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Jul 21, 2017

To pay or not to pay, that is the question

I will declare the next year the year of curriculum. For a variety of reasons, we have accumulated curriculum revision needs. Some programs just need a face-lift: a minor adjustment, sexier course titles, add or remove a course or two. Others need to be converted into the online form. Still others need to be completely reconfigured in terms of scheduling, sequencing, and switching to a cohort model. We also need to develop several new curricular products, like certificates and full programs. We are also considering at least two brand-new degree programs: A Youth Development BA and a Maker Education MA. All of these changes are needed because of the competitive pressures, and with changing patterns in demand. Our competitors are many and growing: other regional universities, online universities (both public and private). California also has a number of non-university providers, like County offices of education, CalStateTeach, that is run out of the Chancellors office, district-run programs, etc. Some of our competitors beat us on flexibility, and convenience; we still have an advantage in name recognition, price, and, most importantly, in faculty quality. Some of our graduate programs for in-service educators, suffered during the crisis, and never quite recovered. Therefore, it is an all-hands-on-deck situation. We just have to update, and delays are no longer feasible.

How do you do this? Curriculum revisions take significant work: first conceptually, as a list of courses, and their sequence, then each course and program requirements, the catalog entry – all had to be discussed, and put on paper. Because of the curriculum approval process on campus, and in many instances, at the Chancellor’s Office level, all of these tasks have to be accomplished in about two months – September and October. Otherwise a program risks to miss the catalog deadline.

On one hand, the curriculum development is traditionally a faculty service to the institution. The contract says something like that. So, the mean part of my mind tempts me to say to faculty: “Hey, if you want to save the program and teach in it, you should work on it as a part of your service. After all, curriculum is a faculty responsibility!” On the other hand, my more rational and compassionate part says something different: at least some of these projects are quite substantial. Faculty at CSU teach 12 units per semester, plus we have service and scholarship expectations. It is just hard to add this extra effort on top of everything else. If you expect quality work, you need to find a way to give people time. And there is no point revising, if you are not producing the absolutely the best, the most creative, a world-class program.

Back to the one hand – we really do not have the resources to pay to everyone, or release too many people from teaching. In the end, assigned time is also money, but also the program quality and reputation. In addition, if you compensate one group, but not the other, there are equity considerations. Plus, don’t forget the power of precedents. Once you set an expectation that all curriculum revisions deserve assigned time or a stipend, that becomes the norm. Precedents do not remember the nuance; they do not remember that there was an exceptionally hard project, or that the person in charge was very busy. The precedent remembers the naked fact.

Ok, now back again to the other hand: the projects are not all equal. Some are more of a minor tweak, others require ten brand new syllabi in subjects we have never taught. Some projects are very likely to be successful, and bring us students, glory, and revenue, while others are a lot riskier, and will really of interest one or two faculty here. If they want to do it, great, but not on the College’s dime. In some of them, chairs and program coordinators, who already have assigned time, can be central or help a lot, while others will be done by faculty only. Some people are more organized, while other do unnecessary work, talk a lot about scheduling the next meeting, argue endlessly about the titles, etc. Finally, some faculty think it is their work, and are interested, while others think the dean should revise all the programs, and their jobs are safe no matter what. The multiple overlapping considerations make a consistent approach very difficult. Therefore, I may have to resort to individual negotiations, which are not the best of solutions, but perhaps is the best in this circumstances. Now, individual deals tend to create suspicion and resentment among faculty, because they are not transparent. Is this too high a price to pay?

To make a larger point, most of the projects and problems that I deal with on my job are like that, messy. There are two or more sides, a good deal of uncertainty. Almost every move has a potential cost. In the end, you often have to take a leap of faith and decide on something without ever being sure it is the best solution. It is not like you can always follow clear principles. Or, rather, you can, but then you have to ignore other principles, and you won’t get anything done.

Having said all this, I am very open for suggestions. I have at least 17 potential curriculum development projects on my list. How do we do it?

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