Open Letter from Professor Katherine Binhammer (EFS): Reject BA Core Proposal at Arts Faculty Council on Nov. 24th

Dear Colleagues,

I write to you today as an Arts colleague to strongly encourage you to attend Arts Faculty Council on November 24th, 2 pm (in Council Chambers, University Hall) and exercise your right to vote. As you know, on that day Council will be voting on the proposed new B.A. Core requirements and I am extremely concerned for the future of the Faculty and of our students if the proposal is passed. Thus, this email’s purpose is to rally the troops to show up and not allow a flawed proposal to pass.  Below I outline a few reasons why I will be voting against the proposal. Whether or not you agree with me on what the new B.A. core should look like does not matter; what matters is that we collectively reject the proposed model which would be a disservice to our students.

Here are my Concerns with the Current Proposal

1. What is the intellectual or pedagogical reasoning for the proposed new core requirements? A B.A. core needs to stand on its own and tell a story about what we think an Arts degree is. What is the story that emerges from the proposed requirements? What is the intellectual or pedagogical reasoning for why these credits and not others? What does it tell people we value? The old B.A. core – whether we agree with it or not – has a coherent intellectual rationale: the classic liberal arts core, including science. This one lacks any coherent story and includes obvious disparities and a lack of logic. What is the reasoning behind having our students do 6 non-Arts credits? What is it we value about non-Arts courses that we do not value about breadth within the Faculty? What value do we see in non-Arts courses if it is not based on the classical idea that the sciences are a component of the liberal arts? Why do we want our students to learn a second language more than we want them to learn how to write? Why is language more important than the acquisition of a methodology from one of the Arts disciplines outside one’s major?

2. Feedback Ignored: While the proposal provides lists of people consulted, these consultations have not led to developments in the proposal. In the feedback given at many different events (town halls, department meetings, online forums, surveys, all available at https://www.ualberta.ca/arts/about/ba-renewal) faculty and students have strongly expressed the desire for an Arts breadth requirement which is no where in this proposal. As well, while students and faculty valued 6 credits of writing over 6 credits of language in the survey last year, the proposal cuts writing to 3 credits and keeps language at 6 (for results see: https://d1pbog36rugm0t.cloudfront.net/-/media/arts/about/faculty-survey-results.pdf and https://d1pbog36rugm0t.cloudfront.net/-/media/arts/about/student-survey-results.pdf).

3. Resources I: Cuts: I am concerned that the changes are being made for budgetary reasons that are not being expressed (that is, that we need to cut soft funding provided to departments for the current teaching of core requirements). If we cannot afford the current B.A. core then we need to know that and to collectively face that issue.

4. Resources II: Advising: On the other side, I am concerned that the budgetary implications of the proposal have not been addressed. The proposed requirements are based upon the idea that while students will not be required to take courses, they will be advised on various “pathways” through the program and this will create a huge demand for advising. Where will the resources come from to address increased demand? I am not opposed to turning requirements into recommendations as long as the resources are available to assist students with informed and educated decision-making.

5.  What are the Pathways? Since the proposed requirements depend upon the ‘pathways’, I believe we should not be voting on the new core requirements until these pathways have been developed.

6. How do we compare? The proposal is based on seeing U of Calgary and MacEwan as our comparative institutions whereas I think we should compare ourselves to Tier I Research institutions whose B.A. cores vary in the number of credits but still have requirements with an easily recognizable rationale (the 24 credits at McGill and U of T, for example, foreground the breadth of the liberal arts, including science).

7. What do our students need to learn? As Jennifer Summit suggested, curriculum reform should be driven not by faculty desire, student demand, or administrative constraint but by a shared vision of what our students need to learn. I believe we can articulate a shared vision that is based on student learning but that the current form does not answer.

8. Evidence-based decision-making: the changes to the B.A. Core are presented as answering a problem – that the number of core requirements are a problem and students are not entering the Faculty because of it – but we have not seen the evidence that the problem exists.

Many members of the Arts Faculty community have dedicated enormous time and energy to this process and I understand that there is a collective exhaustion; none of us want to go back to the drawing board and start again. But are we willing to disadvantage our students? Instead of encouraging enrollment at a time of crisis, the proposed B.A. Core would further justify the de-valuing of an Arts degree since it contains no persuasive logic of why we matter.

If we do need to cut requirements right now because the current core does not allow students the flexibility they need to benefit from new inter-disciplinary programs and certificates then what I suggest is that we take the current B.A. core and cut it in half. 3 credits in Writing, LOE, Fine Arts, Humanities, Social Science and Science. We maintain the vision of the liberal arts and yet reduce the number of credits from 36 to 18.

Please come out on November 24th and participate in the debate. I’m sending this email to as many colleagues as I know. Feel free to forward it to those whom you think would be interested and encourage them to attend.

best, Katherine.

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One Response to Open Letter from Professor Katherine Binhammer (EFS): Reject BA Core Proposal at Arts Faculty Council on Nov. 24th

  1. Christine Wiesenthal, Professor, Department of English and Film Studies says:

    I share the concerns articulated by Katherine, and will not be able to vote in favor of the proposal on those bases.

    Another concern for many of us, however, relates to the timing of AFC meetings during one of the peak teaching times of the week. (In scheduling terms, early Tues/Thursday slots are ‘prime real estate’). A number of colleagues have expressed frustration that they will not be able attend the meeting and exercise their right to vote because of teaching obligations. It is my understanding that there is no alternative option for proxy or on-line voting. I’m going to write to the Dean expressing my concern about this, and urge others to do so as well. Especially for a matter as fundamental as this one, engagement of all Arts Faculty at this decisive stage is crucial; not to take measures to include a number of colleagues who wish to register their vote on this major issue is to risk, in my view, furthering the sort of disenchantment with and disinvestment from the business of Faculty governance that has been raised as a concern at under-attended Arts Faculty Council meetings in the recent past.

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