Faculty feedback

GenEd30 task force responses to faculty feedback and concerns

The following are responses to comments and concerns discussed during twenty presentations of the framework across the university as well as solicited online feedback. These comments are on file and accessible to the provost’s office. There were a total of 65 written comments from across VCU.

Process, transparency, and faculty governance

The primary concern raised in both the written comments and those expressed at the presentations focused on the roles, responsibilities and transparency of the standing committee. Most faculty were deeply concerned about how the new general education framework would be vetted and managed once the proposal from the task force was submitted. The concerns are as follows:

Transparency
Many faculty were concerned about the level of transparency both up to this point and going forward. While all were appreciative of the support for faculty governance, many expressed concerns about a lack of transparent and clear guidelines for how this proposal would be voted on and approved. They were particularly concerned about how additional layers of details, such as, connecting general education with assessment, REAL and approval processes, would be developed, vetted and approved. While assurances by the vice provost that the proposal would follow standard committee approval processes were appreciated, many remain unsure of what those processes are, given the new committees being developed in the provost’s office as well as the process through which membership on those committees were being assigned. For many faculty, these new developments were not in line with transparent or clear administrative processes.

Faculty governance
Of particular concern was the process for membership on the new standing committee as it aligns with the value of faculty governance. The general education curriculum is at the heart of liberal arts education and defines the character of VCU. As Provost Hackett emphasized during her charge to the GETF, the faculty “own” general education and should be deeply involved in developing and managing the curriculum. However, there is no clear indication of the scope of responsibilities of the new standing committee nor how the composition of the committee will be decided. Faculty were gravely concerned about the representation of faculty as a measure of the provost’s office commitment to faculty governance. Questions that were asked included:

  • Will the committee be comprised of faculty with experience in general education?
  • Will the committee be overloaded with administrative tasks such that the faculty are unable to serve effectively?
  • Will appointment to the committee be through a vote or through appointment?
  • Will members of the task force serve on the standing committee in an effort to ensure continuity of faculty input?

In response to these concerns, the GETF puts forth the following recommendations:

  • The standing committee should be comprised primarily of faculty, preferably senior faculty who are designated as members by other faculty via democratic vote.
  • Attention should be paid to the ratio of tenure to non-tenure faculty with a higher proportion of tenured faculty represented.
  • Composition of the standing committee should be proportional to the unit’s responsibility for general education. We encourage the standing committee to consider how its own constitution can best provide that proportional representation as the general education curriculum develops, without excluding any unit or undermining its own functionality.
  • A member of the CHS should always serve as a co-chair as has been the case for the GETF.
  • The final GenEd30 framework and structure should be vetted through the undergraduate academic committees for each unit involved in general education, and faculty governing organizations including, but not limited to, Faculty Senate, the CHS Faculty Council, the School of Engineering Undergraduate Academic Committee, the Wilder School Curriculum Committee, the CHS Undergraduate Academic Committee, the School of the Arts Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the School of Social Work B.S.W. Committee, the School of Nursing Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, the School of Business Undergraduate Programs Committee.
  • The standing committee should focus on ensuring the integrity of and adherence to the coherent rationale. While assessment is a part of that process, the standing committee should not be responsible for implementing assessment. Rather, the standing committee should be tasked with applying assessment data to the curation process.
  • As Provost Hackett affirmed in her fall 2017 meeting with GETF, several members from the GETF should serve on the standing committee to ensure continuity of faculty governance.

Role of University College and College of Humanities and Sciences

Of significant faculty concern was the role of University College in the general education curriculum beyond Focused Inquiry (FI). University College (UC) faculty voiced a desire to play a larger role in general education beyond FI based on their commitment to innovative interdisciplinary teaching as well as a desire for the option to teach courses beyond UNIV 111, UNIV 112 and UNIV 200. Other faculty, particularly in the CHS, voiced concerns about the disproportionate role that a single unit — University College — plays in general education and the way in which the faculty and courses are uncoupled from disciplines and departments, connections which are critical for strong interdisciplinary learning and teaching.

The GETF appreciates the values and concerns of both sets of faculty. In line with University College, the proposed GenEd30 framework emphasizes the importance of interdisciplinary study for our students. We also support the UC faculty’s desire for an intellectually stimulating work environment. However, we also share the CHS faculty’s concern about concentrating general education in one unit that stands apart from other faculty in the disciplines and departments which anchor general education, including the SACS requirements. The task force does not see the GenEd30 curriculum as a means of resolving the constraints created by the teaching and fiscal policies of the University College.

In response to both of these sets of concerns, we revised the framework from two to four course offerings per rubric but limiting the students to two course in each rubric except UNIV in which students are allowed to take three courses. For most students, those three UNIV courses will be the FI courses. However, those who transfer in credits which meet one of those FI course requirements, can take a UNIV course outside the FI sequence thus allowing for more teaching opportunities for the UC faculty. By expanding the number of courses a unit could offer to four, the CHS departments have more flexibility in developing their general education offerings thus ensuring students experience disciplinary breadth in their general education experience.

We also encourage the provost’s office to work with both University College and the College of Humanities and Sciences to build connections between faculty. The CHS faculty would benefit from working with UC faculty to better understand how various disciplinary ways of knowing can come together in the classroom in innovative and interesting ways. And, the UC faculty would benefit from engaging with their CHS colleagues who conduct research and teach inside departments where disciplinary logics and scholarship are produced, vetted, and challenged.

Clarification of curricular policies

Degree completion
Several concerns about clarification of policies were raised during presentations, particularly those related to ‘double-dipping’ and the percent of shared credits across tracks. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) requires that curriculum leading to a baccalaureate degree share a common core of courses. The common core requirement for a baccalaureate degree is 25% of the total credit hours required for the degree, excluding the general education core. This common core requirement extends to the concentrations, tracks, and other course groupings within the degree. At VCU, these course groupings are commonly understood to be part of the ‘major.’

The General Education Task Force recommends that the Office of the Provost provide written guidance to the academic units on whether courses taken to fulfill general education requirements could be counted toward the major or the fulfillment of any other degree requirements. Could a student receive credit for approved general education Course ABC as fulfilling a general education requirement AND as fulfilling a ‘major’ requirement, OR would this constitute ‘double-dipping’?

Cross-listing courses
In discussing the promotion of an interdisciplinary general education, the General Education Task Force received comments and questions about the future of cross-listed courses at VCU. While we were not tasked with determining the future of cross-listed courses, there was significant discussion, concerns, and questions from faculty that the task force felt ill equipped to answer. Many questions stemmed from the two course per rubric framework proposed by the task force. For instance, if POLI/INTL 105 remained in the general education curriculum, would it count as one of the Political Science department’s courses, or International Studies’, or both?

Historically, cross-listed courses have played a role in the development of interdisciplinary learning at VCU. With changes to General Education and the New Budget Model on the horizon, clarification is needed in this area. It is the recommendation of the task force that the provost office provide an update to faculty regarding the continuation, value, and role of cross-listed courses in regards to general education and en masse.

Transfer students
In response to numerous questions raised about the impact of these changes on transfer students, the standing GenEd committee should evaluate the impact of the new General Education curriculum on students completing coursework outside VCU and adopt relevant policies. The overarching principles for these policies should be clarity and transparency.

The following categories of such coursework should be considered:

  • Students transferring to VCU with an earned degree (associate-level or higher). VCCS graduates are covered by articulation agreements; the committee should ensure that the new curriculum does not impede these students' curricular progress. For all other degree holders, the committee should adopt explicit policies governing general education requirements.
  • Students transferring to VCU with completed courses that have one-to-one VCU equivalents. The committee should adopt explicit policies allowing or limiting the use of these courses to meet some (or all) GenEd30 requirements.
  • Students transferring to VCU with completed courses that do not have one-to-one VCU equivalents. The committee should adopt a process by which these courses can be evaluated and allowed to meet some (or all) GenEd30 requirements.
  • Students entering VCU with completed AP/IB courses (with or without one-to-one VCU equivalents). The committee should adopt explicit policies allowing or limiting the use of these courses to meet some (or all) GenEd30 requirements.
  • Students who have completed credit by examination or other credentialing processes. The committee should adopt explicit policies allowing or limiting the use of these credits to meet some (or all) GenEd30 requirements.
  • Students who intend to obtain credit using any of the mechanisms in parts 1-5 AFTER they have enrolled at VCU. The committee should adopt explicit policies allowing or limiting the use of these credits to meet some (or all) GenEd30 requirements.

Assessment

The charge from The Office of the Provost did not include matters of assessment; the development of an assessment plan was considered out of scope. The General Education Task Force has the following recommendations in response to questions and comments received during the open feedback sessions across campus:

  • So as to ensure faculty governance of the proposed standing committee on general education, we propose a separate standing committee on general education assessment.
  • The charge of the standing committee on general education assessment would be to develop, implement, and monitor the assessment of the new general education program.
  • We recommend that this new standing general education assessment committee be comprised of faculty who teach in the general education program for each college or school.
  • We recommend that each school or college have at least one faculty representative on this committee.
  • We recommend that the committee commence its work in tandem with the timeline of the standing committee on general education.
  • We recommend that the Office of the Provost provide incentives for the professional development of faculty who commit to these additional assessment leadership responsibilities, in order to develop VCU's institutional assessment capacity and to reinforce the faculty-ownership of the general education curriculum.
  • We envision the faculty committee members actively engaged in the development of the assessment plan for the general education program, e.g. identifying the student learning outcomes, the benchmarks or targets, the methods and frequency of data collection, how results are disseminated and put to use, and identifying lessons learned.
  • We envision that this committee's ongoing work functions in tandem with the standing committee on general education, providing data and information at the following levels: course, areas of inquiry, and overall program.
  • We envision that this committee will ensure that the university fulfills its obligations to external stakeholders, including the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, for the measurement and reporting of student learning outcomes and VCU's commitment to student success through the continuous improvement of the educational experience.