When is linking statement not a linking statement?
I had been at CCV two years in 1985 when I was invited to be one of two Coordinators of Advising and Instruction who sat on the Academic Review Board, or the A-R-B, or sometimes just the “arb”. The ARB was the precursor to the present-day Academic Council; and in those early years of the college, it was a small, seemingly select group. There were just seven members: two regional directors, the director of student services, the registrar, a clerk and two coordinators who rotated on and off with two-year terms. We had two primary responsibilities – (1) to review and develop all needed academic policies and degree program requirements and (2) to review students’ degree plans. The ARB met on the first Thursday of each month to handle its first assignment, and the third Thursday of each month to review degree plans, which always seemed to me its main business. In February and March, and sometimes April and May too, both meetings were devoted to degree plan review. We even had what we called degree plan review marathons, which could last twelve hours a day with pizzas delivered to keep us all going. In those days, by the way, the President’s Council only met once a month. How this reversal took place is, of course, another story.
In those years, Nancy Chard, director of the old southern region, was chair of the ARB and ruled meetings mostly with an iron fist. If you disagreed strongly with Nancy, you did so at your own peril- subjecting yourself to public abuse and private revenge. Yet everyone respected Nancy’s bed-rock dedication to the mission of the college, and coordinators, at least, were cowed enough by her to not even think about disagreeing. Roger Cranse, on the other hand, the man who gave the college Dimensions of Learning and the ARB an air of erudition, loved to disagree with Nancy at every opportunity, so that ARB meetings often became an amusing test of will between these two titans. At least that’s how I perceived things as an innocent newcomer when I joined ARB.
Before there was an ARB, degree plans were reviewed by local degree plan review boards, so it was a big deal when this critical function was centralized and the ARB came into being. In those days, all degree plans were “individualized,” which meant that students could take pretty much any courses they wanted to, as long as they could show how their learning provided competence in ten different areas – which included such things as aesthetic awareness, interpersonal relationships, manual and physical competence, self-awareness, communications, cultural awareness, community relationships, creative competence, relationship with the environment, analytical competence. Of course there were many standard choices that students employed to demonstrate competence in the different areas. One of my personal favorites was the use of Introduction to Computers to satisfy mechanical competence – presumably because you could insert and eject 5 – 1/4’ floppy discs into the old desktops, or, later, prove your skill with a mouse.
A key job of the coordinators in those days was to teach a one-credit course called, what else, “Degree Planning Seminar,” where students learned about the competence areas and how various courses could be employed to demonstrate learning in each one. Students would then develop a “preliminary” degree plan that would be reviewed by the ARB. One of the things the ARB struggled with constantly was setting deadlines for the submission of both preliminary and final plans and what to do with all the students who every year missed the deadlines. Oh how we agonized over such matters! Plans were reviewed by a pair of ARB members prior to meetings (delivered before computers—b.c.—by pony express in large manila envelopes), then presented with evaluative comments to the whole ARB at the meetings. Stacks of degree plans were piled everywhere around the room – (you could actually hide behind a stack of them if you wanted); and we dutifully proceeded to review each one and pass judgment. Oh, the horror!
By far most intriguing or ridiculous thing about degree plans, depending on your perspective, was what we called “linking statements.” Linking statements were short two or three sentence paragraphs intended to explain how a student understood the connection – the link – between the courses in their plan and a particular competence area. Every degree plan began with a goal statement, followed by ten pages, each one with a linking statement at the top and a list of the courses selected by the student to develop competence in that areas. I wish someone had a tape of ARB reviewing degree plans and debating how or if, or to what degree a linking statement actually demonstrated a link between courses and competence areas. Mind you, many of these linking statements had already been rewritten and improved by coordinators who understood the hurdles that students faced in getting plans approved by the ARB. They knew all too well that it was not usually the courses listed on the page that made the difference between approval or rejection, but the quality of these trifling linking statements. Sometimes, in desperation, ARB members would edit a statement right there in a meeting, then return it to student and coordinator with a note that said, effectively, “Here, write it this way.”
I served on the ARB continually from 1985 until 2007 when I transitioned from an eleven-year stint as academic dean (Nancy Chard was actually the first person at CCV to have that title) to be the college’s first director of institutional research, a position I held for six years before my retirement in 2013. I’m can’t remember exactly when during those intervening years we did away with degree plans and their cursed linking statements, but I can assure you no one was the least bit sorry to see them go.