GenEd program does not meet standards

For more than a year, two professors have filed complaints and appeals regarding changes to Northern Kentucky University’s new GenEd program. On Sept. 16, the U.S. Education Department agreed with the concerns of the two professors: The new GenEd program did not meet academic requirements and was not thoroughly reviewed by the accrediting agency before it went into effect.

Provost Gail Wells said that NKU had not been contacted by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) about the Education Department’s report by the time of publication, but “they have told us that we are in full compliance with the rigorous standards.”

She said she does not expect to make any changes to the current GenEd program.

Wells said the GenEd complaints dealt with students being able to graduate without taking a humanities course. Instead, they would be able to take two foreign language courses to satisfy the requirements.

Wells said the only change she could potentially see happening is revising the “Culture and Creativity” section so that students would be required to take a humanities course instead of two foreign languages.

She stressed that students would not be affected if any changes are made to the program.

“I don’t believe students would be impacted by this latest decision, but we will need to wait and see,” Wells said. “Regardless, we would grandfather students.”
Wells said the changes in GenEd came during the university’s re-accreditation process when SACS advised NKU that the previous general education program needed to define student learning outcomes and have a way to assess whether or not students were meeting those goals.

As the faculty worked to define learning outcomes, they decided to cut the program’s requirement to 48 hours from 52 and decrease the number of available courses. In June, Wells said the decision to cut hours and change the course selection was to help students graduate within four years and minimize confusion when choosing courses.

“We have gotten national recognition for being a state-of-the-art program that is supportive of students,” Wells said.

She, like SACS officials, said that a new GenEd program was not created, but Education Department investigators disagree with that statement. SACS July 16 report to the Education Department can be
read online

In the Education Department’s Sept. 16 report, it read: “The department maintains that the changes to the general education program at NKU were significant, and that changes to an institution’s general education program ought to be reviewed as a foundational component of the degree programs offered by an institution.”
A letter President James Votruba wrote to SACS Vice President Rudy Jackson supports the Education Department’s findings that the GenEd curriculum was entirely new; and, thus, should have had further review. The letter was attached to the Education Department’s report.

In the letter, Votruba writes, “I’d like to state at the outset that I am very proud of both the process our faculty followed in creating the new general education program and the outcome that resulted from their work.”

The GenEd program is non-compliant because it does not require students to take humanities/fine arts class, which are defined as “courses [that] do not narrowly focus on those skills, techniques, and procedures specific to a particular occupation or profession.”

Chair of the Department of Anthropology, Sociology and Philosophy Terry Pence and professor and Coordinator of the Philosophy Program Robert Trundle began raising concerns about the changes as early as May 2010, when faculty members were still creating the new program.

Pence and Trundle brought their concerns to various faculty and administrators, but were told their issues with GenEd were not valid.

Votruba acknowledged the professors’ fight in his letter to Jackson when he said, “I regret that you have had to spend time on this issue raised by two individuals who were unable to gain support for their position from their colleagues.”

Pence and Trundle continued questioning the GenEd changes.

On Nov. 3, they filed a formal complaint with SACS, saying the GenEd program does not meet academic requirements and needed further review. SACS Chairman John Hilpert found the GenEd program in compliance and responded to the professors Nov. 12.

After the Education Department questioned how SACS handled this issue, the accreditor revised how it reviews complaints and now delegates them to a committee instead of giving the chairman the option of reviewing them himself.

In December, the professors took their complaint to the Education Department. The federal agency reviewed their complaint and issued a letter to SACS on June 7, asking it to further explain how the new GenEd meets academic requirements, how the agency reviews complaints and why the GenEd program was not given a more thorough review before it went into effect.

In its Sept. 16 report, the Education Department gave SACS until Jan. 9 to bring itself into compliance. If SACS cannot meet the department’s standards, it risks losing its ability to function as an accreditor.