Four course curriculum model optional for individual departments

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Carol Long said on April 1 that each academic department will be able to decide whether or not to adopt a four-credit, four course model independently of the college as a whole.

"I don't see this as a huge shift in direction," Long said. "It will be perfectly possible for us to take a blended route through this conversation."

She said that each department will be able to decide for itself whether to retain its current curriculum, transition to a four-by-four model or utilize a combination of elements from both models.

The School of Business has already decided to retain its three-credit structure, according to SOB Dean Michael Schinski.

"We were very well-placed to take the lead on this," said Harry Howe of the SOB.

For some members of the faculty, Long's words allay anxieties that the administration would dictate curriculum changes to a potentially unwilling faculty.

The proposal to transition to a four-by-four model stems back to May 2009 when it was first introduced as one of President Christopher Dahl's "Six Big Ideas." Faculty support of the proposal has been mixed; some laud the proposed model as being conducive to deeper, more meaningful educational experiences and others say that the model offers no substantial pedagogical or financial benefits and that change would be detrimental to already-excellent programs.

Long said that though a complete reconfiguration of the curriculum would yield maximal budgetary savings, a partial metamorphosis would provide more flexibility to some departments and open "a door to a more complex route to the conversation."

"I think the provost has been really clear about saying that this is up to the faculty and I appreciate hearing that consistently from her," said biology professor Duane McPherson.

Physics professor Stephen Padalino said that the debate surrounding the proposed transition has suffered in part because the parameters framing the discussion have been poorly defined.

"The details of implementing a four course curriculum have been vague to nonexistent in some cases," he said. He added that calculations alleging the cost savings of a transition have been overly general, and that similar savings could be realized through changes made within the existing curriculum structure.

Using publicly available data, biology professor Robert Simon constructed a chart that he said provides evidence that the academic programs at Geneseo tend to fall into one of two spheres: humanities and social science programs typically are comprised of 30-45 major and related requirements, while business, education and hard science programs generally require 58-92 total credit hours.

"There's always a conversation between the two colleges here," Simon said. "They're really two fundamentally different institutions."

He said that programs falling into the former category tend to see the core educational requirements as something to be taken in the first two years of the undergraduate experience, while programs requiring more credits tend to see those requirements as something to be interspersed throughout a four-year program. He also said that programs with heavier credit requirements tend to utilize laboratories and studio time where faculty-student contact hours are not correlated with the number of credits a course bears.

"What works in one of these colleges doesn't necessarily work in the other college," Simon said, noting that a transition to a four-by-four model would likely be more complicated for programs with larger credit-hour requirements and tiered structures involving multiple pre-requisites. He dismissed the suggestion that a four-by-four model would yield any financial savings and said that at this time, the college should be focused on maintaining quality instruction in a difficult budgetary situation. "That's the only thing we should be talking about, and four-by-four doesn't address it," he said.

Several faculty members suggested that the college should re-examine and adjust its core educational requirements before making major changes to the individual academic programs. According to Long, Geneseo will participate in a general education summer institute hosted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities at which the current requirements will be critically examined.

Long said that department proposals and frequently asked questions regarding the four-by-four model will be posted to the Geneseo wiki by April 12. She will host a third open forum on the topic on April 13.