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July 26, 2023

Equity, inclusivity, and alphabet soup

by Mark Largent, vice provost & dean of Undergraduate Education

Portrait photo of Mark LargentWhen we ran new faculty orientation for Lyman Briggs College, we always gave new faculty members a quiz called “alphabet soup.”

It was a list of dozens of acronyms, some generally used in higher education (like FERPA and FTIAC) and many more that were specific to MSU (like RCAH and SASS). As expected, our new colleagues knew almost none of them, so the real exercise consisted of working through the list collectively to help them start learning our lingua franca.

Over the years, I have often heard the many acronyms we use here described as “MSU’s alphabet soup.” I honestly cannot remember if acronyms were so widely used at my prior institutions but given our new colleagues’ amazement at the ease with which we threw them around, I am inclined to think that MSU uses acronyms at a greater frequency than other institutions.

There is an obvious efficiency in the use of acronyms. For example, “CANR’s rep to UAL has been leading an effort with the RO and OFA to improve the ASUS process for FTIACs enrolled in classes with high DFW rates.” That would be a painfully long statement to make without the benefit of acronyms.

But there are also much less obvious and negative consequences to a heavy reliance on acronyms. They are part of a hidden curriculum that hinders our ability to work together in a community that otherwise professes its commitment to equity and inclusion. In this way, acronyms are an expression of power. When you use them, you make obvious that you are “in the know,” and when you hear them and do not know their meaning, it reinforces feelings of exclusion.

MSU’s alphabet soup has been on my mind lately because we are in the process of changing the name of our office. The Office of the Associate Provost of Undergraduate Education (APUE) will now be called the Office of Undergraduate Education because of the decision to convert all associate provosts to vice provosts to put MSU in line with peer institutions. 

APUE had been a widely used and generally understood acronym on campus, so it might be reasonable to simple convert it to VPUE. But why would an office and an administrator have the same name and acronym? I was the APUE, and we were the APUE—that’s odd.

Along with this name change is the abandonment of an acronym for our office. In shortened form, our new name is now “Undergrad Ed” (which coincidentally has the same number of syllables as APUE). Perhaps there are other acronyms on campus we can discard to make ourselves more welcoming and inclusive to members of our community.

Feedback and suggestions, especially from the MSU community, welcome at