CAA looks at gen. ed courses

Analicia Haynes, Managing Editor

The potential issue whether there are too many general education courses and what to do as a response to it was debated Thursday during a meeting of the Council on Academic Affairs.

Eastern Provost Jay Gatrell presented the issue, which he said came to his attention when he first started attending CAA meetings.

The mechanism behind creating a general education course was somewhat opaque and the role of a subcommittee on general education was uncertain to him, he said.

Gatrell referred to a 2014 report conducted and published by the Higher Learning Commission, saying the general education subcommittee that was created in response to that report is currently not populated or functional.

“We’re going into 2019 and we’re not going to have any data about what that committee did,” Gatrell said. “That scares me a little bit, from an accreditation perspective, but I also don’t want to be onerous. I just want to make sure we preserve what’s good and feel comfortable about this.”

Gatrell proposed the consideration of a moratorium on new general education courses until the university is able to staff the general education community and develop a rubric that will assess new general education courses.

“I just want to make sure we have a process that’s consistent with shared governance and not extraordinary,” Gatrell said.

He said a subcommittee, consisting of faculty, could be responsible for assessing new and current course proposals and making recommendations to governing bodies such as the CAA.

The subcommittee could also create a framework to make sure all courses have consistent outcomes and be able to assess the degree to which the proliferation of courses is or is not happening, he added.

“We should have a policy that one new course results in a deletion (of another course) from a department because staff and resources are limited,” he said. “I don’t have an answer, but I think these are very serious sorts of issues that we probably should have a discussion about.”

Gatrell said he thinks courses should be reviewed periodically as well to make sure they reflect the learning goals and objectives, and when they are reviewed it can be determined whether the courses need to be recertified, changed or removed.

“I think we have an outstanding gen ed program,” Gatrell said. “I think the challenge with any gen ed program is how do you manage it? How do you govern it?”

Rebecca Throneburg, a member of the CAA, mentioned that the CAA took the initial lead when it came to establishing a subcommittee to review general education courses after the 2014 HLC report.

However, trying to find the right people to staff the subcommittee, especially after faculty left the university, made it harder to keep up. 

“We can pick (the subcommittee) back up again,” Throneburg said.

She said another problem was trying to find faculty who could be considered experts in the learning goals, such as critical thinking or quantitative reasoning, who had the time to give.

However, Gatrell said he does not think the CAA needs to have people developing the courses.

Instead, he thinks they should just assess them because he is unsure on whether or not that assessment is being done.

“I’m just worried about the structure; we don’t seem to have one that matches anything we said we were going to deliver,” Gatrell said.

Other CAA members agreed with Throneburg and said though strides were made to create rubrics to show faculty what the CAA was looking for in terms of assessment of general education courses, many people became strapped for time.

“I think right now too, everybody (on the CAA) was saying that (the general education topic) was important when the ship was sailing,” Rebecca said. “The ship started taking on water and I think everyone was like…this is the more critical element right now, and I think that’s why we all said, ‘OK, we’re just going until somebody tells us it’s the most important thing to focus on again.’”

Gatrell said though he is aware of the many pieces that have gone into trying to assess general education courses earlier, he just wants to make sure that the university is in compliance with the structures set for by the HLC that the university is committed to.

“Gen ed courses should be rare, precious sort of things because they provide a rational for student enrollment, they provide a rationale for additional staffing resources and there’s a lot that goes into the decision to create a gen ed,” Gatrell said. “You can have tons of gen ed courses when the faculty is larger. Now, we have to have a serious discussion about what’s the state of it going forward.”

Although Throneburg volunteered to take the lead on re-establishing a subcommittee, the CAA did not take a vote on whether or not a moratorium would be put in affect.

CAA chair Stacy Ruholl said an official proposal was needed and should be published in the agenda for the next meeting for the CAA to take a vote.

“(The moratorium proposal) needs to be reflected in our agenda in case faculty want to come here,” said CAA secretary Marita Gronnvoll.

Gatrell agreed to write the proposal, or a simple motion as he referred to it.

He also said an exception could be made to those general education courses that may already be heading to the CAA to be approved.

The CAA was also invited by the Faculty Senate to discuss current issues being addressed by the council, upcoming items that are under consideration and potentially revamping shared governance structures.

Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].