Chancellor makes gen. ed. decisions

Chancellor Dennis Shields’ decisions on changes to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville general education curriculum have been finalized and distributed to the campus community. Shields’ decisions went against the recommendations of Faculty Senate on three major points. The Senate is likely to push back on two of them at the next meeting on April 12.

In a March 31 document emailed to the UW-Platteville Community from Shields and Provost and Vice Chancellor Mittie Den Herder, Shields’ decisions are described as “almost identical to the revised proposal put forth by the General Education Task Force, and passed by the University Undergraduate Curriculum Commission.” The document also stated that an amended version of that proposal was passed by Faculty Senate on March 29.

Shields reduced the foreign language requirements for students pursuing a Bachelor of Sciences degree. BS students will now be required to complete only one semester of foreign language, and this requirement can also be satisfied by one year with a “C” or better in a high school foreign language class. Bachelor of Arts students will still be required to complete a second semester of foreign language.

Shields also made the changes retroactive to Fall 2014. Faculty Senate voted to recommend that the changes begin in Fall 2017, but at the March 29 Faculty Senate meeting, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Joanne Wilson requested that Faculty Senate consider recommending the changes be made retroactive to Fall 2014. Faculty Senate decided at the March 29 meeting to discuss the matter on April 12.

The document from Shields and Den Herder stated that the decision to make the changes retroactive “is due to many reasons including simplicity in terms of advising and catalogs, assisting our students to graduate in a timely fashion, and the effect of budget cuts on the number of seats in the general education courses.”

Shields also decided that all students entering the university with fewer than 30 credits will be required to complete a first-year experience course. Faculty Senate had approved an amendment on March 29 that the first-year experience requirement be “waived for students who enter UW-Platteville with at least 30 credits or an ACT of 22 or above.”

Wilson, who was present at the March 29 Faculty Senate meeting and said she communicated the concerns of the faculty to the chancellor and provost, said she thinks advising would be made easier because advisors would be working out of two catalogs instead of three.

Philosophy Professor Shane Drefcinski said the decision will be “easier for the assistant provost [Wilson] because of fewer degree program change forms, but harder for everyone else.” He said that the decision to make the changes retroactive combined with the budget cuts in general might make advising “the most difficult it’s been in decades.”

Drefcinski said he also disagrees with the decision to reduce the foreign language requirement.

“I think a lot of people are disappointed in the decision to scale back foreign language,” Drefcinski said. He referred to a general education student learning outcome, or SLO, which states that UW-Platteville students should be able to “Read, write, listen, and speak at a basic level in a language other than English.”

“I don’t know how we can achieve that [SLO] in one semester. It’s far too little,” Drefcinski said. “It’s hard enough with two.”

An even more radical change – eliminating the foreign language requirement for BS students altogether – was voted down by Faculty Senate on March 29. The proposal at that meeting was presented by Chuck Steiner as proxy for School of Agriculture Director Mike Compton, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Compton said he knew that the proposed amendment wouldn’t be popular.

“I believed in the proposal and thought it was the right thing to do. I think it’s my duty as faculty senator to represent my constituents,” Compton said.

“One piece of data that we’ve unearthed is that almost 89 percent of students complete [the foreign language requirement] in high school,” Compton said. “If students are completing this requirement before they get here, [keeping] it doesn’t make sense.”

Compton also said that he thinks international education courses and short-term faculty-led study abroad programs are doing a good enough job in terms of internationalizing the curriculum. He said he recognizes how the reduction might cause concern in terms of the foreign language SLO, but that the university as a whole has to decide what will be prioritized.

Burns said that there has been no discussion of changing SLOs, but that “we’re not meeting our student learning outcomes.”  Burns also said she doesn’t think the decision to reduce the foreign language requirement for a BS serves the students and that half of the foreign language program would be “wiped out” by the change.

The Senate’s pushback against the chancellor’s decisions on general education will take the form of two resolutions to be introduced at the April 12 meeting. Faculty Senate Chair and Humanities Department Chair Theresa Burns said the resolutions will oppose the reduction of the foreign language requirement and the decision to make changes retroactive to 2014.

A draft of one of the resolutions that will be presented on April 12 states the Faculty Senate’s opposition to the chancellor’s decision on the foreign language requirement and urges him to reverse his decision before it goes into effect.

The other resolution is expected to oppose making the general education changes retroactive to Fall 2014.

The document from Shields and Den Herder stated that “the most compelling argument [for the retroactive changes], however, is that these changes are what we expect our students to accomplish and we should not wait to implement.”

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