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MAX Center tutors revise mission statement; administration disputes changes

The Macalester Academic Excellence (MAX) Center recently came into conflict with the administration over proposed changes to the MAX Center’s mission statement.

The amended statement included language reflecting the MAX Center’s commitment to “partner with students and faculty to promote anti-oppressive pedagogies and challenge Western-centric practices and ideologies in academia.”

Once the new mission statement was posted online, however, the administration asked the MAX Center to replace it with the original statement. Director of Academic Programs and Advising Ann Minnick explained that more people should have been consulted before publishing the statement.

“A mission statement is a broad statement that needs to include the voices of all the constituencies and the stakeholders in the unit,” Minnick said. “The MAX Center isn’t just about the students, the peer tutors and the work they do with students. It also needs to consider the faculty and how the work that the MAX Center does corresponds to the work the faculty are doing, and they weren’t part of that decision.”

Minnick emphasized that the revised mission statement is “a wonderful philosophy of how they work with students,” and her concern is establishing a consensus between tutors and faculty.

“I’m not interested in micromanaging the work that the peer tutors are doing or micromanaging the work of the professional staff,” Minnick said. “I just want to make sure that the mission statement that the unit has is broader and is looking outwards.”

Writing tutors at the MAX Center, including tutor representative Xander Gershberg ’17, spent the spring 2016 semester revising the mission statement.

“It was a really thorough process that a lot of tutors put a lot of time and care into,” Gershberg said. “Mission statements in general are meant to best reflect the values, aspirations and practices of an organization. It’s pretty conventional to revise a mission statement to meet those goals, so that’s what we were doing.”

As part of their training, MAX Center writing tutors read several scholarly articles on the philosophy of education. These articles, which include “The ‘Standard English’ Fairy Tale” and “Postcolonialism, Acculturation, and the Writing Center,” provided the inspiration for addressing “anti-oppressive pedagogies” in the mission statement.

“Based on my work at the MAX Center for four years now, I’ve definitely noticed that non-native speakers, whether international speakers or people that learn a different language at home before coming to Macalester, are often told to correct their English and are not given tools within the classroom to actually better their writing,” Gershberg said.

“Oftentimes, good writing becomes synonymous with what has been traditionally White English, or Standard English, which a lot of our readings have demonstrated is a myth in-and-of itself and is marginalizing to a lot of different types of Englishes such as AAVE [African American Vernacular English],” he added.

According to MAX Center Director Dave Ehren, the issue is not what constitutes appropriate pedagogy, but instead what constitutes a mission statement.

“We’re not stepping back and saying, ‘No, we’re not going to talk about oppressive pedagogy,’ or anything like that,” Ehren said. “It’s just going to fill a different slot.”

Ehren used Macalester’s focus on entrepreneurship as an example.

“You could say that entrepreneurship is important to Macalester, but it isn’t in the mission statement; it’s in other parts of the description,” Ehren said. “What we’re working on now is deciding where this will go in the other parts of the description of what the MAX Center does.”

Gershberg said he agrees. “The mission statement doesn’t change what we do; it changes people’s perception of what we do,” he said. “The goal for us was to make sure that people trusted us more and recognized that the MAX Center was an organization that was actively anti-racist, and that the work we do is intertwined with social justice.”

On arriving at an agreement, Minnick said, “I don’t think it’s an urgent need… but maybe next year, we’ll gather a group that includes all the stakeholders and then have a broader conversation about the mission.”

Gershberg and the other writing tutors are eager to see the issue resolved.

“Outside of what they told us their issues were with the mission statement, we don’t know much,” Gershberg said. “So I would hope for clarity, about what specifically in the mission statement was an issue.”

February 3, 2017

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