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September 12, 2013

LaGrange says credit conversion ahead of timeline; Kosteas disagrees

By Jordan Gonzalez

While Cleveland State University is only a few months away from finalizing its new curriculum, university officials have mixed feelings on the progress and the ultimate outcome of the restructuring.

So far the University Curriculum Committee (UCC) has processed a total of 950 course changes. Well over 700 of those are conversions to three credit hours. There were another 60 new courses created and about 100 classes inactivated, according to Billy Kosteas, chairman of the UCC, which is overseeing the transition.

The process is three-part. Departments must first create course revisions. Next, these are submitted to their college curriculum committee, who then hand it to the UCC for approval. The deadlines are staggered (to help with classes that are required in multiple courses), with nursing and business courses due first for submission to the UCC by Oct. 1. The humanity section of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) is due last on Feb. 1, 2014.

Finally, after courses are approved, the student advising and transition documents are due next, with the last one due March 1, 2014.

Vice provost for academic planning Teresa LaGrange said she feels the progress is good, with the exception of the school of engineering, which is complex because it requires external accreditation and detailed integration.

“I think we are ahead of the timeline we proposed,” said LaGrange. “Most of the departments have actually finished [converting courses].”

But the transition has had its share of controversy. Since it was first discussed in 2012, several university leaders have criticized Cleveland State’s administration for rushing the process, saying that it could hurt the quality of the revised course programs and classes.
Cleveland State President Ronald Berkman set a fall 2014 deadline for the programs to be revised, as well as a 120-credit standard for graduation.

The board of trustees recommended he proceed with the plan in March 2013 - despite the opposition from the faculty senate, which voted against overarching credit conversions in February 2013.

Students also responded unfavorably in a poll conducted by the UCC and in a town hall meeting last spring.

Kosteas said he doesn’t agree that the progress is ahead of schedule, and questions the quality of the final product.

“For the life of me I don’t understand why there is this mad rush to do things by fall of 2014,”said Kosteas. “This is basically giving us a year and five months to implement it.”
In comparison, Ohio State University took three years and five months to transition the majority of their courses from four hours to three, according to Kosteas.

Because Cleveland State is a state school, the governor-appointed board of trustees, who are appointed by the Ohio governor, have final say in legal and economic decisions. LaGrange also noted that neither the faculty senate nor the president can override their decision – they can only recommend or make suggestions.

Kosteas said the UCC and faculty senate aren’t against the idea of homogenizing the curriculum with other Ohio schools. The faculty senate actually voted unanimously to approve a four-to-three credit conversion for general education courses as well as a 120-credit maximum (with some exceptions) to graduate. But there are many difficult aspects to redesigning degree courses, according to Kosteas. Some course programs are comprised of almost all four-credit classes, which consumes a lot of time and effort to reconstruct.

When the faculty removes 25 percent (one credit) of the course load per class, often that 25 percent needs to be fit somewhere else. Many times there are classes that realistically shouldn’t be cut, so two new three-credit classes will emerge instead. Another stumbling block are courses that count for multiple programs. If all departments stood alone, it wouldn’t be as difficult. But many programs with strict accreditation regulations that require a diverse course load, like engineering, have to wait until other programs revise their plans before finishing their own.

“[These issues are] what departments have been grappling with, trying to figure out what to do, and you want them to be able to have a little bit of time to think about it and do it properly,” said Kosteas. “Instead, we’re rushing to get all through this, because now these program revisions have to be through and settled by spring [2014].”

The deadline is critical because the new course catalog needs to be put out for students, especially incoming freshmen, so they can receive academic advising for the new courses. According to LaGrange and extension could be arranged if the worst happens.

“There is wiggle room in [the board of trustee’s resolution], and that wiggle room is that [the fall 2014 deadline] is the target date, if it’s feasible,” said LaGrange. “Obviously if it looked like it was going to be a train wreck, I don’t think there is any question that we would roll that date back.”

For students caught in the middle of the transition, there isn’t any direct answer now about what is going to happen to them. The university has repeatedly promised that no students will be harmed during the transition, something echoed again by LaGrange. But Kosteas said that no one can say anything in particular, because most departments’ program revisions aren’t even finished.

David Bowditch, director of Exploratory Advising at Cleveland State, said they aren’t telling freshmen students about the changes, because nothing is final and it could potentially confuse Cleveland State’s incoming freshmen. He also said Cleveland State will be using the same principle that the university used during the 1998 quarter-to-semester transition – a promise of no harm.

“The policy is that student’s will be held harmless,” Bowditch said. “So students through the conversion will not be required to take more classes or earn more hours because of this transition.”