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May 1, 2014

Big Switch was rushed, but got done

By John Cuturic

In the past year, almost every department at Cleveland State University has had to revise its curriculum from the ground up. In a series this semester, the Stater will look at some of the changes.

For the last issue this semester, we talked to University Curriculum Committee Chairman Billy Kosteas and member Nigamanth Sridhar, and asked how the Big Switch went overall.
Kosteas, a Department of Economics professor, said the Big Switch went fairly well. But he said everything was very rushed. Because of that, the UCC had to approve some proposals it normally would have sent back for a closer look.

“If we were given a reasonable amount of time, we really could have given a lot more scrutiny to each of the proposals and done things properly,” Kosteas said. “But we weren’t allowed to do that.”

Kosteas said he and other faculty members advised against the tight schedule. He said even if the UCC had an extra year, the change still would have been rushed.

“Everybody who knows curriculum and curriculum change,” Kosteas said, “everybody top to bottom agrees that the timeline was a huge mistake.”

There’s a perception among many faculty members that the Board of Trustees ignored their advice in setting the schedule.

But as the Chairman of the Board, Robert Rawson, was out of town, The Stater could not reach him for comment.

Kosteas said any problems in the courses will be ironed out over time — the problem has been advising. Ideally, academic advisers should have started preparing students a year ahead of time. But the university only finished planning the switch this year.

“That’s the reason why universities take their time doing these things,” Kosteas said. “You need to give students time to make the changes to their schedules.”

He said the university is trying to avoid making students take extra courses. But on the other hand, if it waives too many requirements, students might not get everything they need.

“That’s actually the bigger concern, I think,” Kosteas said.

Sridhar said transition advising has gone well--more than two thirds of students have already seen an adviser. Kosteas said the UCC expects students who haven’t seen advisers yet to do so when they schedule for fall 2014.

“Message to the student community: if you haven’t seen your adviser yet, please go see your adviser,” Sridhar said. “Don’t risk having to take extra courses.”

The switch has also been hard on faculty. Sridhar said that every faculty member at Cleveland State faced challenges during the conversion process, in many cases at the cost of their research.

“Things have definitely taken a hit,” Sridhar said. “Scholarship has taken a hit. If you just look at my own case, I haven’t had the time to be as productive as I usually am in terms of producing papers and doing research, because I just haven’t had the time.”

UCC members had it particularly hard. Sridhar said that during the change, each department wrote a course conversion packet, which it reviewed and then sent to its college Curriculum Committee. After that, the packets came to the UCC.

The UCC went through the packets looking for a 25 percent reduction in the content of each course (to match with the loss of one hour). It also checked that courses still fill the same roles.

“If it’s a course from the math department, and I’m an electrical engineer, I can’t tell them ‘this is what you should be doing,’” Sridhar said. “But if the course had WAC status, does the course still meet all the requirements? That sort of thing.”

After that, the UCC looked at how programs changed from a 128-hour standard to a 120-hour standard. The Faculty Senate also looked at the course conversion packets and program conversions.

The UCC didn’t review the departments’ transition plans--the provost convened a committee called the Transition Team to do that.

Sridhar said that while the process has been difficult, departments all met their deadlines, and faculty did well getting it done.

“I think the process has been difficult, but it’s gone through,” Sridhar said. “There’s been a lot of work at various levels. As a university community, the faculty has come together really well and put this thing together.”

He said the UCC expects two or three more years of leftovers from the Big Switch. It will also start a comprehensive review of Cleveland State’s General Education courses, to make sure they still meet their criteria.

But Kosteas said that next year will probably be a quiet one in curriculum changes, because the university will try to avoid having students operating on three different catalogs.

Now that the curriculum change is winding down, Kosteas said he hopes to get back to working on his research.

“The last year and a half has been so draining,” Kosteas said. “I think I need a few weeks. Once the semester’s done, it’ll be a lot easier to get back into the rhythm.”