a classroom where I could present the IST project to any faculty who might be interested. Now, keep in mind that a few weeks earlier I was working in an elementary school counseling students and teachers. I had planned to give a general introduction to the IST project in the first part of the meeting. Well, I had barely begun speaking when I was ambushed by a couple of union members who obviously came to the meeting prepared to disrupt it. “We want you to explain the qualifications of the teachers you hire and the unusual recruitment practices you use to find teachers.” were the kinds of questions they literally shouted out from the back of the room. I came prepared to talk about the project and completely unprepared to respond to this attack. So to say they caught me off guard and unable to react in a coherent manner would be a gross understatement. As the attack continued, luckily for me, one kind and considerate professor (Frank Green) came to my rescue and scolded the interlopers, inviting them to leave if they were not really interested in the job. The guilty ones left. After the meeting, I was cautioned to be careful who sees me park my car the next time I come to campus. The implication was obvious. We are talking about college faculty here. Anyway, as a naïve ex-elementary school counselor, this was my initiation to VSC politics.
As it turned out, my recruitment visits to the other campuses were significantly less dramatic but it was still made perfectly clear to me that CCV was not appreciated by the VFT. So, in that light, and as I recall, the receptions at UVM and Antioch, where there was no VFT, were different stories all together. As it turned out, however, I got some great faculty from all the institutions including those with strong VFT elements.
The Early CCV of the mid-seventies was a remarkable place with an extraordinary mission to serve the whole state of Vt. and do it without a full –time faculty and /or campus buildings. And, the college was also going to do it while attempting to implement a largely untried progressive and innovative educational philosophy. This meant constant experimentation and tinkering to develop best practices for teacher support and advising across the college and to refine and articulate the degree planning and review process. The additional resources of the Kellogg project were a significant factor enabling us to keep making academic improvements and probably kept the college alive financially.
When I came on board, CCV had just completed its first accreditation self-study and visitation. And, under the aforementioned HMIE project, Daloz and other academics were attempting to pin down “how much learning” was an appropriate amount to complete a CCV two- year degree. Without grades and credits, the college, almost from the beginning, had turned to competence based learning and assessment. A sister project to the HMIE (Pronounced “heimie”) project was the CR*P (pronounced “crap”) project which stood for contracting review and assessment project. The philosophical basis for all of these efforts and for the CCV approach in general was articulated in the famous CCV Credo which was written in early 75. The best way to explain the credo is to include an slightly abridged and paraphrased (in places) form of the actual document written by Larry Daloz.
If you find CCV confusing, you’re not alone. Many people are bewildered by our jargon, frustrated by our unfamiliar procedures, and even angered by our apparent unwillingness to do things the “normal way.”
INSTEAD of giving grades and credits, we evaluate learning in terms of “learning outcomes,” require long written evaluations, and even ask students themselves to consider whether or not what they have learned.
INSTEAD of simply requiring a number of courses for a degree, we ask students to complete a “contract” based on “competencies.”
INSTEAD holding classes on a campus, we hold them in homes, churches, and schools.
INSTEAD of recognizing only classroom learning, we allow students to count work and even life experiences toward the degree.
INSTEAD of having a permanent faculty, we hire people directly from the community to teach specific courses.
To explain why we do things this way, to set forth our assumptions, and to make public our credo, is the purpose of this little paper.
We assume that people can continue to learn throughout life and significant learning requires change and growth-change not merely in whatknowledge is acquired, but also in how people perceive the world and how they act in it. People are not simply at the mercy of the world, they can work to change it.
And finally, we affirm that the ultimate purpose of education is to help people take responsibility for their own lives, to the fullest extent of their capacity. Therefore,
WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION SHOULD ENCOURAGE ACTIVE PARTICIPATION RATHER THAN PASSIVE ACCEPTANCE.
Education must make learners aware of their own limitations and those imposed by society. As awareness increases, the bonds fall away. To learn actively is to dissolve our limitations. The learner is not simply an empty vessel into which truths are poured. Real learning means change and change requires active involvement of the learner. The contracting process has been designed specifically to encourage this kind of active participation. We also ask our teachers to help students to engage information actively rather than simply absorbing it. And, we encourage teachers to negotiate with students as they plan their courses.
WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION SHOULD HELP PEOPLE LEARN HOWTO LEARN AS WELL AS WHATTO LEARN.
We believe that the process of learning is just as important as the content. Someone who knows how to learn can go on learning long after the teacher has gone. Therefore we provide a “core” of skills basic to the process of learning itself-inquiry, communication, problem solving, analytical, and inter-personal skills. Teachers are encouraged to incorporate these skills into the planning of their courses and the contracting process places special emphasis on these skills as students plan, carry out, and evaluate their learning.
WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION SHOULD LINK THEORY WITH PRACTICE, KNOWING WITH DOING.
A complete learning process involves not merely doing something, but also knowing and understanding the activity. Conversely, knowing is not enough unless it results in action. Knowing and doing go hand in hand. We recognize the value of learning outside of the classroom and we place strong emphasis on self-evaluation as a means of understanding such learning. In the contracting process, students identify their experiential learning, for it is the learning that we recognize, not the experience alone. The contract is a way of helping students to know what they know, understand what they can do, and prove it. For the “real world” is both the source and the testing place of ideas.
WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION SHOULD ADDRESS THE WHOLE PERSON, NOT MERELY THE INTELLECT.
Learning is not a matter for the mind alone, as though there were no connection with the rest of our being. Intellectual endeavor is no more, and no less, important than other realms of human activity. The capacity to work well with others and to use certain physical skills is also important factors in determining work success and life satisfaction. Therefore, CCV’s competencies are designed to encourage attainment and accomplishment in three broad areas: social, manual/physical, and intellectual competence.
WE BELIEVE THAT EDUCATIONAL QUALITY IS BETTER ASSURED BY FOCUSING ON LEARNING OUTCOMES RATHER THAN INPUTS ALONE.
Traditionally, educational quality control in higher education has focused on such inputs as campus libraries, faculty credentials, and strict entrance requirements. It is assumed that if the teaching conditions are good, the quality of learning will also be good. We prefer to believe that the proof of the pudding is in the eating—that “quality control” should be focused on learning rather than teaching whether it came from a PhD or a six year old, a classroom, or a job.
Consequently, we do not require courses. Rather, we require that certain skills and knowledge, called “competencies” be demonstrated. Of any learning experience we ask these questions: 1. What skills or knowledge were learned? 2. How well were they learned? 3. Under what circumstances were they learned? 4. What is the evidence that they were learned?
The contract and our course evaluation procedures are designed to put the student in charge of this information.
We do not pretend that the way we do things is the only way to act on these beliefs. Nor do we claim exclusive rights to them. But we are convinced that by adhering to these tenets we help people to take greater responsibility for their lives. And that, we think, is what education ought to do. L.A. Daloz
The period from 1975 to 1980 was one of rapid enrollment growth and intense programmatic development. CCV’s innovative structure (designed to serve a rural mountainous state without a full time faculty or central campus) along with its progressive academic philosophy was attracting national recognition. The paradox was striking and disturbing. We knew we were at the cutting edge of non-traditional adult education and yet within the state we were still considered poor stepsisters of the campus colleges and, in some circles (the VSC faculty union at LSC for example), we were even considered to be an impediment to their welfare and completely disposable. So, while we were being recognized in a growing number of major publications as a “college model for the grass roots” and a “moveable feast,” we were still struggling to find our place as a respected college in Vermont. Because of the college’s national reputation in competence-based education, Daloz was selected to train other accrediting agencies on how to evaluate competence based higher educational programs and I got to go with him to San Francisco and Philadelphia on a couple of those sessions. There was never a doubt among CCV staff that we had the very best approach to educating adult learners and we and others believed that we were at the head of the pack nationally.
During this early period, I was reveling in being a part of CCV’s evolving academic philosophy and practices, and working with the incredible staff who I had come to know as colleagues. However, CCV, like most organizations I had worked for, had internal conflicts. My first direct exposure to one of these came when I was called on to mediate a Southern Vermont regional office meeting in Springfield. Evidently the Brattleboro head and the Springfield head were not on speaking terms and my job was to somehow get in the middle and calm things down so that they could proceed with the meeting.
Tension also was clearly evident between student support staff (then known as counselors) and teacher support staff. The tension was over which function was getting a larger share of the small resource pie and appreciation for what they do. Also and not surprisingly, the site programs were seeking more operational independence from the central office and also a larger slice of that same pie. This was good-naturedly illustrated in a poem sent to us in the central office from Pixley Hill, our St. Albans coordinator:
Hail Best-Smelling Cheese:Our Central Office
There’s a cheese that stands alone
Central Office is its name.
They wonder sometimes what we do.
We wonder just the same.
When we are sweating deadlines,
They are out of town.
Their deadlines run a separate race
When we are winding down.
And so we toast with great and real affection
Their job descriptions and agendas
That keep the CCV connection.
My early experience at CCV was full of surprises in terms of what I had expected it to be like. I can’t say that I was surprised that my desk would be purchased from the local surplus store and the crew that got this monster of a steel desk up the stairs to the second floor of the Howard Bank building was us. But I along with everyone else was definitely surprised when a memo came out of Peter’s office suggesting that CCV’s “new look” required that we “save the old and blue jeans for the week-end”. At least a few of us were unaware that there was a “new look.” In retrospect, that memo may have been symbolic or prophetic of the significant changes that were coming down the road.
As noted above, one internal issue at the time of my rookie season revolved around the workload of the TSSers and counselors (soon to be known as student support staff) in the sites. As part of my orientation as the central teacher support coordinator, I received a must-read document that put the teacher support role clearly in perspective (at least from one teacher supporter’s partly tongue-in-cheek viewpoint/spoof). It was called, A Transcript of Testimony Given by John Turner at the Watercloset Hearings on his role in the PIE-IN-THE-SKY, A TARGET POPULATION IN EVERY POT SCANDAL of the YAHN ADMINISTRATION in the S.E. VERMONT during FISCAL YEAR 1973. In this cleverly constructed mock hearing, Turner lists over a dozen teacher support functions, roles, and “bit parts” and the degree to which they were carried out or sacrificed to other tasks in Brattleboro during that year.
The big push during this period was the agreed upon need to streamline, consolidate, standardize, and articulate the whole degree program aspect of the college. A sticky issue was the aforementioned Central Office/Site staff relationship. I found it interesting that no one seemed to know exactly what the role of the central office was in any kind of official sense and that every site office had their own system for just about every administrative and academic function. In any event, the established process for tackling any important issuesof the day was to have a retreat, develop a task force, or create a committee, have meetings, and communicate the results to the College Council and Decision Team. When I came in, the college was working on incorporating CCV’s self-reliant learner/APIE philosophy into all levels of its operations. Self-reliant learners are skilled at assessing their learning needs, planning educational experiences to meet them, implementing the plan, and evaluating the results. And, the idea was to set goals and make every effort to create the same systematic approach to planning, implementing, and evaluating all academic and administrative functions of the whole college.
One area that needed attention in 1975 was the need to develop a college-wide model for collecting and recording tuition income. Prior to the development of this model, there wasn’t one. No college-wide system for tuition collection, banking, and recording existed. One interesting feature of this early model for tuition collection being developed was the inclusion of what was called a TPA or an agreement to pay. A TPA was a signed contract between the student and the college stating that the student would basically pay their tuition when they could. Those were the good old days.
As I recall, everybody seemed to realize that we had created an academic/degree program that was unsustainable given the college’s growth and the program’s labor intensiveness. While degree students only made up a small portion of the college’s student body, we were spending a great deal of time and energy trying to preserve the ideals that we believed to be indispensable.
In early 1976, someone connected to the VFT had evidently submitted a request to the legislature to abolish CCV so that its appropriation could be distributed among the campus colleges in support of higher faculty salaries. According to a memo I saved from the chancellor to the legislature, their request document was filled with inaccuracies and misinformation which the chancellor pointed out item by item. In the same document the chancellor outlined many of the benefits CCV was uniquely positioned to provide to the state. In any event, CCV staff, its teachers, students, and quite an outpouring of support from the communities we were serving, saved the college but could not keep us from getting a cut in our already rather meager legislative appropriation. One of the most powerful voices in support of CCV came from a highly respected former legislator from Barre, Cornelius Granai Sr. who told a joint session of two legislative committees and, as quoted in the Times Argus, “Closing the state’s Community College would be a most disastrous and infamous gesture.” This was powerful testimony that certainly helped to turn the legislative tide in our favor. Little did we realize that we would have to go through this kind of attack again in three years.
Meanwhile, the efforts to improve and systematize the degree program continued. There was a clear need to solve the problems with the narrative evaluations of student learning that had been identified by the accreditation report. According to one of my memos, our task was to design a consistent but flexible college wide form and process for narrative evaluations of learning experiences. In short, just about every component of the college’s academic program and delivery system was undergoing examination and some kind of modification. Also during this period, administration functions were being tinkered with as well. Rob Billings, the business manager, Ken Hood, and I had developed a proposal for teacher pay that included college-wide policies, procedures, and, for the first time, an actual record keeping system. Registration was another area where each site had its own semester class schedule and we were trying to see if we could have at least some “boundaries” (first and last days of classes) that everyone in all the sites could live with.
In mid 76, the college attempted to clarify and standardize the structure and authority of the LRCs along with the integration of “vocational” programs into the existing format through an enhanced “goal statement” and better competency statements. The goal statement and competence statements would also be integrated into the ten competence areas so that both “vocational” goals and general education requirements (the ten areas) would be met. It was also established that when a student’s contract was completed, the LRC would send it to the CCV Review Board for final approval or for return to the student’s LRC for more work.
Also in the summer of 1976, the first CCV two week residency program was held at Johnson State College. According to a report written by Kellogg intern Jayne Shephard, over thirty people attended in each week of the program. As a side note, among the offerings was an Assertiveness Training and People Building Workshop, a course called Exploration of Self and Others, and one called Reading the Woods. A well-attended evaluation session at the end of each week indicated that CCV and JSC should continue to work together, continue the summer program and even expand it.
This trend towards standardization and articulation continued in practically every area of the college’s business. I was asked in July 76 to collect a copy of all teacher and staff resumes to be put on file in the Central Office and I was even asked to review new teacher resumes prior to contract signing in the sites. I think there was a sense, at least among some, that our survival meant getting our shit (I mean act) together. Another clear sign of this came in an October 76 memo from Ken Hood to the Central Office staff strongly reminding us of the need for more “orderly arrangement of all work areas, desks, etc.” So, we could no longer wear our Levis and we had to clean up our workspace too. It could be argued, although I’m not sure that we realized it at the time, little by little we were inexorably heading toward “normality.” But, many of us wondered what we might be sacrificing to get there. Which babies were going out with the bathwater, so to speak. While everybody else wanted us to be normal, the last thing we wanted was normalcy.
In early 77, the movement toward “legitimacy” and standardization took a major step with the establishment of a “Final Review Committee (FRC)” which would authorize final approval for the degree, provide a final point of appeal for students, LRCs, or staff who wanted a final ruling on a particular matter. It was also designed to provide a “mirror of community standards and reactions to student work,” and finally to “carry out continuing review and evaluation of the entire contracting and degree process and make recommendations for changes.” The FRC membership included: a CCV staff member; a student; Ned Herrin, president of Vermont Technical College; Sister Elizabeth Candon, head of the Agency of Human Services; Charles Johnson, Superintendent of Montpelier schools; and Dale Gibson, of Vermont Tap and Die Company of Lyndonville. This “high powered” makeup of the FRC was another important step on our journey toward legitimacy and it was the end of the individual LRC having the final word on “how much was enough.”
Our first Learning Services Newsletter was printed in May 77. And at the urging of Ken Hood, a committee-based process for course list scheduling, standardization of all-college information, criteria for consistency and quality of information, and course list problem resolution was established. The following are some the initiatives described in a June 17 meeting of teacher supporters and designed to bring more standardization to our materials and procedures while allowing the voices of resistance to the whole business of standardization to be heard.
The first item on the agenda was to develop the contents of a teacher packetwhich would spell out instructor responsibilities but not according to one participant, “beat them over the head with warnings,” establish criteria for good evaluations written in common language and terminology and which spell out how much “leeway there is for instructors,” provide more explicit criteria for selection of staff but “not necessarily for instructors,” portray the fact that we are a college and not a “Home Dem.” And, make sure that administrative needs should not “entangle the education process.”
It was also determined that enrollment formsneeded to elicit more student information and they needed to be more CCV centered and make other agency needs less prominent. Terms needed to be standardized and the same forms should be used college wide. Concern was expressed that “some of the forms had never been seen before.” The fact is that, at the time, there was no standard enrollment form or policy-driven standardized enrollment procedures.
At this time in out evolution, we had several alternative learning models (Independent Studies, field experiences, practicums, internships, degree planning workshops, etc.) and no official college policy that covered them. So that was another area for guideline development. Evidently we determined that each site establish a small group to help make credit equivalent determinationsfor these “oddball” offerings so that Scott (the registrar) would have something to go by.
Also on the college’s agenda in mid 77 was the need for college-wide systems in reporting of class attendanceand a policy for dropping from a course.We had to deal with the inadequacy of the “Carnegie umbrella” for contact hoursfor some courses and for the oddball stuff. And, we had to decide just what should go on the cumulative record.
While there was a Course List ReviewCommittee, many staff claimed that they didn’t know what the committee did and how much authority it should have. According to the meeting summary, there evidently was a discrepancy between the course descriptions put in the catalogue and the goals and objectives outlined for the individual courses. That had to be corrected.
The last issue addressed in this meeting was whether the writing of end-of-course narrative evaluations should be a completion requirement for students. “Central Vermont has been doing it and feels that it makes good sense.” This final remark by Jim Dawson pretty well captures the flavor of those times. The following is a direct quote from my summary memo. “Jim mentioned that, from his perspective, in the past when there was a policy or procedure that people didn’t like, they ignored it. Then when an outside agency like the V.A. or BEOG comes in and looks at the records, they find discrepancies. The student often ends up the looser. He suggested that when we have policies and procedures we should live by them and when we don’t like them we should throw them out.
These programmatic and administrative problems and efforts would soon pale when compared with the upheaval that was coming next in early 78.
Of course the news that Peter was leaving created a little more insecurity about the college’s future. And, at the same time, a new chancellor, Richard E. Bjork, was hired by the VSC board and the rumor was that he was going to shake up the whole system. What helped us quite a bit was that, before he left, Peter had hired an interim president, Nancy Wylie, a tall, thin blonde woman who was a very interesting person to say the least. She came with only a BA degree but she had a huge brain to make up for any lack of credentials. As I remember it, she caught on to the CCV culture, philosophy, and practices in an amazingly short time. Her understanding of the college was expressed in May of 78, when she wrote a memo to chancellor Bjork titled, The Role and Scope of the Community College of Vermont. This document was a thorough overview and examination of the college’s place in the Vermont higher education community. From my perspective, she got everything right.
An acting president is one thing but a permanent president without an advanced degree was another thing so the VSC Board established a search committee to do a national search with the chancellor as chairperson. While obviously not mentioned in the official criteria established for the selection process, rumor had it that the board was looking for a president who might be sort of a “grandfather figure,” maybe symbolic of the college’s continuing maturation as an established institution. By September, after a series of interviews with six finalists, we selected a new president, Dr. George Bilicic.
While the presidential search was going on, the college staff was preparing for a group interview with David Lesley of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Virginia. This visit demonstrated that the college continued to be of interest to the higher education community on a national level. At this time we also lost several staff including key administrators which meant that staffing needs became another addition to the pile of stuff requiring the college’s focused attention. A few other items of some note:
- Learning Services distributed a questionnaire to the college as part of an intensive process to affirm the role and plan for the future of the academic component of the central administration and to create a job description for a new coordinator/director.
- The college has implemented most of its plan to move regional and local offices to street-level space.
- In August, JSC submitted a proposal to the board to expand its programs to outreach offices in locations around the state in a community-based delivery system. CCV and several other colleges were opposed to this concept and without support from the Bjork and the board, it died a quick death.
- Dick Bjork in September of 78 proposed that each VSC campus identify their academic programs that are distinctive, essential, and expendable with an eye toward “the necessity of discontinuing some programs early in the process. This, of course, was not popular with the college presidents. Basic skills and remediation were two areas where CCV and VTC seemed to have the primary responsibilities.
- At CCV, the FRC in a major effort/meeting outlined the areas in the contracting and review process that needed clarification and accountability to “insure that contracts falling below a minimum standard not be permitted to ‘slip through’ any cracks in the process”.
- The FRC also “unanimously and emphatically stated that a well-written, complete, and properly documented contract reflects an academically rigorous process and a mature and valid degree. They affirmed support for the ten areas of competence and the structure of the degree process as outlined in the Blue Book.”
- George Belicic appointed Nancy Wylie as head of learning services which ended my role as director of learning services.
In October of 78, Nancy, in a major proposal to the decision team, president, and college council outlined a plan for the operation and responsibilities of the learning services team. According to Wylie’s memo, “The plan reflects an overarching concern with the evaluation of programs and systems to insure consistent application of academic standards, and a role for Central Office staff which is neither ‘directive’ or ‘reflective’ but is rather ‘initiative’ in its orientation.” Her memo also noted the changing roles for some regional staff in this plan. As I see this now, the document represents one of one of the most thorough and extensive examinations and subsequent recommendations for administering the college’s academic programs in the history of the college.
Also in October, Ed Elmendorf, president of JSC, proposed a plan to formalize, strengthen, and expand relationships between CCV and JSC.
In a very unpopular move, near the beginning of his presidency, President Belicic formed a secretarial pool in the Central Office (eliminating assigned secretaries to specific people) and established the position of Central Office Manager.
A significant conflict erupted between Vice President Wylie and Tom Yahn, the Southern Region Director over Yahn’s attempt to unilaterally establish residency programs in that region.
President Belicic submitted his plan for academic development of the college and for the academic staffing configuration of the Central Office. The plan included specific functions for the central staff, the regional staff, and functions that would be carried out jointly. The plan was never implemented.
Nancy Wylie left at some point right after that plan was submitted and Myrna Miller was appointed to the position of Acting Dean of Academic Affairs effective December 1 while retaining her position as Director of the External Degree Program. Tim Donovan was appointed as a one-fifth time Coordinator of Academic Affairs. At that time Nancy Chard was director of the southern region, John Findlay was director of the northern region, Peggy Williams director of the northwestern region, and Don Hooper was director of the central region.
In a rather strange move, given their reputation as being unfriendly towards CCV, the Vermont Federation of Teachers (VFT) sent out a letter to most CCV staff inviting them to attend an information meeting to promote union membership.
In late November, learning services held a series of forums on the contracting and Local Review Committee product and process. According to my Dec. 5 memo to the college administration, the forums raised the following concerns:
- The need for explicit statements of generalizable thinking or reasoning skills, the need to discourage the heavy use of statements of religious or dogmatic beliefs.
- The need to be more explicit about how much is enough to establish level of competence.
- The need to provide more specific details in goal statements where personal growth is the primary focus.
- The need to insure that linking statements define both the competence area in the student’s terms and provide a link to the student’s goals.
- The need for competence statements to make a clear distinction between learning and experience.
- The need to avoid making “sweeping generalizations” in competence statements.
Other issues discussed at that time had to do with documentation, bibliographies, dealing the areas of competence (cultural awareness, analytical, knowledge, and community relations) that are difficult for students to articulate satisfactorily.
In retrospect, it is clear that at this point in time (late 78) we were still trying to fine tune a degree program and process whose survival, over the long haul was questionable even then given the events soon to follow.
1979 began on a sour note when central office staff was advised not to make any expenditures of funds (including supplies, phone calls beyond the watts line capacity, printing, and mileage) without the prior approval of the president. That memo ushered in what could be argued was the worst period in CCV’s early life. It was becoming clear to us in the CO that there was, to put it mildly, serious tension between Chancellor Bjork and President Belicic and between Belicic and the CCV staff. But the big battle ensued because the VSC had a large shortfall in revenue and were carrying a significant out-of-balance budget. And, so, in its misguided wisdom, the appropriations committee of the Vermont Legislature actually voted to axe out CCV’s total budget and then they proposed to allocate some of CCV’s funds to the other state colleges and most of the rest to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. Here we were, the most innovative educational program in the state, the only college serving adult learners in their own Vermont communities, the least expensive college to attend and to operate, and we were considered the “weak sister” by the legislative budget slashers. So, they voted 9 to 2 to completely eliminate CCV’s state allocation which, if carried out, would essentially eliminate the college.
As it turned out, as it did in 76, our life was saved but we were seriously injured. The outcry from the public, from our students, from present and former staff, from faculty and from the majority in the legislature (105-38) beat back this misguided appropriations committee decision. In fact, according to the Vanguard Press, Henry Carse, the appropriate committee chair, in what one could guess was his embarrassed reaction to the overwhelming support of the college, admitted that “giving CCV the axe was only a ploy to shake up the VSC trustees—merely a prod to make them realize that the legislature refuses to support deficit spending forever.” However, in the end, the VSC, and especially CCV, took a significant budget hit, enough to require layoffs and some program cuts. This was a new low in CCV’s brief history. However, if the state funding was cut, we were going to go all out writing grants in hopes of keeping the energy of the staff and the vitality of the college intact. I was recruited to write sections of a Special Services grant and a Title III grant, both of which were for substantial funds and for important programmatic improvements. We also, as I recall, submitted a grant to The Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE). So, as the eighties approached, and we had licked our wounds, we were ready to turn the page with hope that things would get better. Another boost in morale came with a survey the college completed which showed enthusiastic positive response from students about their CCV experience.