In January, three separate meetings were held to consult with the Institute’s Department Chairs, its Academic Advisory Board, and the entire faculty about the Institute’s development. The Institute Director briefed them about the newly established relationship with Graduate Theological Union, which will result in a great increase in our experience delivering courses for graduate credit, will strengthen our outreach to other institutions of higher education, and will afford many new opportunities to offer lectures on the Faith related to important issues in public discourse. Progress has also been made on applications for accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) and for operating authority from the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE).
The Associate Director described the two graduate certificate programs we are designing. “Bahá’í History, Texts, and Tenets” will offer six courses that provide an overview of the basic aspects of the Bahá’í Faith, and “Social Transformation” will provide five courses exploring Anti-Black Racism, Women and Peace, Climate Change and Sustainability, and other important issues on which Bahá’í principles offer important insights. Learning outcomes for both certificates have been finalized and now they are being applied to each course in order to produce syllabi aligned with the goals of the programs.
The Registrar provided an overview of statistics: the Wilmette Institute’s number of online courses grew from 61 in 2019 to 70 in 2020; the number of registrations increased from 1,220 to 1,811; from 19 webinars, the number grew to 58; the ranks of our part time faculty increased from 80 to 93. In addition, 2020 saw us go live with a new website and open a third Zoom account to accommodate the greatly increased demand for Zoom sessions in our courses. We began to appoint and train teaching assistants in some courses, drafted a Student Handbook and a Faculty Handbook, initiated anonymous registration for learners in marriage courses, and opened an Instagram account.
All this progress—seemingly several years’ worth in just twelve months!—prompted many questions, but the focus of discussions was on increasing the diversity of the Institute’s faculty and learners. The course Anti-Black Racism in the US and Building a Unified Society has been a breakthrough for the Institute in several ways: in its ability to address the most vital and challenging issue, its recruitment of more faculty from among people of color, its relevance to development of the Bahá’í community including building capacity to contribute to social discourse, and its ability to explore the issue of race in an academic setting. It has prompted discussion of the question of how racial inclusion and justice can be integrated into all the Wilmette Institute’s courses in one way or another.
The Academic Advisory Board offered many suggestions about people to contact and the faculty meeting centered on a frank and illuminating discussion of many of the roadblocks to achieving diversification of the faculty. The consultations prompted several follow-up meetings of the Institute’s executive and administrative teams and several lines of action are underway. Currently the Academic Advisory Board meets every other month, but it became clear that the faculty need to be consulted more regularly and department chairs need to be accompanied to take on more responsibility.
Over the next few months, the Wilmette Institute staff will be busy launching our first course through the Graduate Theological Union, building our relationships with the GTU staff, and completing our work for DEAC and IBHE. But the next big step will be planning the credit courses we will offer through GTU in September and a series of fall events in Berkeley if the pandemic moderates sufficiently to allow them. The work thus will continue to move the Wilmette Institute from strength to strength.