Monday, April 13, 2015

SSU responds to the ITC inquiry

Following up on this post, SSU responded to the inquiry. The following is a reply on this FB IPS post from Mark Fabionar, the Director of Sonoma State University's Integral Center for Diversity, Vitality, and Creativity. It's good to know he and ITC are aware of the issues and have considered them deeply. And are working to address those aspects of the system not conducive to having integral impacts. That's all we can ask. Mark's response:

"It felt appropriate to offer my perspective in this conversation about SSU and ITC. I'm the Director of Sonoma State University's Integral Center for Diversity, Vitality, and Creativity (affectionately called "The HUB" on campus). I am the SSU employee who suggested to the MetaIntegral team that ITC be held on campus. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens and I decided to partner, and the team has been working on the conference for nearly a year.

I have similar concerns about the corporatization of public education - and SSU in particular - and appreciate the sincere inquiry into the integrity of having ITC at SSU, given Danny Weil's thought-provoking article, among others. Like many universities, SSU is largely a decentralized collective of multiple systems and cultures, and as a whole its tensions and conflicts reflect an entity that has been through many internal battles and transitions. The larger context of California's ongoing economic insecurity presents challenges for most state entities and SSU's executive team has responded to these conditions over the last several years in a manner that reflects their core value systems and worldview. That the executive team has worked to enact largely modern and market-driven responses - discursive practices championed outside of SSU as well - does not surprise me. And as Weil and others have noted, these priorities, as well as how they've been enacted and whom they've involved, have been a source of frustration and anger for a number of faculty and student affairs professionals, including me at times. (I am both management and faculty at SSU, but I am not part of the president's executive team nor am I paid what they are paid.)

Still, to the notion that having ITC at SSU primarily supports the corporate agenda of the powers-that-be, I offer (and know) that there are multiple agendas and bottom-lines being considered and played out simultaneously - albeit in contradictory ways at times - by students, faculty, staff, and members of the executive team. Many of them are good and reflect social justice research and praxis that focuses on serving the public good and the development of the whole student. There are individuals, projects, and whole programs informed by this impulse and approach to serve, to connect, and to become more accessible, relevant, and just. My sense is that there is a want within the University to better align these siloed individuals and fragmented initiatives into something more culturally and energetically robust. SSU is not a static entity - it is a dynamic, messy, living system that is going through some intense transitions, and will continue to do so over the next couple of years, as radical changes in executive leadership are anticipated. And while we don't necessarily know who will becoming in, those of us on the ground feel we have a real opportunity to do some cultural work that truly impacts.

When discussing the possibility of having ITC on campus over a year ago, I shared with Sean my perspective on some of the cultural/structural dynamics at play at SSU, and in particular how those in positions of power tended to privilege modern/market-driven solutions. I mentioned that I found some of their processes/moves useful for the University and others short-sighted, if not deeply problematic. But what I shared the most with Sean was that the dissonance and transitions at SSU felt like a great opportunity to help shape the University in a positive way. And it has proved so thus far for my work there. The HUB has spearheaded a number of programs and initiatives these past three years that focus on the overall development of the student and community, especially those that are underserved. Most of these have been deeply informed by integrative thinking and praxis, which for me includes important conversations about intersectionality, inclusion, and expanded notions of social justice/change. (I will be talking about the HUB's work at ITC, and am happy to share more about it later on this thread.)

This is all to say that the partnership between MetaIntegral and the HUB at SSU developed in a thoughtful, informed, and intentional manner. The partnership and design of ITC is deeply informed by a shared desire to be more on-the-ground, relevant, inclusive, engaging, and, well - impactful.

Thanks for the important questions and opportunity to offer my perspective. I definitely welcome the opportunity to learn about your integrative and social justice work: What are you all doing within and/or outside of existing systems/structures that enacts the kind of social change you feel we need at this time?


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