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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Faculty Reject Internship Credit

The faculty rejected internships for credit by a 53-48 vote on Monday, April 7. A more general “Summer Study Proposal” was passed at the same meeting, however. The internships for credit segment of the bill was not approved by faculty due to the passing of an amendment that sought to counter internship-related policies within the bill.

When the bill was first brought to the faculty on March 3, Math Professor Priscilla Bremser introduced a resolution seeking to prevent the Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) from introducing anything regarding internships for credit. Bremser’s resolution then became an amendment to “remove the option of academic credit for summer internships.” In keeping with faculty meeting bylaws, during the crucial April 7 meeting, the amendment was voted on before the larger proposal.

Once Bremser’s amendment was passed, the amended version of the EAC bill was voted on and passed by the faculty, with the wording “while an internship can be a valuable experience, in no case does it warrant notation on a student’s transcript from Middlebury College.”

The EAC proposal divided internships into three distinct classifications, two of which would provide credit. Transcript notations, which are currently available to students, are not credit-bearing but take the form of a note on a student’s academic transcript that he or she completed an internship.

Credit-bearing clustered internships would involve a group of students with similar internships working with a faculty mentor and completing a series of readings or assignments. The faculty mentor would receive a summer stipend for mentoring 15 or more students, or a fraction of the larger, fixed stipend if he or she worked with fewer students.

Course-connected internships would also earn students academic credit, requiring either a prerequisite course or a predetermined course to be taken after the completion of the internship that relates to the student’s major. For example, a Political Science major who spent time working on a political campaign would have to enroll in U.S. National Elections the following fall in order to receive credit for his or her summer internship. Faculty advisors would receive a stipend for offering supplemental assignments to those completing course-connected internships.

In order to receive credit for a summer internship, the internship would have to be directly linked with a specific academic department in which the student has taken a number of courses.

Dean of Faculty Andi Lloyd noted that among faculty, “there didn’t seem to be a question of whether they [internships] could be valuable [for many did acknowledge the importance of internships], it was whether or not they should be awarded academic credit.”

“The question of how all of you navigate from your education to a career is front and center,” Lloyd said. “The faculty vote was about how internships fit into your overall academic experience. I don’t think it should be seen as in any way an end to that broader conversation about the pathway from education to career.”

The faculty vote stirred a range of reactions from across campus.

“In my opinion, this vote symbolizes our inability to acknowledge the real value and promise of a 21st century liberal arts education,” said Dean of the College Shirley Collado. “Our students are asking us to recognize how multi-faceted and rich their learning experiences can be …  It is unfortunate that the vote did not support these kinds of teaching and learning opportunities for both our faculty and students.”

But Political Science Professor Murray Dry, a longtime vocal critic of internships for credit, applauded Bremser’s amendment.

“Internships are not liberal education. They’re something that may be practical and useful, but they are not governed by what I think the standards should be for what should be studied here,” Dry said. “We’re not a vocational school.”

“It’s not just a matter of work, it’s a matter of what it is that we’re about and that we the faculty are responsible for determining the content of a liberal education,” Dry continued. “We don’t all agree [on what should be in the curriculum], that’s true, but that doesn’t just mean that we should allow others, the people who run internships, to decide what should count for credit.”

SGA President Rachel Liddell said she was frustrated by the vote.

“From my perspective, the legislation presented by EAC provided a huge amount of flexibility and gave authority to professors,” she wrote in an email. “Professors had the option to offer for-credit internships, they were not required to do so. Nor would students be required to participate in a for-credit internship. The legislation simply created options for professors and students who wanted to offer these opportunities for their students. Ultimately, the vote reflects a distrust amongst faculty members. Those who voted to prevent for-credit internships communicated that they do not believe in that their colleagues’ teaching methods.”

Several faculty pointed out that many of the arguments made in support of the amendment, especially the arguments about how promoting internships for credit goes against the core principles of a liberal arts education, also apply to the existing policy of allowing students to do internships in the winter term for credit.

“The first thing that I thought of when the proposal came up is that aren’t we being hypocritical, by providing credit in the winter term but not in the summer, and so I think that we shouldn’t provide credit for J-term either,” said Assistant Professor of Economics Racha Moussa.

However, Moussa stressed that students will still be able to take internships for credit in J-term.

“I didn’t get the sense that the faculty wanted to end the J-term program,” Moussa said. “The voting was so close, so that’s not something I predict that will happen in future. But I think that definitely the conversation led into thinking about J-term a little bit more.“

One of the major criticisms of the vote was the lack of faculty attendance. The meeting barely roused the 94 votes needed for quorum.

“To those professors who did not attend the vote but held an opinion on the issue, I hope they regret their decisions,” wrote Liddell. “I also hope that students learn from their mistakes and remember to vote in SGA, local, state, and national elections.”

But Lloyd said that low faculty attendance at meetings and votes is nothing new.

“We’ve been grappling with an issue of relatively low attendance for a couple of years now,” Lloyd said, noting that the April 7 attendance of 101 voting faculty was about normal.

When asked why she thought internships for credit was amended out of the proposal, Lloyd pointed to the role that student experiences played in shaping her own support of internships for credit.

“I had the opportunity this past fall to hear the students in the Foodworks program talk about their experience. it was extraordinary for me to hear from students how much their academic work had been enriched by the experience. It changed my attitude towards internships,” she said. “I think it would be valuable for us to think about how to create more opportunities for faculty and students to come together to talk about your perspectives on internships — and the broader discussion of how your education prepares you for what comes next.”

It is hard to predict when the idea of internships for credit may come up for another vote, but Math Professor and longtime faculty member Mike Olinick said that once issues have been voted on, “faculty committees accept the verdict and move onto other questions as least for a few years.”

While dead now, the future of internships for credit at the College may not be over.

“Students did internships before this vote, and I assume you will continue to do them after the vote. I don’t think the conversation between students and faculty about what you learn from internships, or how you can best integrate your learning from internships with your classroom pursuits, is over.”