By: Jon Bruschke, professor and chair of human communication studies and statewide academic senator
The pages of the Senate Forum have long been concerned with shared governance and have established, among other things, both its value and vulnerability (see, for instance, Vol. 23 Number 2 & Vol. 21 Number 1). The past two years have seen profound challenges to that principle, and the purpose of this segment is to outline the major changes that have taken place so there is a written record of the events offered from a faculty perspective. I do have strong opinions on this issue, but my primary motivation here is to lay out the sequence of events so that our campus may better understand the challenges presented to us now.
A SHORT HISTORY OF HISTORY 110A AND 110B
This account begins in the 1980s when WASC questioned the coherence of our General Education (“GE”) package. One campus response was the creation of a year-long sequence that included History 110A (“World Civilizations to the 16th century” offered in what would become GE area C3) and 110B (“World Civilizations since the 16h century” offered in what would become GE area D2). Our students would take those courses, generally in that order, and the campus could be assured that all of our graduates would have attained a higher-education level of world history knowledge. By 1991 WASC singled out these courses as “exemplary” and commented that they provided “coherence to the [General Education] program.” For roughly three decades this framework was fine-tuned but generally left undisturbed.
CURRICULAR CHANGES DEVELOPED BY THE CHANCELLOR OUTSIDE THE SENATE TASK FORCE
In September 2016, the Academic Senate of the California State University (“ASCSU”) created a task force to study general education with resolution AS-3271-16. The rationale was that “GE is under increasing interest by external stakeholders and has undergone recent changes within the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) accreditation guidelines. Because it is solely the purview of the faculty, it seems reasonable and healthy for the ASCSU to engage in an examination of GE every several years.”
Evidently not sharing the belief that curriculum was “solely the purview of the faculty,” the Chancellor’s Office began work to alter GE and, in an effort unrelated to the task force, sent letters to campus presidents requesting feedback. The March 17 minutes of the ASCSU say this: “Chair Miller also reported that, on March 10, 2017, EVC Blanchard sent a letter to presidents asking campuses to provide feedback on potential revisions to EO 1100 governing general education in the system. Dr. Blanchard’s letter and call for feedback raised several questions about how this effort relates to the charge of the GE Task Force. These questions are being engaged in discussions between ASCSU leadership and Chancellor’s Office leadership. More information will be forthcoming as events unfold.” I can only report my personal recollections of conversations I heard on our campus and at Golden Shore, but the overall feeling was that the changes were too sweeping and the proposals too general to be implemented swiftly. Those I asked imagined that the hard work of vetting ideas and smoothing rough edges would come up the following fall, and the proposal would ultimately be folded into the work of the task force.
The minutes from ASCSU meeting two months later in May report only on the work of the Task Force and not EVC Blanchard’s independent work with campus presidents.
CHANGES ANNOUNCED TO IMMEDIATE AND WIDESPREAD CONDEMNATION
The ASCSU had adjourned for the year in May; the Chancellor’s Office received feedback from campus presidents on June 16. Some meetings with the ASCSU executive committee were held in July, although the depth and content of those meetings would become contested later.
On August 23 of 2017, the Chancellor’s Office announced curricular changes in two executive orders. EO 1110 eliminated remedial classes. EO 1100 (revised) made substantial changes to the general education requirements. One particular change announced in an FAQ memo was that Intermediate Algebra was to be removed as a pre-requisite for GE area B4; instead, students were “advised to take a Subarea B4 course that is appropriate for their major.” The math requirement was no longer principally the province of math departments and Intermediate Algebra was no longer a requirement. The FAQ declared that a course in personal finance would be sufficient.
The September 2017 meeting of the ASCSU was the first occasion for that body to react, extensive discussion ensued, and the vast majority of comment was strongly negative.
Between September and November, and with a unanimity largely unprecedented in the history of the system, the ASCSU and 22 of 23 campuses passed resolutions condemning both the process by which the executive orders were created as well as much of their specific content. Generally, four themes emerged:
- Every resolution unanimously proclaimed that the executive orders violated the principle of shared governance, with eight campuses citing the Higher Education Employee Relations Act (“HEERA”), which enshrined shared governance as the decision-making method of the CSU system.
- Twenty-one of the campus resolutions found the timelines for implementation unrealistic and inappropriate.
- A substantial majority felt the changes on the proposed timelines would damage programs (18 campus resolutions made this specific claim) and ultimately harm students (indicated in 16 campus resolutions).
- Fourteen resolutions expressed a desire to pursue the goals of the orders but by starting over and basing any decisions on sound data.
At least eight additional bodies issued condemnations of, or substantial reservations about, the Orders, including the following groups and organizations:
- General Education Advisory Committee
- California Teachers Association State Council (cited in a campus resolution at East Bay)
- Quantitative Reasoning Task Force of the ASCSU
- CSU English Council & CSU Math Council (expressing deep concerns about the timeline)
- California Faulty Association
- American Association of University Professors
- CA Educators United
- An open letter written by twenty-two chairs of campus Academic Senates
Beyond these larger bodies, a number of individual departments and faculty members shared their objections in various ways. A more thorough review could produce a more exhaustive list, but there is little doubt that the response to the Orders was overwhelmingly negative.
The Chancellor’s Office responded by releasing a memo outlining a “consultation timeline” on November 8. The memo’s purpose was evidently to show that consultation had occurred and cited the meetings of the prior July. Many of those who had purportedly been “consulted” objected to that characterization. The consultation timeline document indicated some faculty suggestions were rejected; there is no account of which suggestions were incorporated. The memo relied heavily on a March 15, 2017 letter that declared all consultation would happen between March 15 and June 16 and asserted that the ASCSU Executive Committee had agreed to that timeline and the means of consultation (which included mention of a 5-member group receiving $500 each to work over the summer; it is unclear whether this group was intended to represent all 27,000 faculty across 23 campuses).
An additional response came in a November 15, 2017 letter by Assistant Vice Chancellor Van Cleve. The 5-page letter asserted shared governance had been followed, that consultation had occurred, and that the process had complied with HEERA. Evidently in response to the call to base decisions on data, the Van Cleve memo produced information that spoke exclusively to the changes the remediation courses in EO 1110. Some results were cited to show that current “developmental education” efforts had failed, and reference was made to an article about the experience at CUNY. Also included was an apparently unpublished report about the University System of Georgia. The “Georgia Report” (which also included data about Tennessee) is difficult to evaluate since it contains no text of any sort. As such, it includes no written description of how the data were acquired, what factors were included, or any other detail. Other than these 2 citations I can find no other public reference to work researched prior to the EOs.
At their November Plenary session the ASCSU directed “the Executive Committee on behalf of the faculty to meet with CSU leadership to address the current state of faculty/administration relations and ask all of them to develop a mutually agreed upon definition of joint decision making and recommend a process by which decisions are made.”
CSUF COMPLIES WITH THE ORDERS
The CSU, Fullerton campus first responded on January 25, 2018 with ASD 18-06. The action complied with the new GE scheme by eliminating GE area D2; the History 110B course that had occupied that category was inserted into area D1 (“Introduction to Social Sciences”) where it was one of roughly 30 options. My impression is that our Senate assumed that our objections to the process remained open but the question of GE structure had been resolved with compliance. It seemed prudent to wait and see whether the ASCSU Plenary charge to its Executive Committee resolved the process concerns.
During the spring both the Math and English departments made preparations to replace their remedial courses with new course offerings. The CSUF English department – one of the largest in the system – had no contact with the Chancellor’s Office prior to issuance of the Orders. Meetings followed the Orders that largely focused on compliance and timelines; at those meetings the Chancellor’s Office expressed no concern about the quality of the instruction. It is fair to say the process was highly disruptive, as predicted by all the campus resolutions opposing the Orders.
MORE CHANGES OVER THE SUMMER OF 2018
On May 22, 2018 a letter from AVC Blanchard to the CSUF Provost instructed that “The revision to Area C [in EO 1100-Revised] necessitates removing CSUF’s Subarea C3 and moving the courses currently designated under Subarea C3 to Subarea C2.” After some clarification, the memo asserted the change had to be made by the Fall of 2019.
To address this demand, the Senate Executive Committee formed a working group so that a campus response could be formulated in time for consideration the following fall. After extensive discussion and research, the group reached consensus that involved the use of subareas within area C2. Such a scheme was in place on at least 3 other campuses in the system. The solution would have complied with the order while providing a structure that encouraged students toward WASC’s “exemplary” history offerings. A vote for the solution was scheduled on August 8; on August 7 a verbal communication from the Chancellor’s office informed the campus that the solution would not be accepted by the Chancellor’s Office.
In the fall of 2018 EVC Blanchard sent a letter asking for a campus response by November 15. On November 1, 2018 (ASD 18-140) the CSUF Academic Senate voted to remove area C3. Extensive prior discussion about an overlay for the history course did not materialize into a motion on the Senate floor. Thus, History 110A found a fate even more extreme than 110B, and after subsequent processing moved into a GE area with approximately 70 other courses.
LATE FALL OF 2018
Later that month, the ASCSU passed resolution AS-3354-18/FA re-affirming its objection to the Executive Orders and encouraging campuses to implement the Orders only insofar as, in the judgment of the campus Senates, the changes would benefit programs and students. Frustrated that the multiform calls for data-driven decisions had been ignored, and noting the Van Cleve memo included only a cursory review of available data, this resolution included an extensive review of peer-reviewed research. Van Cleve cited 2 sources, one without text; AS-3354-18/FA cited 46.
That research pointed to many conclusions contrary to the Orders:
- course scarcity was not slowing time to graduation;
- many entities objected to the “fewer categories/more choices” model the Orders characterized as “streamlining;”
- focus on time to graduation itself was misguided;
- a standardized general education is undesirable;
- the Georgia model was both an inappropriate comparison point and inferior to what the CSU had been attaining prior to the Orders.
In a related action the negotiations between the ASCSU Executive Committee and the Chancellor’s Office produced a codified set of “Tenets of Shared Governance.” They aimed at providing a clear definition of shared governance so that the vastly differing interpretations of the meetings of the summer, 2017 could be avoided in the future. They were endorsed formally by the ASCSU and the CSU Chancellor has pledged to follow them (although questions remain about whether they have been formally endorsed).
No additional courses have been added to CSUF area B4 as of this writing; however, it remains to be seen whether non-Math courses will be approved in the area.
In February of 2019 the ASCSU Task Force report (“GETF”) was released. It suggested several things contrary to the Executive Orders, such as the elimination of “double counting” mandated in the Orders. Other recommendations included reducing the number of GE requirements from the Title-V mandated 48 units to 42. The report, contra the Orders, is a set of recommendations rather than mandates, and contra the Orders, it goes to the ASCSU for further action.
The Task Force Report includes the admonition that “Curriculum planning, development and revision are led by the faculty; therefore, the ASCSU is the appropriate body to lead the next phase of GE reform, consonant with the principles and practices of shared governance.” The same paragraph notes that the Orders short-circuited the work of the Task Force. What impact the Task Force report has on the Orders, and especially on the question of shared governance, remains open.
Before it was presented to the ASCSU, the Chancellor’s Office released it to campus presidents and it appeared on the ASCSU website. The American History Association and the Stanislaus campus condemned the GETF report; the CSUF Academic Senate passed resolution ASD 19-18 insisting on full shared governance before any of the recommendations of the report were enacted.
As reported by President Virjee at the March 7, 2019 meeting of the Senate the Chancellor’s Office has informed the campus presidents that no action will be taken on the task force report without ASCSU approval. On the one hand, it is heartening to hear that the overwhelmingly negative response to the Orders seems to have been heard. On the other hand, all official correspondence from the Chancellor’s Office still maintains the Orders were properly constructed and enacted, and no leeway was ever given on the timelines (as recently as November of 2018). Whatever verbal responses have been given, the Chancellor’s Office still vigorously insists on its unilateral authority to make changes if it feels appropriate and on timelines it unilaterally dictates.
It may also be worth remembering that the problem began when the Chancellor’s Office bypassed the campus senates and the ASCSU and instead consulted directly with presidents. Whether verbal assurances to the presidents now should make the ASCSU and campuses feel comfortable about the GETF might still beg the question of what the Chancellor’s Office considers appropriate channels for shared governance.
Although the FAQs asserted that the purpose of the Orders was not to reduce curricular quality, the objective impact of them on the CSUF campus is that before the orders students were required to take two history courses from historians and a math class from a math professor. After the orders, those history courses are optional and college-level Algebra can (and in the view of the Chancellor’s Office, should) be replaced by a personal finance course, or any other quantitative class “appropriate” to a given major.
It seems clear that the fate of our history sequence – and its impact on the History Department – is the manifestation of the damage to programs that so many campus resolutions predicted. Abrupt changes backed on insufficient data made on unreasonable timelines are simply destructive to departments that have evolved their curricula over decades. I join the campus resolutions predicting that our students will suffer. Our lecturers already have.
At the present moment, the statewide GE Task Force report has arrived in the wake of the Orders. Our primary task is to find a way for our campus to navigate its way between the enormously unpopular Orders and the as-yet-un-enacted Task Force recommendations.
Many of the Task Force recommendations are contrary to the Orders. It is unclear what would happen if, say, our campus was to revoke the double-counting requirement at the suggestion of the Task Force Report when the Orders still mandated them. The Task Force Report squarely places the ASCSU as the “appropriate body to lead the next phase of GE reform,” but that body has no power to revoke to Orders or approve any campus action. What is our campus to do in this circumstance?
The particulars of our response are beyond the scope of this missive, but I do think that the principle of shared governance faced a real and mortal threat from the Orders, and whatever path we take forward must seek to vigorously restore balance.
 WASC comments excerpted from 2005 History Department Program Performance Review. Copies of WASC accreditation documents prior to 2000 are not readily available.
 There were minor changes to the numbering and format of the GE package. Subsequent WASC reports presented additional critiques of the CSUF GE package but the value of the history offerings has remained untouched.
 In the interests of full disclosure it should be known that the author chaired this group.