Friday, January 29, 2010

winter term

Todat is the last class day for me this Winter term, because I'm taking a furlough day on Monday. Which brings me to...

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

9. Winter Terms. I just love 'em.

A unique feature of this university has been it's unorthodox academic calendar, with two 13-week semesters (Fall and Spring) and a 4-week intensive Winter term between them. The Winter term changes the way one teaches and learns, or, if you are not assigned or taking a class during Winter, provides effectively (given when Fall ends and Spring begins) up to around 2 months' time between semesters for work, research, recharging, whatever. I've had some of my best teaching experiences and best periods of productive research during Winter.

Not only is tomorrow the last class day of this Winter term, but it's likely to be the last day of Winter term ever. The university president wanted to eliminate Winter term, so he formed a committee to conclude that it would save money during the budget crisis. That committee, illegitimately formed outside of normal channels, and ignoring processes and procedures in state law, CSU system policy, and local campus policy, concluded that it would in fact save money. There are really only two further problems with that committee's recommendations, namely, that it ignored the input of the many constituencies on campus that want to keep Winter term, and that their assumptions about cost savings ignored costs for changing all the courses in the university catalog (because we're shifting to an entirely different calendar).

So, the change eliminates a program popular with faculty and students, will make it harder for many of our students to graduate, will likely not save money, and the decision was made illegitimately. But that's not all. In fact, I'm disappointed that the discussion on campus of how bad this decision is focuses so much on the money it won't save.

The elimination of Winter term is part of the president's broad, unilateral restructuring of the university to emphasize non-state-support, for-profit units of the university and minimize the public funding for instruction at this increasingly allegedly public institution. Replacing Winter term in the new academic calendar will be a 3-week "inter-session" held through Extended Education (read: the for-profit unit of the university). This is part of a systemic effort, largely invisible to faculty, students, and most others who aren't looking extremely carefully, to phase out state-support academic programs that are less "efficient" and replace them with for-profit versions of the same course work. In addition, the effort is underway to turn away from our mission and toward technical programs.

Some faculty have decried this as a move away from the liberal arts mission the university initially had. Although that's true, and my own department - to say nothing of my own career - are targets for elimination as a result, I think this is driven not by some hatred of liberal arts. It's grasping for whatever might produce revenue most efficiently. Because the new mission of the university, the de facto mission, is just that: generating revenue, cutting costs. (I can see it in faux-Latin on an official crest: "ingenero vectigal , incidere sumptus.")

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