The Evergreen State College remains a place of ongoing change and enduring values. The college maintains the vital practices that have been its hallmarks from the beginning, including a dynamic, fluid curriculum characterized by full-time, team-taught interdisciplinary studies; collaborative teaching and learning models; narrative evaluations of student work instead of grades; no faculty rank or disciplinary departments; inclusive governance structures and academic deans who rotate from and return to the faculty; and a teaching and learning culture where students engage with and take responsibility for their own work.
Evergreen’s unique educational values—embodied by the The Five Foci and the The Six Expectations of an Evergreen Graduate—have guided teaching, learning, and college operations through more than 40 years of change. In the decade covered by this self-study (1998-2007) the college has experienced:
- The retirement of 70 veteran faculty members and the recruitment of 100 new faculty members to replace them and accommodate growth—effectively passing leadership from the college’s founders to a new generation.
- A continued slide in the purchasing power of state support and tuition, with corresponding constraints on college operations.
- The ongoing challenges of addressing general education goals for all students at a college that places premium value on giving students the choice and responsibility to design their own educations.
- An increasing pressure from state policymakers to address workforce shortages through high-demand enrollments and specialized degree production.
- Faculty organization as a collective bargaining unit, which is negotiating its first contract for 2008-09.
This self-study confirms that Evergreen is still Evergreen, and that it has charted a course for it to remain so.
Institutional Mission and Goals, Planning and Effectiveness
Evergreen has a unique identity and mission as a leading public, interdisciplinary liberal arts college. The college as a whole maintains a strong mindfulness of this mission, which is continually reflected in its values statements, its educational and operational practices, and its public service to the community, state and nation. Its core education principles—interdisciplinary studies, collaborative learning, learning across significant differences, student engagement, and linking theory with practice—are widely known and shared across the institution. In its strategic planning, the college has particularly intensified its work around two longstanding global concerns—diversity and sustainability—endeavoring to reflect these preeminent issues in our curriculum, hiring, and daily operations. The years ahead will likely continue to challenge Evergreen to maintain its unique offering in the world of higher education, but in four decades the college has managed to hold on to its mission and distinctive pedagogy despite calls for increased standardization and uniform, opaque outcomes measures.
Educational Program and Its Effectiveness
Evergreen remains an important college in Washington and across the nation as a model of public education that values and fosters democratic engagement, public participation, and informed and responsible citizenship. While maintaining its central curricular innovation—full-time, interdisciplinary, coordinated studies—the college has developed and expanded its educational programs in ways that both respond to the changing needs of students (such as Evening and Weekend Studies and undergraduate and graduate programs for Native Americans) and maintain a strong, cohesive identification with the institution’s mission and values. Widely shared concerns for diversity across the college community are reflected not only in student recruitment or faculty and staff hiring but, along with other social justice issues, are infused widely across the curriculum. The college continues to engage the challenge of meeting a call for better general education of graduates at a college that gives students the choice and responsibility to design their own educations. The college must follow through on the work it began through the Curricular Visions Disappearing Task Force (DTF). It should also focus on inter-area and Core teaching through the use of thematic planning groups, provide for systematic faculty engagement with student advising, and strengthen the first-year experience at Evergreen. As the college adds new programs of study in response to legislative calls for enrollments in “high-demand” fields, it must continue the challenging but essential task of addressing those calls with offerings that fulfill Evergreen’s mission and values.
Evergreen students receive a wide range of support services and share in a rich and varied college experience. Services include a range of advising and counseling services. Some have a mission to serve specific populations, such as First People’s Advising for students of color, KEY Student Services for TRIO-eligible students, and Access Services for students with disabilities. Others are widely accessible, such as Academic Advising, Career Development, the Health Center, and Counseling Services. Conversion to the Banner system has provided more timely service and information to students across the college, especially in the areas of Registration and Records, Financial Aid, and Student Accounts. A new system for processing faculty evaluations of student work and student self-evaluations has simplified and speeded the process considerably. The students for the first time organized a student government, the Geoduck Student Union, in 2006. The administration will need to continue to work carefully with the fledgling group as it establishes itself to ensure adequate student representation in campus governance. Student government, other campus organizations, and academic programs each year provide a broad range of intellectual and cultural activities that cut a wide swath across the curriculum. The college continues to face challenges concerning enrollment and is developing better coordination between enrollment planning and growth, curriculum planning, and institutional promotion.
Evergreen continues to attract and retain a well-qualified, diverse faculty. Faculty members clearly choose Evergreen for its unique educational approach and demonstrate a deep engagement with and commitment to the institution’s mission and values. Most especially, faculty members invest tremendously in the planning required for a vital, interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum fueled by collaborative teaching. During this self-study period, 70 veteran faculty members retired—including nearly all of the college’s original, pioneer faculty—and the college hired 100 new faculty members. In nearly 90 percent of its faculty searches, the college successfully recruited its first choice. In the long run, nearly all of these faculty members continue at Evergreen, but the college must continue to enhance its efforts to support new faculty and help their adjustment to the college’s unique practices. More must be done to engage and support all faculty in the critical work of student academic advising. Faculty members have opportunities to engage in college- and externally sponsored research and other faculty development activities. Although these opportunities have increased somewhat during the self-study period, the college must secure more funding to meet the demand for internal sponsored research and summer institutes in particular. As noted in previous self-study reports, Evergreen faculty salaries remained very low in comparison to peer institutions, and teaching and governance workloads are viewed as especially demanding. Discussion and movement on both issues appear possible as the college and the United Faculty of Evergreen negotiate a first collective-bargaining agreement in 2008.
Library and Information Resources
Evergreen’s library, along with its media and academic computing laboratories, has largely achieved the (then) radical vision set forth by its founding dean, James Holly. It is a teaching library whose staff and faculty librarians play an indispensible role in student learning. It is a virtual library, with substantial resources not bound by the constraints of walls and shelves. Its organization and resources have been deeply influenced by organizational practices of the college—collaboration, egalitarianism, fluidity, reflexive learning, independent and interdisciplinary inquiry. Remodeling and refurbishing have enhanced the blending of print, media and computer technology and improved both the access and sophistication of the college’s teaching laboratories. In the coming years, the college must: maintain the flexibility and depth and breadth of library faculty expertise and staff in a rapidly changing digital environment; continue to foster collaboration between faculty members, faculty librarians and instructional staff in meeting student learning needs; commit to a flexible long-term model for collection expenditures that can respond to the dynamics of the new information environment.
Governance and Administration
Evergreen’s administration and governance system are in a period of significant transition. Governance continues to reflect the college’s core values and mission, employing an egalitarian, inclusive, community-based approach to organizing the college and responding to emerging issues. Among the unique features of Evergreen governance Disappearing Task Forces rather than standing committees, a fully-inclusive faculty meeting rather than a faculty senate, and the active and genuine engagement of students in governance activities. Governance at Evergreen, admittedly, is at times messy and the results can be ambiguous, but the college’s more flexible approach has repeatedly been tested and by and large has served the college well. It will continue to be tested as the college adapts to a number of developments: continued enrollment growth; regular turnover of faculty, staff and students; the implementation of the first and successive faculty collective bargaining agreements; the evolution of a student government incorporated in 2006; and shifting accountability requirements resulting from Washington’s new performance-based contracting for public baccalaureate institutions.
Evergreen has a solid financial base, with a budget that reflects the college’s strategic plan, sound business and accounting practices, a long-standing record of clean audits, and substantial reserves to help meet contingencies. The transition to the Banner system has improved financial services to college divisions as well as students. A number of financial developments, however, will require the college to expand and diversify its revenue streams. State support and in-state, undergraduate tuition increases have not kept pace with increasing operational needs, especially in the areas of public accountability and student services. This gap will in all likelihood continue to grow. The college needs to continue to tend carefully those areas where it has control and discretion over revenue, including auxiliary operations, fund raising, and tuition setting for graduate and non-resident undergraduate students.
Evergreen’s facilities continue to provide the physical resources necessary for it to accomplish its mission. The legislature has provided $110 million in capital appropriations during the past decade. Library and laboratory renovations and the addition of the college’s first new classroom building in 35 years have greatly increased campus capacity, brought timely modernizations, and made campus operations more sustainable. A significant number of deferred maintenance projects remain, but the college has reduced that backlog considerably in the past 10 years. The college will nevertheless need to proceed carefully with space planning as it approaches a long-term projected enrollment of 5,000 students. A new campus master plan, in tandem with the college’s strategic plan, will inform future growth and campus improvements in keeping with Evergreen’s education and sustainability goals.
The college and its administration have actively defended academic freedom in policy and action. Evergreen embraces the Ethics in Public Service Act, Open Public Meetings Act, public records laws, and other principles of transparency in government agencies in a democracy. Nevertheless, the constant influx of new faculty and staff, an increasingly complex external environment, and an evolving framework of labor relations and collective bargaining agreements make it critical that the college complete the comprehensive review and revision of college policies it has begun—linking those policies to the college’s stated missions and values and disseminating them widely to faculty, staff, and students.