GenEd requirements under investigation

Northern Kentucky University’s revamped general education requirements are under fire from the U. S. Education Department, almost a year after being implemented.

In a letter addressed June 7 to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) from the U.S. Education Department, the federal agency found that SACS did not properly address complaints from NKU faculty about the GenEd changes, review GenEd changes or enforce its own guidelines for GenEd requirements.

SACS is the organization that ensures colleges and universities in several southern states meet requirements to be accredited universities.

SACS has until July 18 to respond to the U.S. Education Department or face sanctions, including losing their status as a federally recognized accreditor. If SACS finds NKU out of compliance with its guidelines, the university will need to adjust the GenEd requirements or face its own sanctions, which could include losing its eligibility for federal financial aid dollars or be put on probation, possibly losing its accreditation.

Terry Pence, chair of the anthropology, sociology and philosophy department, said the push to cut hours from GenEd requirements came after the university decided to decrease required hours to graduate from 128 to 120. Pence co-authored the complaint to the U.S. Education Department with Prof. Robert Trundle.

“We had to maybe make some reductions in majors or somewhere else along the line to fit everything in,” Pence said. “What [the administration] decided to do was to combine history, literature and fine arts [previously requiring nine hours of study] into one and retain only a six-hour requirement in humanities.”

Pence said this change violates provisions set by SACS that require students to take at least one course each from humanities/fine arts, social/behavioral sciences and natural science/mathematics, totalling three classes or nine credit hours. The new GenEd requirements only require students to take classes from two of the three disciplines, totaling six credit hours, putting them out of compliance with SACS guidelines.

The other concern Pence and other faculty have with GenEd requirements is that professors aren’t qualified to teach some of the GenEd courses.

SACS requires professors who teach GenEd courses to have at least 18 graduate-level study hours in the discipline they’re teaching. Pence said that many professors who are now teaching GenEd courses do not meet this requirement.

According to emails obtained by The Northerner, Pence and other faculty members voiced concerns over compliance with GenEd policies to NKU administration throughout the review process. The Northerner has obtained correspondence dating back to January 2010.

In emails exchanged between Jan. 26 and 27, 2010, Provost Gail Wells advised Prof. Nancy Hancock that if a new GenEd policy was not in place by fall 2010, NKU would risk losing accreditation.

Wells cited SACS findings that while NKU was granted accreditation, it was non-compliant in four areas, one of them being general education. According to the emails, Wells interpreted the SACS suggestions to mean that GenEd requirements needed to be completely revamped, but faculty countered that SACS actually discouraged starting from scratch to revise GenEd requirements.

Requests to the Provost and the President’s office for a copy of SACS findings have been declined. At the time of publication, The Northerner was preparing to submit an open records request for more information, as advised by Katie Herschede, the executive assistant to the president of NKU.

In an email sent Feb. 26, 2010, Prof. Sharlotte Neely said Mary Lepper, director of the curriculum, accreditation and assessment department, became “visibly and audibly angry and said that nothing will stop the current GenEd.”

The discussion at the time was concerning state mandates for GenEd requirements. Faculty were concerned that the state legislation would cause NKU to change the GenEd program again.

After Neely reiterated her concern, she said Lepper “then said that any legislation passed will be vague enough that we can reword what we’re doing and move ahead with the current plan. She also suggested that anyone not with the plan did not want NKU to stay an accredited university.”

Lepper has not responded to several contact attempts.

On March 3, 2010 Pence expressed concern to Vice Provost Pat Moynahan that proposed changes to the GenEd program would put NKU in non-compliance with SACS guidelines, and the university’s accreditation would be put in “jeopardy unnecessarily.” Moynahan has not been available for comment.

“SACS has the Department of Education breathing down their backs,” Trundle said. “All the Department of Education is doing is asking SACS to back up their own standards.”