Institutional Power and the syllabus

by Sean Palmer

My one suggestion for the syllabus is that the power dynamic between institutions and the person needs more than one week. 

The difficulty is that that relationship is awfully complicated: it depends on institutional concerns, departmental concerns, and personal issues. 

Take my position for example. After a visit from the Middle States accreditation agency (I’m not sure what to call them, if there is a term better than agency, I’ll happily edit this.), LaGuardia was tasked with improving students’ oral communication skills. Part of that involved replacing the VERY outdated tape-based language lab with a digital one. 

The college needed to hire someone to run it because they had no one with the proper skill set, so I was hired.

Since I was hired to run the new Speech Lab (later two speech labs) and be the oral communication person, I was immediately put on the committee to write the Oral Communication Assessment Rubric.

So, in institutional terms, I should have been a good fit. The personality issues, however, got in the way. At one point, about two years into my employment, my department chair said something like, “Please understand, it’s nothing personal. I just don’t think your line was necessary.” 

In fairness, this person changed their mind and we work together well now. 

But at the time, my thought process was, “How do I deal with THAT?” 

There were other issues, but that one still sticks out to me. Sometimes, someone in power doesn’t understand or respect what you do, and you have to figure out how to cope with that. 

This is why I think more time spent on the institutional – new hire relationship is worth considering. 

3 thoughts on “Institutional Power and the syllabus

  1. Jen Hoyer (she/her)

    I think you make a really great point about the complex dynamics between individuals and institutions. I also think that, quite often, even if we feel powerless within our institutions because of our identity, our role, or the hierarchies around us, we’re often *perceived* outside our institutions as carrying the power of the institution (even while we might feel personally oppressed by that power). Navigating that is difficult; I think there’s often a tendency to (understandably) not admit the power of our institutional associations because we don’t feel like we actually carry that power, and yet it still plays into the relationships we build outside our institutions — whether we like it or not.

    1. Sean Patrick Palmer Post author

      It is interesting to see how our associations with institutions matter.

      I have presented at a lot of conferences, and, on a number of occasions, people have come up to me to discuss how LaGuardia is doing all these things with eportfolio and how wonderful it is.

      From within? Outside of the arts and a few other disciplines, no one really likes using it. Frequently, I just stand there, smiling and nodding.

  2. Katina Rogers (she/her)

    Hi Sean, absolutely—in some ways, I think this whole course is about the balance and tensions between individuals and institutions. Let’s talk about how to bring that to the fore. And Jen, I appreciate your comment on *perception* of power, too. Looking forward to discussing all this.

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