GE revisions open debate on student success, university requirements

By Sam Robinson
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Michael Scott, Academic Senate president (right panel) speaks to the Senators and guest at the Feb. 12 meeting. Photo by Ashley Orcutt.

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) faculty have been working to revise the general education (GE) curriculum, in response to an executive order from the CSU Chancellor’s Office that was issued in August 2017. This has led to the reconsideration of current university requirements, and disagreement about which curricular model will best serve students.

The order states all GE courses will be three-unit courses (with the exception of a one unit lab in the sciences), which has workload and salary implications for lecturer faculty, and that campuses cannot require any more or any less than 48 units for GE.

Changes to General Education Curriculum

The executive order, or EO 1100 as it is referred to, is a revision of a 2015 executive order about GE curriculum. The purpose is to bring all CSU GE curriculums in line. Campuses were to be in compliance for the 2018-2019 academic year, but CSUMB was given a one year extension. Current CSUMB students will not be impacted by changes because they have catalog rights for the year they started courses; changes will impact future students.

“In its best incantation, EO 1100 is an opportunity for campuses to rethink GE with the goal of offering an integrated, interdisciplinary, liberal arts curriculum,” said Professor Miguel Lopez, chair of the CSUMB GE committee, which is an Academic Senate standing committee. “Students sometimes don’t engage with GE; they don’t see the connections. This could encourage faculty and to hold them accountable to make GE a thoughtful experience for students.”

Lopez is also a member of a five-faculty member steering committee that was formed in the fall. The steering committee was designed to be a non-decision-making group that would develop a timeline and facilitate communication on the issues. Professor Michael Scott, president of the Academic Senate is also on the steering committee.

Also in the fall semester, the Academic Senate passed a resolution voicing its concern about the Chancellor’s Offi ce making curricular decisions, as the curriculum is the responsibility of the faculty and the short timeline given to make these revisions. Several other CSU campuses passed similar resolutions. Scott noted “the short amount of time we have to complete the curricular revision process,” as one of the major challenges in the process. “Typically, changes to existing courses and submission of new courses have to be completed a year before students can enroll in them.”

“The highly flawed process through which this order came down from the Chancellor’s office without adequate consultation and shared governance,” is one of the key issues said Professor Deb Busman, GE committee member.

Some see the value in EO 1100: “I personally think it is a good idea to synchronize our practice with other sister CSU campuses,” said Professor Bude Su, chair of the School of Computing and Design. “After all, we are a public serving state university, and therefore, cannot create a unique campus like a private university. It is critical to be a good team player within the system. The timeline is certainly aggressive. It is quite challenging to sort the details out in a few months to meet the next cycle of course consent and catalog update deadlines.”

University Requirements

While EO 1100 does not require CSUMB or any campus to revisit its university requirements, some faculty have taken this opportunity to do so, because many are embedded in current GE courses.

Adding to the complexity of designing a new GE curriculum, all CSUs are being asked to ensure native students will be able to complete degrees in 120 units, and transfer students in 60 units. All required courses and prerequisites must be shown on pathways to degree completion.

This is an area of concern for some CSUMB majors that have a high number of required units. Currently, some majors receive waivers for transfer students to allow those students not to complete certain university requirements. This will no longer be allowed.

Four university requirements that have been called into question are: First Year Seminar (FYS), graduate writing assessment requirement (GWAR), language proficiency and service learning. There seems to be consensus that FYS could be relabeled as a Freshman requirement, and work in conjunction with various GE courses like it does now. GWAR may or may not be tied to a GE course, that decision has yet to be made.

The two areas where there are clear divide between the faculty are the language proficiency and service learning requirements, and whether to retain these as university requirements. Some want to keep them and others want to eliminate them completely.

Students are required to meet the language proficiency at the 201 course level as a university requirement. Currently, if a transfer student comes to CSUMB without this level of proficiency they must take at least one and potentially three, four-unit language courses. Higher-unit majors worry this would take curricular space away from courses in the major.

“The key areas for contention [between faculty] revolve around university requirements,” said Scott. “University requirements are requirements all students who graduate must satisfy. The most contentious is the language profi ciency requirement. Under the current system, upper-division transfer students who enter CSUMB in a high-unit major are exempt from this requirement.

“This is actually a violation of state-law (Title 5, California Code of Regulations). Therefore, as we revise our GE requirements in response to EO 1100, we also must restructure our university requirements. Additionally, we must count the units prerequisite courses that meet university requirements in CSUMB’s graduation requirements. Under state-law, CSU must require exactly 120 units toward graduation. Under these new restrictions, it makes it more difficult for all majors at CSUMB to incorporate the units needed to meet the language profi ciency requirements,” Scott continued.

“Many faculty believe we should keep the language requirement under these new conditions, while other believe the cannot incorporate the language requirement where the benefits outweigh the costs,” said Scott.

Defining Student Success

It has become evident that faculty across the campus have different ideas about what constitutes student success, which is often sighted by both those who wish to eliminate and those who wish to keep the language profi ciency and service learning university requirements.

Some see student success as preparing students to be skilled in dialogue and multicultural awareness.

“Language is an essential competency for the 21st century,” said Professor Yoshiko Saito-Abbott, School of World Languages and Cultures and GE committee member. “In order to prepare all of our students, we must think about which skills are vital for success in this interconnected world. Multilingual and multicultural competence is essential for all students to succeed in today’s global society. It enhances cognitive development and career opportunities, promotes tolerance and dialog, fosters empathy and negotiation, develops critical thinking and fl exibility, and is crucial to international engagement.”

Others define student success as giving students the skills and courses needed to get jobs or go to graduate school after CSUMB.

“We are most concerned with the impact of university requirements outside of GE areas on our transfer students,” said Su, from the School of Computing and Design. “The competition is global when it comes to tech related industries. We are already struggling to cover the Tier 1 content that ABET accreditation body requires for Computer Science (CS) majors. If more major units are taken away, we cannot cover the core content anymore and will further deviate away from being accredited.

“Our CS program has the highest local transfer rates among all degrees at CSUMB. About 80 percent of our upper division students in the CS and Communication Design majors are transfers. These students come for knowledge and skills to become a capable professional in their respective fields. They will not choose CSUMB if they are required to take a lot of courses outside of their major. We are well known locally, regionally and even nationally for our innovative transfer programs. It will be a big loss for CSUMB if these programs cannot continue.”

Student success is also cited as a mutual goal and a reason for disagreement among faculty members.

“I’m hopeful the faculty can continue to work together to meet our mutual goals of student success in a collegial and harmonious manner,” said Scott. “I believe one the reasons these curricular changes are so contentious is that faculty care deeply about CSUMB, its mission, and student success.”

Curricular Models Presented

The GE committee, after months of work, presented 12 potential integrated curricular models to the Academic Senate on Feb. 12. The Senate is scheduled vote on March 12 as to which model to adopt as the revised GE curriculum. The Senate may vote on the GWAR options as soon as Feb. 26 at a special meeting.

Lopez, who presented on behalf of the committee, said the models are: “EO1100 compliant, respond to various defi nitions of student success, respond to the vision and strategic planning, tried to understand the curricular space needs of higher-unit majors, and include the voice of World Languages and Culture, Service Learning and FYS.”

The 12 integrated models and supporting documents, as well as a timeline and other information can be found on an EO 1100 planning hub that has been created as part of the Academic Senate website, https://csumb.edu/senate.

There was concern from some Senators about the number of units outside of GE curriculum that majors may need to account for in pathways. Professor Marylou Shockley asked: “Am I right, that no models have zero units outside of GE?” Lopez responded, yes, she was correct.

Other Senators expressed concern about the timeline for reviewing any models that could be submit from the campus at-large, which is an option. Scott, the Academic Senate president, said additional models could be submitted to either the GE committee or the Senate Curriculum Committee Council for consideration. However, the timeframe for when these additional models would be presented for a “first read” was questioned in relationship to the current timeline to vote on a final model.

Student Voices

Student input will be sought through two forums that will be held Feb. 28 and March 2. This is “significantly after the fact,” said Lopez GE chair. The GE committee does have a student representative Mikaela Motto.

“My role is to be the student voice and representative [on the GE committee]. I try to keep the students’ best interests in the conversation and understanding how the proposals will affect students,” said Motto.

“I wish students had an opportunity to be more informed with the changes and had a bigger say in models being proposed,” said Motto. “It would ensure that students voices and opinions would be heard.”

She also said: “I like and support most of the models put forward. I think the members of the GE Curriculum Committee has done amazing work. I hope that lower division service learning stays within GE. The models I have seen, I think, are the best choices for
student success.”

Motto also wanted students to be aware that going from four unit to three unit courses means there will be less material taught in a single class.

Dates of upcoming General Education forums.

Editor’s Notes: This is the first in a series of articles about EO 1100. Information was current at the time the newspaper was sent to press. Dr. Robinson is The Lutrinae advisor, and faculty in the School of Humanities and Communication, she also is a voting member of the Academic Senate.

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