I could write reams about the kinds of things I've heard about what we value, how we pat ourselves on the back for our fabulous grammar, our stupendous research and writing skills---man, can we frame an argument!, our (in)ability to use new technologies, etc., etc. And I could talk myself hoarse about how we need to remember ourselves as in our most challenging moments of reading and writing when we assess our students' interactions with these activities. But forget all that complicated stuff, filled with reality checks, contingencies and best practices for a changing textual landscape. What I really want to talk about is faculty illiteracy at its most basic, brass tacks levels.
People, in the last year, I have been at at least three meetings in which single page documents were distributed to faculty members. In two of these three cases, the documents were distributed at least a WEEK before the meeting, so people would have time to read it in advance. And at all three meetings, I have seen an inability to read and interpret the information on the page. And for the record, these were not complex, multivalent statements with an array of embedded clauses, a la Henry James. No, we're talking bullet points of data here! Do I have an example? Sure do!
1) "In the past, the FooFoo program has used one class to deliver this material. Next year, the FooFoo program would like to distribute this material over two classes. This experiment would bring FF into line with national models."
Question: How has this two-class model worked for us in the past?
2) "358 students in the FooFoo program thus far have moved into department-sponsored courses."
Statement: It's great that 358 students have chosen a major!
Rebuttal from a different fac. member: They haven't chosen a major! They're just taking inter-departmental classes!
You see the problem here, right? If I had students in a course who were having this kind of difficulty, I'd work with them on the principles of reading closely and at a literal level. That would be my go-to strategy. "Underline the important terms and ideas, and translate these into your own words by writing your ideas in the margins." "Make sure that you understand exactly what the author is saying before you make an evaluative judgment about the information." I can hardly turn to a colleague in a meeting and say this, but I have, of late, been tempted to pull a highlighter out of my bag and to whip it at the person.
Rather than resort to violence and defenestration, however, I'm considering starting up a remedial reading class for faculty members. There could be an anonymous recommendation process, and if you received more than 3 recs from your colleagues, you'd be required to attend a weekend workshop. Or maybe there should be a demerit system, in which you'd get a red card every time you radically misunderstood/willfully misinterpreted a clause in a public arena.
These suggestions, however, look at literacy training as punitive. Perhaps I could put a positive spin on it: reading documents and understanding what people are saying help you achieve social and professional mobility. It increases communication, and allows you to achieve better understanding among your peers. Excellent literacy skills can improve the quality of your life---learn to enjoy reading, understanding, and analysis!
The carrot or the stick. It matters not to me. It takes a village, people. Won't you volunteer to help professors learn how to read?