Motions and Recommendations passed by the

Committee on Undergraduate Education 2014-15

(from Minutes) 

Todd Haskell, Chair (Fall) and Robert Stoops, Chair (Spring)



Resolution Thanking the WSGE Task Force

Todd Haskell presented a resolution thanking members of the WSGE Task Force.

Resolved, that CUE acknowledges with gratitude the work of the members of the WSGE Task Force, who have selflessly devoted their personal time, mental energy, passion, and thoughtfulness to the task assigned them—namely, participating in the long-term process of considering how Western might improve on its core mission of educating our students and serving our state and the world.

Resolution passed by acclamation.

CUE's Purview over Mode of Delivery

Committee members observed that CUE has not previously considered courses on the basis of mode of delivery and currently no mechanism exists to prevent existing face-to-face GUR courses from moving to online delivery.

A motion to table consideration of MUS 106 in order to seek ACC’s guidance with regard to the appropriateness of considering mode of delivery in evaluating potential GUR courses (forwarded by Carmen Werder and seconded) passed by a unanimous vote.

CUE's Purview over Mode of Delivery

Following member concerns on October 30, 2014 regarding the inclusion of courses taught exclusively online and by adjunct faculty in the GUR program, CUE tabled consideration of MUS 106 in order to seek ACC’s guidance with regard to the appropriateness of considering modes of delivery in evaluating potential GUR courses. Haskell reported that ACC’s response indicated that CUE should strive to remain consistent with its past decisions, and de facto policy changes are to be avoided. Mode of delivery and course rigor have not previously factored in CUE’s decisions regarding the designation of GUR attributes, and the current structure of curriculum review is to defer to departments and colleges on such issues. It was therefore determined that a decision by CUE to consider mode of delivery and perceived rigor would require a formal policy change, including advance communication with departments and other curriculum committees.

In consideration of the prospect of discussion of CUE’s policies on these topics and their potential impact upon existing courses, a motion to allow the future imposition by CUE of ex post facto regulations (forwarded by Marion Brodhagen and seconded) failed to carry (0 votes in favor, 9 votes in opposition, and 3 abstentions).

WSGE Report and CUE's Framing Language

CUE discussed its progress in reviewing the final report of the Western Study of General Education (WSGE) Task Force and sought a parliamentary means of forwarding the report onto ACC, the Faculty Senate, and the broader campus community as an information item.  CUE members sought to emphasize that the committee intends to continue working with, exploring, and responding to the information contained within the WSGE report prior to making any formal recommendations on the basis of its specific data points and conclusions.

A motion to file the final report of the Western Study of General Education Task Force and forward it to ACC as an informational item with the following framing language (forwarded by Marie Eaton, seconded by Steve VanderStaay) passed by a unanimous vote.

Framing Language to accompany the final report of the Western Study of General Education Task Force

CUE is pleased to share with ACC the final report of the Western Study of General Education Task Force. This report is the culmination of 10 months of work by task force members, and represents a significant body of data on Western’s general education program. At the same time, this report should be viewed as one step in an ongoing process of reflecting on what we want to achieve, how well we’re achieving it, and how we can improve. The report helps answer some questions, leaves other questions largely unanswered, and raises new questions for us to consider.

The report focuses on faculty and student attitudes about the general education program as it is currently structured, as well as toward possible changes to the program. Overall, students generally seem to appreciate the goals and intent of the general education program. However, they are less satisfied with how the program functions in practice. For example, 52% of surveyed students indicated that they would choose to complete courses in a broad range of disciplines even if not required to do so; but 64% felt that GUR requirements interfered with their ability to take courses that really interested them. Many participants at the student forum echoed this sentiment in saying that individual GUR courses were often stimulating and engaging, but the overall requirement was confusing and they approached it as something “to get out of the way.”

Turning to faculty, when asked on a survey specifically about whether our current GUR categories should be changed, 43% of respondents supported change, 16% opposed it, and 41% chose “no opinion.” Some insight into these numbers comes from the face-to-face faculty forums the Task Force held.  Many faculty members were uncomfortable with voting on the desirability of change without any specific proposals to consider. Rather than interpreting the question as an effort to include faculty voices in a bottom-up fashion, the report notes that “[t]here was widespread uncertainty, sometimes distrust, about the motives and objectives of proponents for changing the GURs.”

Due to time and resource limitations, there were certain aspects of general education at Western that the Task Force was unable to examine. For example, there has been considerable discussion of writing instruction around the university in recent years, but the Task Force didn’t have time to address the Writing Proficiency requirement, and it only just touched on writing within the GURs. Similarly, the question of whether completing the GUR requirements ensures that students are exposed to all of the 11 GUR competencies has been extensively discussed in CUE, but was not specifically addressed in the report.

The overall picture from the report is that there is neither overwhelming support for structural change nor strong opposition to change. Indeed, depending on which data points are emphasized and how those data points are interpreted, it is possible to come to a number of different conclusions, something the Task Force alluded to in its report.

In the context of this ambiguity, it is important to note that the fundamental choice is not between change and the status quo. General education at Western has always been evolving and will continue to evolve, whether or not we are conscious of those changes. This process is driven by external forces, such as domestic and global economic trends, innovations in technology, shifting demographics, and government actions, as well as internal forces, such as the development of new courses and new programs and the hiring of new faculty. University administration, faculty members, and our students are continually responding and adapting to these forces.

But if the question is not whether to change or not, then what is it?  It is, instead, what kind of changes do we want? Changes will inevitably occur, whether we like it or not.  And unless we exercise our collective deliberation on this important matter, a matter that is key to Western’s core institutional mission to educate our student-citizens and future leaders, then those changes will likely occur haphazardly. James Madison notes in the Federalist Papers, “[T]he important question [is] whether [we] are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether [we] are forever destined to depend for [our] political constitutions on accident and force.” Although he was referring to government under the then-proposed U.S. Constitution, his words can apply equally to our handling and governance of our GUR curriculum. 

Based primarily on feedback from faculty, the Task Force in its report explicitly recommends two specific proposals to improve the GUR curriculum: first, smaller class sizes for GUR courses; second, more linked courses. Regarding smaller class size, it’s important to note that smaller classes are not an end unto itself. They are beneficial only to the extent that they enhance opportunities for interaction between students and instructors, thereby increasing the potential for creating a richer, more meaningful educational experience.

Additionally, requiring students to sign up for two courses does not by itself change the educational experience for the students. Rather, any linked course set should specifically include processes to encourage both students and instructors to think less in terms of their own individual courses, and more in terms of how their courses fit within the broader GUR and university curriculum. This can only be achieved when such courses clearly and explicitly span departments and disciplines and when their curricula and pedagogies are deliberately coordinated.

These ideas are reinforced by the conclusion of the report, which argues for creating a “visible coherence” in our GUR curriculum. As the report concludes: “The Task Force believes that efforts to build this type of coherence into the GUR curriculum, whether they may involve structural change or non-structural change, is favorable for the education of Western’s students, and favorable to Western’s broader institutional mission.”

While it may be true that achieving these goals does not necessarily require changing the fundamental structure of the general education program, it is equally true that they will not happen on their own. For example, the responsibility for determining class sizes largely lies with departments, not CUE or ACC. The fact that GUR class sizes remain large suggests that departments judge the benefits of GUR class size reduction to be outweighed by the costs. Changing some catalog language or tinkering with specific GUR requirements is unlikely to tip the balance in this equation without concomitant efforts.

Thus, meaningful improvements will require a more fundamental shift in how we think about general education at Western, from THE general education program to OUR general education program. General education is central to Western’s core mission of educating our citizens and future leaders. If it is to be successful, all constituents -- students, faculty members, staff, departments, and colleges -- must recognize that they have a significant stake in the general education program, and that the success of the program contributes to their own success.

Thus, while CUE will certainly review the data and explore the specific recommendations made in the Task Force’s report, we also will explore additional ways to enhance the quality of our general education program, including efforts to engage the university community in shaping the future of general education at Western. Since the release of the Task Force’s preliminary report last spring, initial steps have already been taken in this direction. The CUE leadership has reached out to department chairs across the university to better understand their needs and goals. CUE has also invited stakeholder groups to visit CUE meetings, and has already heard from or scheduled a visit from the Freshman Composition Program, Western Reads, the Center for Service Learning, and the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

As stated earlier, the basic question we face is not whether the GURs will change or stay the same, but how we will respond to the changes occurring all around us. Consideration of this question is a central component of CUE’s charge. In turn, responding to these changes in a thoughtful, reflective fashion will require a continual process of consulting with multiple constituencies. Over time, specific proposals to revise the general education curriculum may emerge from this process. And, just like the proposals made in the Task Force’s report, any such proposals will be developed in a bottom-up fashion that includes a broad range of student and faculty voices.

The work of CUE will continue to be informed by the report, in our efforts to fulfill our charge, to oversee and improve the quality of the general education program.



Retroactive Approval of GUR Status

In reviewing ENVS 111, committee members expressed concern about creating a standard procedure for retroactively approving courses for GUR status. Whether the course gets tabled until the issue is cleared up or is approved with provisos is contingent on the nature of the issue identified and the information available to CUE regarding the course. It was suggested that having a CUE representative see a course proposal before it is presented to the committee might be helpful in ensuring that the proposal is clear and correctly filled out.

A motion to approve ENVS 111 with the proviso that the assessment box be filled in clearly and correctly (forwarded by Carmen Werder and seconded) passed with one abstention.

Chair Election

Holly Folk nominated Robert Stoops to the office of Chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Education. Robert Stoops was unanimously elected CUE Chair.

WSGE Report

CUE discussed possible means of proceeding with committee activities in light of the findings of the WSGE report, and Carmen Werder presented four draft motions for CUE’s consideration, including the following preamble:

Whereas CUE acknowledges the hard work that WSGE did in composing its report;
whereas CUE accepts WSGE’s primary findings about value of smaller classes and course links;
whereas CUE recognizes that faculty have indicated in the WSGE process that they cannot consider Gen Ed reform without having specific plans to consider;
whereas CUE continues to believe that Gen Ed revision is desirable based on its past study and gathered data over the past several years;
whereas the process in the 2013 CUE white paper outlines a thoughtful process for developing specific Gen Ed plans to consider.

A motion that ACC consider the 2014 WSGE report findings along with the 2013 White Paper report in moving forward with a process that would result in specific proposals to consider for enhancing our general education program (moved by C. Werder and seconded) passed with six in favor, one opposed, and one abstention.


WSGE Report

A motion to reject WSGE’s conclusion that “there is no widespread desire expressed among either faculty or students to change the GUR structure as it pertains to the GUR categories or competencies” (moved by C. Werder and seconded) passed with six in favor and two opposed.
General Education Program

CUE members discussed forwarding a recommended process and timeline for study of the general education program to ACC. Carmen Werder presented the following motion for CUE’s consideration:

CUE recommends that ACC endorse a process that would begin with the formation of a new task force composed mainly of faculty who would develop specific proposals for enhancing the general education program at WWU according to the following timeline:

Spring 2015: CUE to outline charge for new task force and identify task force member names for appointment by ACC.

Fall 2015: New task force charged by ACC to begin convening and holding a series of forums to gather ideas from faculty, students and other university constituents in developing general education program proposals for WWU.

Winter 2015: Task force to analyze results of fall forums, study general education models from comparable institutions, and form cross-disciplinary sub-committees to convene on topics relevant to general education reform such as the first-year experience.

Spring 2015: Task force sub-committees to develop and submit multiple proposals to the task force for consideration.

Summer-Fall 2016: Task force to synthesize proposals and develop one final proposal, including an implementation plan to ACC for consideration.

The motion (forwarded by Carmen Werder and seconded) passed with one abstention.

Writing Proficiency Requirement Memo A motion to designate a subgroup to draft a simple departmental memo intended to remind departments about the Writing Proficiency requirement and answer frequently asked questions about it (moved by S. VanderStaay and seconded) passed unanimously.
Writing Proficiency Requirement Memo CUE passed a motion (moved by M. Eaton and seconded) to accept the WP Requirement memo as edited and to email the revised memo to faculty at the end of spring quarter 2015 and at the beginning of fall quarter 2015.