As our questions in the previous section indicated, a conversation about curriculum review invokes the personal experiences of those in the room and debates on the state of the field. It will also likely involve passionate individuals who feel an urgent need to create change confronted with some people who may resist change. Both parties will have individual visions on what is best for the field. Because the stakes are high, it is almost inevitable that there will be conflict.
We encourage you not to shy away or avoid conflict but to work with it by encouraging each other to share the motivations and experiences informing your disagreements. We’ve found that avoiding conflict or resorting to compromises without a deep understanding of divergent views usually results in small and temporary fixes. We list below common sources of conflict that arose in our conversations with academic units related to issues of equity, inclusion, and power.
Zero Sum Game
Some may argue that including more teaching on anti-racism in the curriculum, for instance, will necessitate removing other topics in the curriculum. Instead of moving immediately to a middle ground curriculum that will make everyone the least unhappy, we encourage you to start a conversation of why certain parts of the curriculum must be preserved. Instead of assuming that certain parts of the curriculum are not up for debate, it may be more helpful to examine each part of the curriculum in light of the department or program’s goals for learning and inclusion. What is important for all students in a field to learn, and what may be more appropriate for students who are interested in a specific subfield?
Competing Strong Visions
As you talk through the potential changes for the curriculum, you may encounter individuals or groups of faculty who have strong yet divergent visions about how to revise the curriculum. Others will be strongly in favor of keeping the current curriculum. In these cases, we think it is important to allow people to express their motivations for advocating for a certain curricular vision. Furthermore, it may be helpful to ask the entire group to consider seriously the merits of each proposal (including a proposal to leave the curriculum largely unchanged) before jumping to critique. Seriously considering the merits of competing visions will often yield greater clarity on the goals of the curricular review process and allow for more creative and imaginative thinking on revising the curriculum.
Direction of the Field
Finally, any curriculum review is likely to bring up differing views on the strategic direction of the field. Common arguments relate to change in the curriculum leading to weakening of the intellectual integrity of the field. Others may be concerned that the field, as it is now, is outdated, which means it will struggle to remain relevant, or too homogenous in makeup and thought, which will hinder intellectual growth. Rather than shy away from these conversations, we encourage you to engage productively with these differing views as they are likely important conversations for your department or program to have in the long term. If you do decide to engage with the direction of the field, it will be crucial to ask who historically (in the department and the broader field) has had the power or privilege to decide what “counts” as legitimate scholarship in the field.