The transformative power of values-enacted scholarship is only really felt in lived-experience. Just before spring break, and only two weeks after the mass shooting on the MSU campus, a small group of staff, directors, and chairs gathered in a conference room in Linton Hall to consider how we might begin to work together in the wake of significant changes to the budget model connected to summer teaching.
Over the next few years, MSU will be moving to an all-funds budget and to a hybrid model that will include elements of responsibility centered management (RCM). We convened the committee to help us discern how to put our values into practice as we determine how to distribute funds connected to summer teaching and learning.
The experience we have gained over the years in bringing the HuMetricsHSS initiative to life in the College of Arts & Letters and through our Pathways of Presencing grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Social Science Research Council shaped our approach to the difficult work this committee has to undertake at this difficult time. So, Sonja Fritzsche and I asked Penny Weber and Bonnie Russell from the HuMetricsHSS team to help us develop a process that might best be called a “values-enacted committee charge.” Our approach is rooted in the recognition that transformative change is only possible when values are intentionally woven into every aspect of university life. Each interaction, each encounter, offers a new opportunity to put shared values into intentional practice. Indeed, values are enacted in every action we undertake. Whether we recognize them or not, values express themselves in action. Yet, too often the values that implicitly shape our institutional practices are not aligned with those we say we care most deeply about.
So to begin our work together as a committee, we replaced the traditional “charge meeting” with a set of activities designed to identify the core values of the group and to open a meaningful dialogue about how these shared values would be put into practice both in their work together as a group and in the recommendations they were being asked to make.
Following adrienne maree brown’s advice in *Holding Change*, we began with a deep breath. “Use breath to cultivate patience in yourself and in the group,” brown writes, “Values get lost in haste.”1 We then went around the room with a one-word check-in to begin to establish trusting connections among the group. The prompt we used was: “In one word, what is the value that has been most helpful to you as you have navigated the last few weeks?”
This short practice of breathing together and checking in with one another opened a space of trust among the group and prepared us for the work of surfacing the values that would shape the work ahead.
In preparing for the meeting, the leadership team identified three values that we thought would need to be activated in any successful work of a committee focused on reimagining the summer budget model: Equity, Inclusion, and Trust. So in framing the next phase of the meeting, we were explicit that these were the three values the leadership had identified. We invited the group then to consider other values that might be important to them in their work together. We asked: What values are missing and would you like to replace any of the proposed values.
We received a beautiful list of new values to consider, including: honesty, wholeness, responsibility, diversity, opportunity, listening, transparency, trust, consistency, humility, joy, and heart.
From this list, we reduced the values the group identified as shared to the following: Equity, Inclusion, Trust, Vulnerability/Patience, and Community.
With these values in hand, we took the last 35 minutes of the meeting to consider how we would enact these values 1) in our work together and 2) in the recommendations the committee would make. The HuMetricsHSS team has learned over time how important it is to be clear before the practical work begins about what these values mean in practice.
The conversation deepened as we moved into this phase of the discussion as colleagues began to imagine how they would activate these values in their work together and in the work they would produce. Let me provide two examples here, one for how the group agreed to put equity into practice and one for how they agreed to enact the value of trust.
So, for example, we agreed that Equity in our work together means:
- Acknowledging the range of expertise in the group regardless of rank/title/appointment type
- Looking through each other’s lenses and listening to different positions without judgement;
- Adding representation from non-tenure stream faculty.
We agreed that Equity in our recommendations would mean:
- Taking into account Graduate Assistants, and always considering the needs of colleagues with the least economic resources;
- Understanding the whole picture of who relies on summer funds for what purposes;
- Recognizing and explaining inequities that are not able to be addressed;
- Being honest about the different sources of funding and the relationship between them.
We agreed that in relation to our work together, trust would mean:
- Information will not be shared outside of the group unless the group agrees (including this blog post);
- No weaponizing of information or withholding it;
- Communicating about our inability to share information when that is necessary;
- Checking in with one another rather than making assumptions.
In relation to our recommendations, we agreed that trust would mean:
- Sharing data, explaining decision-making, educating around student needs;
- Communicating the why of our recommendations.
Moving from the abstract practice of identifying values to a concrete account of how these values would be put into practice deepened the trust the group was committed to cultivating.
We ended the meeting with one-word check-outs, asking each person to offer the values with which they were leaving the meeting. For me as Dean, my word was gratitude, both for the time our colleagues committed to this meeting, but also for the wholeheartedness they bring to the work we are doing together.