What Happened in the CSU with American Institutions?

Chair, CSU Academic Senate

A little background: Title 5 §40404 requires that California State University graduates demonstrate competency in specified areas of U.S. history and government. This requirement, commonly known as American Institutions (AI), is typically met by taking two 3-unit courses, one in U.S. history and one in American government. Transfer students typically take these courses prior to transfer, and most “double count” them with two of their GE courses. The UC has a similar requirement but considers the students’ high school experience as meeting this “competency.”

SB 1440 (Now the STAR Act) imposes a strict 60+60=120 unit structure on the associate degree for transfer and the similar CSU baccalaureate program and does not allow for other requirements to be added beyond these limits. Because the AI requirement is not framed in terms of units, it does not fit well into the STAR Act structure.

The CSU Academic Senate attempted to insert the current AI practice into SB 1440 but was unsuccessful. CSU faculty have attempted to include the AI courses into the Transfer Model Curricula as they have been and are being developed, and AI has been incorporated as required courses into a small number of disciplines and would be allowed as electives in most others, but this situation creates the possibility that STAR Act transfer students might not have met the requirement prior to transfer. CSU departments might be able to incorporate these courses into their post transfer requirements if there exists sufficient room within the 60-unit cap.

This problem was researched and discussed informally from October 2010 until April 2011. The research discovered that the existing language of Title 5 did not allow the AI requirement to be waived by any mechanism, in sharp contrast to all of the other components of CSU degrees. In April, the CSU Executive Vice Chancellor decided that a mechanism for waiving the AI requirement needed to be created in case such flexibility was needed to accommodate the unit limit of the STAR Act. This proposal was scheduled to go to the Board of Trustees in May for information, and then the normal process would have it decided upon at the July Board meeting.

That schedule did not allow for the normal consultation processes with the CSU Statewide Academic Senate or the campus senates to be followed. At the May Board meeting, the Senate asked that the decision be postponed until the November Board meeting to allow for this consultation. The Board denied the request at that time but agreed to consider postponement at the July meeting. In the meantime, campus senates and the ASCSU exercised what consultation processes were feasible at the end of the academic year, including two gatherings of CSU history and political science faculty. These discussions resulted in a series of letters, petitions, formal resolutions, and informal communication to the Board decrying the lack of proper consultation, arguing that postponement would have no effect upon student progress and STAR Act implementation.

In July, in spite of the large number and broad range of objections and requests for postponement, the Board voted to approve the policy which allowed for waivers of AI requirements. The consultation that had occurred did result in narrowing the context of the proposal specifically to the STAR Act transfer degrees and a few other unrelated contexts, such as second bachelor’s degrees. It also brought the proposal into parallelism with the similar waivers for General Education requirements that were already in Title 5, thus raising the expectation that requests for waivers would come through the normal campus curriculum-review processes.

It was clear from the Board discussion—though not reduced to formal policy—that the CSU is expected to implement the provisions of the STAR Act to the fullest extent possible. This was evident not only from Board members’ statement but also from the obvious inference in faculty arguments that waivers were not needed to implement the provisions of the Act.

There were—and continue to be—significant misunderstandings of the AI waiver proposal. The AI requirement is still in existence for all of our students, and if waivers are approved, such approvals will only be granted for a single baccalaureate program at a single campus and only for STAR Act transfer students. Faculty have a range of options to choose from as they consider how to fit within the unit limits of the Act, including modifications of major requirements, upper-division GE, double-counting opportunities, and waivers of GE, AI, or campus requirements.

Conversations are just beginning in the CSU departments about how to fit into the STAR Act requirements—if they don’t already. While these discussions can lead to a request to the campus president, who would then seek permission of the Chancellor, I believe that few of them will land on this AI waiver approach.

We’ve been assured by our CCC counterparts that current advice and practice will be sustained in their system, thus the large majority of students will continue to meet the AI requirement prior to transfer and will likely choose to do so by taking advantage of the GE double-counting opportunity.