volume 42, number 5
Temple UniversityFaculty Herald

GenEd Responds to Restructuring: An Open Letter

By The General Education Committee

 

Dr. Englert,


   As the University moves to improve undergraduate access to excellence, retention and persistence, General Education hopes to be at the center of those efforts. However, we fear unintended consequences may undermine the successes GenEd has accomplished since the program was launched in Fall 2008 and may position GenEd on the periphery.

   We find two principles from the March 15, 2012 white paper problematic and encourage you to reconsider these in light of possible implications for undergraduate education at Temple University. The statements regarding the importance of faculty governance and the devolving authority to deans may undermine the gains observed in the short time that General Education has functioned.


Shared Faculty Governance Critical to GenEd Success


   With regards to faculty governance, the paper reads, "Considerable time is spent on internal governance matters. This is time not spent on our core mission." Time spent on matters of internal governance, particularly university-wide, interdisciplinary committees such as the General Education Executive Committee (GEEC), reside at the heart of the University's core mission-access to excellence.
In fact, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) praised the existence of GEEC and recognized the positive impact of faculty decision-making bodies. In their post-visit accreditation report, MSCHE wrote "...the establishment of participative committees to address academic initiatives, such as GenEd and learning outcomes assessment, appear to foster a positive, collegial environment" (16).

   Faculty committees that create, oversee and maintain quality academic programs are central to the University's business and consider matters at the broadest possible levels-the entire student body. To assert otherwise negates the various initiatives and efforts to establish standards and criteria for the common undergraduate experience.
  The current General Education program grew from a highly collaborative and consultative process involving faculty, deans, associate deans, staff and students. This process facilitated an ambitious pro-gram of student learning focused on the development of student's abilities in several key areas.
The value of such shared governance efforts in GenEd has been proven in a number of ways as we suggest below. Numerous assessments and evaluations by external and internal entities demonstrate the program has "made good" on its objectives.
  For example, student response rates from the latest administration (2011) of the National Survey of Stu-dent Engagement indicate first-year students and seniors report increasingly higher levels than respondents in previous years (2009, 2007, 2005) for the following mental activities:


analyzing,
synthesizing,
making judgments and
application.


  Additionally, respondents from Temple University report engaging in these mental activities with significantly higher frequencies than their counterparts at our urban peer institutes, other mid-East public universities, and schools within the same Carnegie classification.
  The gradual increase in self-report rates from 2005 to the present suggests General Education and its focus on active and experiential learning to develop intellectual competencies are central to students' perceptions. Assessment projects conducted by General Education in the last three summers mirror students' self-reported data and provide direct evidence of student learning and achievement in the following competencies:


critical thinking,
communication skills,
contextual thinking and
civic engagement.


Devolving Authority to Deans May Weaken GenEd Success


  In part, many of these successes may be tied to the intense collaborative efforts between faculty and administrators throughout the university. The collective effort grew from truly open discourse that focused on the health and vitality of the University's undergraduate curriculum. We fear that the placement of all decisions regarding class size and GenEd resource deployment with the deans will chip away at these collective successes.
  In the collaborative planning that developed GenEd, we carefully considered where and how we could have the most impact on developing competencies. Collectively, we focused attention on the Foundations and small, intimate classrooms where students in the earliest stages of their academic careers would find seminar-style classrooms with personal attention and powerful individual feedback on some of the most fundamental elements (critical thinking and communication) for a successful academic career.
  We asked for and received generous and dedicated support for the General Education Founda-tional courses and in return, recognized colleges would need to offer a mix of small, medium and large lecture courses to supplement the higher instructional costs associated with seminar-sized sections.
  Our strategy to focus on individualized attention and instruction in the earliest Temple experi-ences has been successful. A longitudinal assessment of students' progressions through Analytical Reading and Writing and the sequenced Mosaic courses demonstrates a moderate and positive impact on student performance in upper-division writing courses.
  Additionally, results from the ETS Proficiency Profile administered to Temple University first-year and senior students who would have completed the aforementioned sequence indicate our students performed better than 60% of participating institutions on writing skills and higher than 70% of the same institutions in critical thinking.
  The early process of decision-making balanced the needs of the individual colleges with the goals and objectives of General Education. As resources have dwindled, schools and colleges have been forced to prioritize. Rightfully, deans and academic departments historically act in the best interest of their respective units; however, the General Education program has observed some troubling trends.
  We have seen course sizes double and triple and discussion sections eliminated to reduce instructional costs. We have observed fewer and fewer tenure track faculty teaching in General Education and increased reliance on non-tenure track faculty. We have more adjunct faculty teaching more and more students. And, we have seen colleges and departments cutting or in ex-treme instances eliminating GenEd offerings.
  We empathize with the deans who have to make decisions that, while in the best interest of their students and their majors, are potentially limiting to the remainder of the undergraduate student body. Unfortunately, we envision their choices becoming more and more difficult as resources continue to diminish.
  In the absence of checks and balances in the form of a dedicated voice or an advocate for the undergraduate body, fragmentation and specialization will follow and our accomplishments will be undone. We raise our concerns and objections to suggest the possible consequences of discounting the importance of faculty governance and the critical role university-wide committees, such as the General Education Executive Committee, serve.
  We take comfort in the University's shared commitment to access to excellence and the invitation to respond to restructuring. We simply ask that decisions regarding faculty governance and devolution of authority in matters affecting the General Education program be delayed until we have filled vacancies and interim officers with long-term successors.

Respectfully submitted,


Dr. Istvan Varkonyi
Director


Dr. Julie Phillips
Associate Director


General Education Executive Committee (GEEC)
James Cooke
Dr. Cynthia Folio
Dr. Peshe Kuriloff
Mike Puppolo
Dr. Rickie Sanders
Dr. Thomas Wright
Dr. Steven Fleming
Dr. Mary Anne Gaffney
Dr. William Miller
Dr. Terry Rey
Dr. Catherine Schiffer


General Education Area Coordinators (GAC)
Dr. Daniel Berman
Dr. Eli Goldblatt
Dr. Anthony Hughes
Dr. Wilbert Roget
Dr. Ralph Young
Dr. Jane Evans
Dr. Alistair Howard
Dr. Tricia Jones
Dr. Susan Varnum