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On April 20, College President Jonathan Palmer officially announced the launch of two new programs: the Principia College Leadership Institute and the Euphrates Center for Middle East Understanding.
The Leadership Institute’s main purpose, as described by Palmer in his formal announcement e-mail, is “to identify and develop student leaders through specialized training and experiential learning that will give them the skills to lead on campus and throughout their lives.” The Euphrates Center, as Palmer wrote, “is dedicated to improving relations between the Middle East and the West by expanding individual awareness, inspiring action, and promoting peace,” and “will create a forum through which Principians can address Middle East questions from a Christian Science perspective.”
These programs have raised concern among some faculty members. The most significant concern seems to be an apparent lack of communication between Palmer and the faculty regarding the programs’ launch, among other decisions. Religion professor Mike Hamilton, the Faculty Senate President, noted, “The faculty would have felt better if conversations between themselves and Dr. Palmer could have taken place prior to this announcement being made as fact.”
Some faculty expressed doubt that even the deans were aware of the details of the announcement until it was made public. Writing Center Director Lynn Horth explained, “Because there is no faculty input on these programs, this means that Dr. Palmer and his cabinet are clearly discussing ideas for Principia as a whole without any kind of faculty representation.”
When asked whose approval was necessary before green-lighting these new programs, Palmer indicated that he didn’t need any and went ahead with the plans on his own accord, though he was advised by several consultants. Janessa Gans, former visiting professor and founder of the Euphrates Institute, will provide oversight for the Principia Euphrates Center for Middle East Understanding. David Wold, who is Palmer’s cousin, has been selected to help launch the Leadership Institute. He possesses a Master’s degree in Management and Leadership and has more than twenty years of business-management experience. Palmer added that he informed the Trustees of his decision prior to its announcement but that even their approval wasn’t necessary.
As for the faculty, he explained that there was no reason to involve them in this process because these two programs, while admittedly still only in their developmental phases, are being considered “largely co-curricular” – related to, but separate from, the main curriculum. Some faculty expressed doubt that these new programs could realistically remain outside the scope of curriculum and disagreed with Palmer’s decision to exclude them from the planning process.
Among these faculty members was Political Science professor Julie Blase, the Chair of College Curriculum Committee. “Knowing the kinds of activities that students want credit for, I’d like to know more about what these programs will offer in terms of academics,” said Blase. She added, “If there is absolutely no curricular impact, I’m curious how these institutes are expected to contribute to Prin’s goal of academic excellence.”
Another concern among faculty is the source of the programs’ funding, especially in the face of campus-wide budget cuts. The faculty feel they do not know the answer to this and many other questions. Horth remarked, “Because the Curriculum Committee wasn’t involved, we’re feeling very in the dark.” Palmer said that both the Leadership Institute and the Euphrates Center are likely to be self-funded once well-established. He continued that initial startup costs within the first year and a half would come directly from the Chief Executive Innovation Fund. The Chief Executive Innovation Fund is a discretionary fund established for just these types of ventures, and is not allocated for campus departments.
Most faculty seem confident that these programs will do what they intend and will bless all involved. Their concerns, then, are the process by which the programs were created and the question of how they fit into Principia’s educational mission. As Blase conveyed, “The goal of the College Curriculum Committee these past two years has been to create transparent processes and standards and the levels of collaboration between faculty has been a beautiful thing to see. To not be consulted on such big-picture ideas for Prin seems contradictory to what the faculty and academic staff are working to accomplish.”