Friday, April 21, 2006

Depressing all-COLS meeting

Yesterday afternoon, we had another all-COLS meeting. The topic of the day was the new "growth" agenda for the campus. Meetings like this make me wonder why I am academia. I love my research and my teaching, but the unresponsive and condescending bureaucracy seems to be on a constant quest to reduce the quality of both.

The focus of the meeting was Petra Roter. She was invited to help us understand the student affairs proposals in this agenda. What we discovered is that some administrator has decided that the general education requirement is going to change. They are going to require all freshmen to take something called "First Year Experience." It is to be a 1-credit, toolbox course. This announcement set off a firestorm of questions.

How is it that the administration changes the curriculum without even consulting the faculty. Petra claimed that this course was approved long ago as some counseling course 101. They then, without discussion with faculty, changed the content of the course and made it required. Even Dean Zimmerman was surprised to hear that this course had all of a sudden become required.

Most faculty yesterday questioned this course, offering alternatives, or asked for more details. Petra deflected all criticism, by suggesting once that if we don't do this, our enrollment will drop precipitously (9200, the number she gave, I think) and may lead to the campus being closed. A few minutes later, she said that this is only being implemented to make the campus grow to 12000. Take your pick.

She leaned heavily on the NSSE results, claiming that this course will fix some of the problems there. Many faculty pointed out that our low scores on the NSSE actually have much more to do with our ever-increasing faculty to student ratio. She ignored that suggestion.

After Petra defended the administrative power to change to curriculum unilaterality and refused to acknowledge that the faculty might be able to provide some insight into the student body, discussion shifted.

Marsha Rossiter, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor for Lifelong Learning and Community Engagement, (whatever the hell that might mean) defended the other large component of the "growth" agenda, creating a Bachelor of Applied Studies degree. As faculty again questioned the rigor of this degree, she got incredibly defensive. This made it clear that she is aware of how inadequate this degree will be, and how graduates will have many fewer skills that graduates from the regular 4 year programs. The odd justification for this was that people who are already working shouldn't have to do college-level work, because they are too busy. Once again, the discussion revolved around the basic administrative priniciple that it is already a done deal, get used to it. She promised to be a better communicator next year. (After, of course, the whole program is officially in place and we have even less input than we do now)

It also struck me that the millions that are supposedly for enlarging the faculty will probably go to adjuncts and part-timers to teach courses for this new project.

Those are my basic impressions of the meeting. Administrators show up to unresponsively defend proposals that already have been imposed on us.

What a depressing spectacle!! Two meetings next week are set so different administrators can do it again (May 3, at 12 and 4:30).


Anonymous said...

I do wonder why the tenured professors are not speaking their mind within the community. If this program is not up to the same level as other college degrees will be, then we all have a problem --- we have a bachelor degree that is worthless. Again, I ask, why are the tenured professors not making this part of the project public knowledge?

babblemur said...

At my last place of employment we implemented a First Year Experience program - a three credit course required of all first year students. It was developed by the faculty themselves with administrative support, and the curriculum was adjusted thoughtfully to have the FYE course replace one "Core Foundations" course.

The crazy part was we actually managed to get the 24 faculty members teaching the first year to agree on 1 general theme, 3 common texts, mandatory information literacy components, common experience events, etc. The theme was "Human Impact on the Environment". The English profs approached it from a literary aspect, the Biology profs brought either field or lab experience to their sections. We had Art profs, Sociology profs, Psychology profs, Philosophy profs and Religion profs all teaching a section of this course.

It was a ton of work, but it actually brought faculty to collaborate together and united students in their common misery.

An FYE doesn't have to be bad - but it sounds like there wasn't faculty involvement in UWO's case.

S.B. said...

I wonder if anyone asked the students if they want to take this class? Sounds pretty lame to me.

We already have enough credits to shove in without this to stress us out further, especially freshman who might not be used to the college workload.

Also, how will not offering a 1-credit course to freshmen effectively close the campus? Totally confused here.

Anonymous said...

The quality of the Applied Studies Degree is going to be suspect because half the credits come from the tech schools, and the half here at UWO are weak courses without the focus and rigor we expect from a normal major.

The problem we have in questioning the quality of the program is that we have almost no assessment data on ANY major or program so there is no objective way to show that students in the BAS will have reduced math or writing or reasoning scores. We argue based on anecdote and rumor.

At a minimum BAS students should be required to take an exit exam so their skills can be measured, and we have some way of comparing their skills to the skills we expect of any other college grad.

Lake Winneblogo said...

As much as I dislike the idea of standarized tests, the same idea crossed my mind. When I listen to administrators talk continually about the need to lower standards, I wonder how we can keep an Oshkosh degree worth anything.

If we had some kind of exit exam, it would not be so easy to float through. Degrees like the BAS could only fly if their students could pass the exams too.

On the other points, I heard many faculty members complain about these proposals, but the administrators shrugged them off. I am not sure what would have to happen for those voices to have some bite. Maybe if faculty senate stopped rubber-stamping all the administrations proposals, they might have to listen to our comments.

Finally, most people in the room seemed sympathetic to some sort of first-year course for students. Susan McFadden suggested something akin to what babblemur mentioned. The response from Petra: this is done already and it is not open to discussion. . .

Anonymous said...

Faculty should be in charge of the curriculum. That is a basic principle of governance on this campus. It is clear from this meeting that faculty have a much better understanding of how to create a meaningful first year course than the folks in administration. It is equally clear that the administration on this campus does not care about faculty control of curriculum, nor does it care about our input.

Anonymous said...

So here is my take in the firt year experience class (as a student)...the concept is not all bad. Yes, the student body here at UWO is more than apathetic. But creating a required course in order to force involvemnt? Come on!
I was unaware that this was already done, as far as I knew, this course was still in the proposal phase. And the funny thing is, the students were never asked.
It is my 5th year here, and I have always been bothered by the attitude of administration. It has always felt like an 'us and them' atmosphere. This is what prevents students from getting involved. Oshkosh is a great school, but not on all levels. I almost transfered to Madison, but didnt...but only because of the relationships I was able to form with my professors. But the reason why I was inclined to get the hell out of here was because I was sick of administration catering to my parents. I am sick of feeling as though we (the students) are such a burden. I am sick of feeling as though Petra and Wells are more concerned with the image Oshkosh has, than the education its students are receiving. It is the students and faculty that keep this place going. Because, afterall, this is an institution for learning.
Yes, FYE has its benefits. Too many students think an education comes from textbooks and lectures, and never seem to realize that a quality education comes from getting your feet soaking wet with life experiences (on top of the classroom stuff). There is no way a 1-credit class is going to offer this.
But that is not the point, the point is, this class is not a cure-all to the student involvment problem, and it is not the administration's job to decide what is best for all its faculty, staff and students. Sure, they do have the final say, but descions such as this should be made collectively.

Petra just came here, but it seems as though she already knows what is best for all of us. NOT TRUE. I suggest she does her job and begin representing the students, and not pandering to the Chancellor and the board of regents.
I am graduating in 1.5 weeks, but I urge those whom I leave behind to stand up against the games administration is trying to play. The UW system may be a bureauracy but the administration is supposed made uo of educators, not bureaurocrats.

It is time we take back this institution, and put education at the center. Not an image that we will never live up to!
I am sickened to know that the faculty was not consulted in this. But even more queasy when I think of what the answer would be if I asked Petra what the faculty thought. Because odds are, Id get a different story.

Overall, I think the FYE course is a mistake, faculty and students should have been consulted. But, I think it will be successful if what the university wants to turn students into a herd of sheep.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see that students and faculty are on the same side on this issue. Not that Petra cares what students or faculty think. The only syllabus for this class has been decided by her. I can only hope the Faculty Senate shows some spine on this.