Kicking the Habits

With reaccreditation at risk, Alamo Colleges drop course based on the 7 Habits self-help book that board had approved to replace a humanities requirement.

December 19, 2016
 

Under pressure from its accreditor, the Alamo Colleges community college district in San Antonio has dropped a controversial initiative to replace one of two required humanities courses in its core curriculum with a primer on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.

Last week’s vote by the district’s Board of Trustees to strike all references to the self-help book from its leadership and development policy follows several years of debate between faculty members and district administrators. The 7 Habits were pushed by Bruce Leslie, the chancellor, and instructors said they had little say in what role, if any, the book would play in the curriculum.

Alamo’s five colleges are individually accredited, and faculty members are supposed to have primary control over the curriculum. Beyond issues of shared governance, many professors questioned the appropriateness of teaching a self-help book in a college setting, and particularly in place of the humanities.

Tony Villanueva, president of Palo Alto College’s American Association of University Professors advocacy chapter and professor of behavioral sciences, said of the development, “The wisdom of shared governance is to avoid costly mistakes like this one. It is hard to play down the fact that our community college system established as its formal educational philosophy and adopted as policy the ideas behind a commercial product considered by most to be a self-help book.”

He added, “It would have been wise for administrators and board members to practice the 7 Habits -- first things first and seek to understand, then be understood -- instead of trying to force it on all staff and employees of the community college district.”

Earlier this year, the district’s accreditor, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, said it was investigating the 7 Habits-based course and the process by which it entered the general education program.

The commission later said it was deferring reaffirmation of accreditation for three of Alamo’s colleges -- Northwest Vista, San Antonio and St. Philip’s -- over concerns about the “autonomy” of district campuses. "There are indications that the board, through board policy, has required certain content (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) to be included in the curriculum," reads a related report of the special committee that investigated San Antonio College. "It appears that this bypassed the faculty review process. … The committee recommends that the institution demonstrate that it places primary responsibility for the content of the curriculum with its faculty."

The district is interested in 7 Habits due to employers’ widespread concerns about the lack of "soft skills" in students and graduates, said Leslie, the chancellor. “The board built this into policy along with two other policies that have had a very beneficial impact on our student outcomes and high organizational performance.”

Yet the commission appears to have questions about faculty input in the process by which it was adopted, he said. So the board, “wishing to be proactive -- Habit 1 of the 7 Habits” -- voted at their recent meeting to take specific references to the book out of the leadership policy.

The board also charged the faculty and administration with overseeing a new set of standards for leadership development, Leslie said, since the commission affirmed that the trustees have the authority to stipulate leadership as a requirement in the curriculum.

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