Reading an institution’s history through the lens of whole-systems theory

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In this ambitious study, Brad Peters adapts the whole systems approach (Cox, Galin, & Melzer, 2018) to review twenty plus years of history of a WAC program’s development at a Midwestern high-research university, one that he directs and has been leading for these years. Peters first succinctly summarizes the whole systems approach, showing how it fills a gap left by Condon & Rutz’s taxonomy and builds on Walvoord’s social movement theory for WAC. He then articulates sustainability indicators (SIs), translating them into a six-degree rubric ranging from “minimum” to “substantial” (p. 12), a schema that will likely be appealing to readers. He then draws on program and institutional records and data to assess SIs for the following areas of his WAC program: student support, faculty support, degree programs, budget capacity, control of class size, equitable number of faculty to teach, capacity to assess, committee oversight, coordinator’s course-management, and program visibility. For each SI, he established a baseline, using data from year one of the program (pp. 14-15), captured data again in the next four years (when the program was well funded, the next six (when it wasn’t, and was in decline), and then the next nine (dubbed, the turn-around). For each, he provides an SI table and radar chart (e.g. pp. 28, 29, 31), as well as a narrative, in which the story is told visually, as well as grounded in evidence, and framed with the WSA. This article is the first not authored by Cox, Galin, and/or Melzer to most fully take up the WSA, and the first to adapt it for a use not intended by its authors. Peters ends his article with this: “Twenty-some years is a daunting span of time to reconstruct WAC’s presence on a university campus. But using whole-systems theory has helped me (and will help others) gain a much clearer picture of what the program has been, what it is, and what it can be” (p. 33). This article would be fruitful to read alongside Cox and Galin (2019) and Galins (2021).