Who's Driving Your Curriculum?

February
2007
Michelle Pilati, North Representative

This is probably not news to anyone, but very often curricular decisions are not driven by faculty and are not based on what's best for our students. More and more often it seems that other entities believe that they know better than faculty do when it comes to our curriculum. And more and more often it seems that other entities believe that our curriculum processes should be designed to meet their needs-as opposed to serving to maintain the integrity of our curriculum. The February 2007 Rostrum article "Curriculum Approval Takes Too Long.and Other Myths" discussed one facet of these challenges to faculty primacy in curricular matters. Other facets of this challenge are evident at both the local and state levels. Local senates and curriculum committees should be mindful of their responsibilities and vigilant with respect to these issues. We should be at the wheel-despite the force and will of others, curriculum is ours. We need to ensure the effectiveness of our processes and the quality of the education we deliver.

What do we see locally?

Occasionally, we will hear the story of administrators or board members who impose their will on the faculty, despite philosophical concerns or resource limitations that they may or may not comprehend.

Boards have used their financial power to force programs on faculty, and colleges have pursued highcost curriculum additions when resources are lacking and faculty support is absent. Our curriculum should not be molded to meet the politics of the day, but to meet the needs of our students and communities. I suspect that we have all seen prerequisites removed for fear that a course will not "make." We know these things happen and we often have no control over them. But that does not mean we should take them lightly-curriculum committees should ask the appropriate questions when they are presented with questionable decisions-is this the best thing for students?

With the coming increase in graduation requirements and the vision of the associate degree reflected in recently passed resolutions, change is in the air.

Perhaps the research being conducted as a component of the Basic Skills Initiative will provide a justification for that which I think many faculty believe-our students would benefit from having to demonstrate some minimum level of competence prior to registering for certain courses. That this is a notion generally supported was evident with the passage of resolution 4.04 in Fall 2006 which asked that we ".investigate a change to Title 5 Regulations that would allow local districts, on the recommendation of their academic senates, to restrict students from enrolling in general education or major preparation courses until students establish competency at a locally determined level in composition and/or reading two or more levels below transfer."

At the state level, we see financial excuses and interference by business interests. It is no secret that one of the biggest challenges with any statewide curricular change is getting it past the Department of Finance (DoF). DoF determined that an information competency graduation requirement would be an "unfunded mandate", provided us with a challenge in regaining local approval of stand-alone courses, and continues to impede forward movement with respect to changing the funding of some noncredit courses. DoF has an important role to play and they played it effectively when it came to stand-alone courses-that the field needs to be educated about stand-alone courses before local control can be permitted is something that I think we can all agree on. But with all the "unfunded mandates" that we regularly deal with (student learning outcomes being the most obvious), why not impose the one on us that we have actually asked for because we want to ensure that our students have the skills they need to succeed in modern society? While we strive to meet the needs of our students, DoF tends to treat us with suspicion. The community colleges are a significant component of higher education in California, yet we are not permitted the independence that the other segments of higher education have, further complicating our attempts to adequately prepare our students for transfer and the world of work. While the DoF has an important regulatory role, it should treat faculty-driven curriculum initiatives as efforts to improve education-not as means to extracting more money from the state.

And then we have those business interests out there who believe that our state-funded system exists to meet their needs-to provide timely low-cost training as they see fit. There is a desire to provide credit-earning educational opportunities while bypassing our local processes that serve to ensure educational quality and compliance with code and regulation. We certainly can offer timely low-cost training and are happy to do so by means of our contract education programs. Yet what some desire is to dictate our curriculum and ignore our local processes-all on the state's dime. An ongoing issue with respect to the whole "strategic plan" is some of the alarming conclusions coming out of some of the Goal Area Implementation Teams as those business interests are expressing their will in the absence of a meaningful faculty perspective. And the terrifying thing is that such interests have great political force. The irony is amazing-while we have the DoF pinching pennies when it comes to issues of educational quality, other interests want us to speed up our processes and remove the protections we have in place to protect the state's dollar.

Curriculum is the most important thing that we do "behind the scenes" at our colleges. Approving courses and programs is a responsibility that we must take seriously. While some of the processes may be annoying and seem, possibly, bureaucratic, they exist for a reason. Curriculum committees and local senates must stand firm and protect the integrity of what we do, as opposed to succumbing to the varied pressures that may stray us from our mission.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.