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Cal State Northridge to vote on whether to block big academic changes

A sign at California State University's Northridge campus.
SonnyandSandy via Flickr Creative Commons
A sign at California State University's Northridge campus.

Faculty leaders at Cal State Northridge are pushing back against changes to remedial and general education classes ordered this summer, arguing the moves are so hasty that they may do students more harm than good.

The class reforms were put in motion after California State University Chancellor Tim White signed two executive orders this summer. White’s orders, which impact all 23 CSU campuses, do away with non-credit remedial classes meant to bring students’ skills up to college level and overhaul general education requirements that include eliminating the intermediate algebra requirement for many students.

“In a sense we’re in open revolt against the chancellor’s office,” said Michael Neubauer, a CSUN math professor who authored a resolution stating that faculty on his campus would not participate in implementing the changes to classes.

CSUN’s faculty senate, the group that debates curriculum changes on behalf of professors, approved Neubauer’s resolution last month, but a parliamentary procedure set in motion a second vote scheduled this Thursday.

At CSUN, Neubauer said, the overhauls could also do away with requirements for students to take cross-cultural studies classes.

Faculty committees would have to do the heavy lifting to carry out the class changes for the fall of 2018. 

“The timeline is so aggressive that there’s no time for pilots, to evaluate different models, and then scale up,” and faculty were not consulted enough, Neubauer said.

The CSUN faculty vote is an escalation of growing opposition to the pace of White’s systemwide overhauls. CSU’s faculty senate approved a resolution last month to object to the changes. Faculty at the CSU campuses in Fullerton, Dominguez Hills, and San Diego have also passed resolutions asking for a delay to the changes.

Neubauer said administrators at his campus could ultimately force faculty to abide by White’s executive orders but that kind of heavy-handed approach could damage relations between faculty and administrators.

Chancellor White and his staff are aware of faculty unrest and simmering opposition at the Northridge campus. His office said it wants to avoid a confrontation.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re going to steamroll our way through these things,” said CSU Spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp. “There is discussion back and forth. We are engaged with Cal State Northridge with the challenges that they face.”

He wouldn’t say whether those discussions include a delay.

White’s executive orders are part of Graduation Initiative 2025, a multi-year program to increase the number of CSU students who earn a degree each year and cut the number of students who drop out before they reach graduation.

“For us to be successful it is going to require faculty innovation so we’re going to have to do things differently,” Uhlenkamp said.

CSU officials estimate that the class overhauls would affect tens of thousands of students next year.

“It is a lot of pressure for the faculty,” said University of Southern California education researcher Tatiana Melguizo. The reforms at CSU, she said, are part of an effort by public higher education leaders to maintain the quality of education while removing unnecessary barriers for students. For that to work, she said, faculty and administrators must work together.

“As a leader, there are many things that you can do to support your faculty when you are asking your faculty to go through a major curriculum redesign but the thing here is that we cannot wait any more,” Melguizo said.