I make mistakes. I’ll be the first to admit that. And when I do, I take every step I can to clarify, fix and correct them. But I will not admit a mistake I didn’t make.
I appreciate Kent Johnson’s letter, which appears on page two of this issue, and that he cared enough to address the issue with me. He has asked that The Northerner retract the headline “GenEd does not meet standards.”
Respectfully, I refuse. The headline is not inaccurate. But I will clarify the story more.
The heart of the GenEd issue, and what will most affect students, is the application of SACS guideline CR 2.7.3, requiring at least one course to be drawn from humanites/fine arts, and such courses “do not narrowly focus on those skills, techniques and procedures specific to a particular occupation or profession.”
The U.S. Education Department ruled in a Sept. 16 report to SACS, the regional accrediting agency, that SACS did not hold NKU to its own standard, and therefore the program is out of compliance with SACS, and does not meet SACS standards for general education programs.
This ruling came because two professors Terry Pence,chair of the anthropology, sociology and philosophy department, and Professor Robert Trundle, raised concerns while Foundations of Knowledge was being developed.
One problem Pence and Trundle raised while this program was being created was that courses from the College of Informatics were now included in GenEd. These courses were drawn from disciplines such as electronic media and broadcasting and journalism, skill courses, thereby making them ineligible for GenEd requirements.
They were also concerned that courses were not drawn from the right disciplines. In other words a student can graduate without taking a class from humanities/fine arts, which is prohibited under SACS guidelines.
The professors asked several NKU faculty and administration about the changes. When their questions were unanswered or brushed aside, they appealed to SACS and finally the U.S. Education Department.
To be clear, the U.S. Education Department ruled that SACS is out of compliance – not NKU. However, the two areas SACS is still found to be out of compliance in relate to how they reviewed the GenEd change and how the program is outlined.
The department said Foundations of Knowledge does not meet SACS guideline CR 2.7.3, meaning that, according to SACS’s boss, we are not in compliance and our program does not meet the standards set by SACS.
At this time, is it unclear what the next steps will be. SACS has until Jan. 9 to respond to the Education Department, or risk having their accreditation power limited, suspended or terminated.
According to SACS documentation, NKU did not act outside of SACS guidelines. The problem arose with SACS’s failure to fully evaluate Foundations of Knowledge per its own guidelines, and to hold the new program to its standards.
The program was created with the best intentions. Faculty and administration wanted to help students finish their degrees in less time, so they lowered the number of credits to graduate.
They also wanted to make GenEd easier to understand and complete so they created a new program, Foundations of Knowledge, with a smaller selection coming more areas, offering students different choices but not inundating us with more than 300 course selections.
But this isn’t to say that NKU has always been upright in this matter.
In my first report, published online June 14, I referenced some instances where it appeared NKU administration was forcing a new program, despite concerns raised by faculty.
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.”
In this case, faculty were concerned over legislation with the commonwealth that would have forced NKU to change GenEd again.
After Neely reiterated her concern about possible legislation, 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.”
This indicated that administration members wanted a new program put into place, regardless the implications. This anecdote about Lepper looks like NKU ruthlessly pursued a new GenEd program, damn the consequences.
So when two professors kept raising concerns about whether or not NKU met with guidelines, they were pushed aside, their concerns discredited.
President James Votruba aplogized to Rudy Jackson for their behavior, and even Mr. Johnson in his editorial hinted at what I can only interpret as another attempt to discredit the two professors when he said, “It is not appropriate in this forum to judge the intent of those few faculty members who perpetuate conflict for the program.”
These are the kinds of professors universities need. These two men kept questioning and pushing to get answers to a question that affects the university, despite attempts to discredit them. They stood up for what they believed in, sometimes fearing repercussions, but always pushing forward.
They didn’t back down when the president of their university viewed their complaint as a waste of time. In a Sept. 24, 2010, Votruba wrote in a letter to Rudy Jackson, the chair of SACS, “I regret 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.”
Fellow NKU students, take this lesson to heart. If there is something you believe is right, you should stand by it, even in the face of adversity. NKU faculty and administration, be grateful you have pesky professors who will keep rattling cages. They’re the most valuable people to have around.