Killing Higher Education in Rhode Island

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On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the House Finance Committee will hold a Hearing on Article 11 of House Bill No. 5151, the Governor’s FY 2020 Budget articles.> 
            Although Article 11’s title, Rhode Island Promise, is resident-friendly, the substance of the legislation is abusive and authoritarian, in a totalitarian way. By transferring college course curriculum and scheduling to the Governor’s appointed Board of Education, the traditional guardians of higher education, the faculty, are being stripped of their responsibilities, and rights, to ensure the academic integrity of courses and programs.
Intent of Legislation
            Paragraph 16-107-2 (b) (3) (ii) requires eligible postsecondary institutions to align their postsecondary degree and certificates with emerging workforce demands. Since Rhode Island College (RIC) and the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) are defined to be the only eligible postsecondary institutions, this goal effectively redefines both institutions as workforce training centers.
Legal Mandate to Schedule the J-Term
            A controversial inter-term session, the J-Term, was challenged by CCRI faculty in January of this year. My views on the short course approach are contained in my Winter Sessions and Academic Integrity post. I strongly disagree with this administrative initiative.
            However, in Paragraph 16-107-10 (b) this winter term will be mandated by law: “Each eligible postsecondary institution shall offer credit courses during summer and winter intersessions by January 1, 2020.”
            Moreover, the requirements for courses offered in these sessions includes the qualifier “…in at least the most in-demand courses of study…” with the objective “…to allow students to matriculate more easily through their eligible postsecondary institution…”.
            Developmental courses clearly fall into the “most in-demand” category and they are also the most inappropriate for condensed course scheduling. Responsible faculty have, and will continue to, advise against offering such courses to simply “allow students to matriculate more easily”. Quality education is both challenging and inconvenient for most students.
            Of course, if this was the worst of Article 11, it could be easily corrected by amendment. But the heart of the legislation is Paragraph 16-107-10 (c) The council on postsecondary education shall revise its Transfer and Articulation policies by July 1, 2021, details academic and scheduling uniformity requirements for eligibility.
Transferability means Uniformity
            The eight subparagraphs of 16-107-10 (c) refer to the historical articulation disagreements that exist between CCRI and RIC. During my 20 years at CCRI, students were caught in the middle of a course-credit war that required students to retake courses when they transferred from CCRI to RIC. This was a significant issue during the hearings of the House Commission on Public Higher Education Affordability and Accessibility in 2011-2012. Having attended almost every meeting, I became aware of several institutional issues at all three public institutions.
            But the current Governor’s legislative initiative will not solve this problem. The solution requires coordinated activity between the faculty of RIC and CCRI.
            If a coordinated general education core curriculum is needed, the faculty of CCRI and RIC need to be guided by their respective Vice Presidents of Academic Affairs to design the curriculum. The Commissioner of Postsecondary Education has enough authority to facilitate that process. More Rhode Island laws are not necessary! Guidance and dialogue among the curriculum specialist are sufficient.
            In my not-so-humble view, everything in Paragraph 16-107-10 (c) should be deleted.
Ask the Professionals
            When in doubt, ask the professionals, the faculty, about curriculum and pedagogy requirements for college courses. These courses are the heart and soul of a college education.
            Technical training has always been an important part of the community college mission, but it has never been its exclusive responsibility. Technical training does not provide a balanced curriculum for personal growth and citizenship. A balanced liberal arts curriculum is critical for the development of healthy communities focused on the common good.
            As always, in the words of Edward R. Murrow, “Good night and good luck.”

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