May 1, 2008

TO:                  UW-L Faculty Executive Committee

FROM:            Stephen McDougal, Chair, Undergraduate Curriculum Committee

RE:                   2007-08 Final Report

The Committee received, reviewed and approved numerous course and curricula proposals from the Faculty. Two large-scale curricular revisions were also reviewed and approved: (a) a revised Art Major [see below for more on this], and (b) a major revision in the Department of Educational Studies.

In addition, the Committee was given three special charges by the Faculty Executive Committee to make recommendations (a) on the BA/BS proposal from the General Education Committee, (b) on the problem of “hidden prerequisites”, and (c) on the practice of scheduling courses required to complete a particular major/program exclusively during J-Term and/or Summer Session.

(A) General Education Committee’s BA/BS Proposal: The Committee’s review and recommendation on this matter were submitted to the Faculty Senate under separate cover.

(B) “Hidden Prerequisite” Problem: The Committee’s discussions revealed differences of definition as to what exactly is a “hidden” prerequisite, as well as a difference of opinion as to how extensive the problem actually is. Consequently, the Committee’s report seeks to clarify both points.

1. When is a prerequisite “hidden”? – Since each course description in the Catalog lists the applicable prerequisite courses, one could argue that there is no problem. However, individual course descriptions are not the source of the problem. The problem arises from the listing of required courses given at the beginning of each Department’s/Program’s section of the Catalog, wherein a course listed as required has a prerequisite that is not also required or listed or otherwise referenced. As a consequence, a student is in effect committed to taking more courses than are explicitly listed and cannot learn this fact without cross-checking in detail the description of each course listed.

For example, the requirements for the Public Administration major list POL 211 as a requirement[1]. Yet, the course description for POL 211[2] specifies POL 101/102 as a prerequisite for POL 211, while the listing does not. Thus, a student declaring a Public Administration major must take more than the courses listed, without that fact being explicitly noted in the listing. In the Committee’s discussions, several faculty members offered similar examples from their own department’s curricular requirements.

The situation is less problematic in circumstances where majors are asked to choose from a list of courses (usually upper division) wherein different prerequisites hold for different courses on the list. Here, students may find themselves with fewer choices than might be apparent because of the “hidden” prerequisites. An example, again from the Public Administration major: nine credits of work are required in “fields of specialization”[3]; one of those fields is “Financial Administration,” which lists the options of FIN 355, ACC 435, ECO 310, 402, 447. Because each of these courses has non-listed prerequisites, students’ choices (as a practical matter) could be very limited because of those “hidden” prerequisites. However, in a “Note” on p. 235, col. 3, it states “Some of the above courses require prerequisites not included as part of the [Public Administration] major.” One could argue that the “Note” alleviates the problem.

The Committee decided that this was a problem of “truth-in-advertising” more than anything else. Students consulting the Catalog should find a consistent format for listing major/program requirements, including (in some manner) currently non-listed prerequisites to courses explicitly required. Students ought to be making informed choices with as much information as practical. On the other hand, students bear some responsibility to research the details of the curricular choices they are considering. In addition, the Committee did not discount the importance of faculty advisement in students’ curricular planning. Lastly, the Committee was concerned that policies enacted to cope with the problem not inhibit or limit in any way how individual Departments structure and operate their majors/programs.

2. The Scope of the Problem of Unlisted Prerequisites – The Committee made no study of the scope of this problem – i.e., how frequently major/program requirements listed in the Catalog include unlisted prerequisites. Obviously, this needs to be done. Our conversations implied that it is pervasive enough to warrant some policy decisions. Hence, the Committee makes the following recommendations:

RECOMMENDATION #1: That a comprehensive review of the requirements for each major/program, as listed in the Catalog, be undertaken to identify each particular instance of “hidden” prerequisites. Because this will be a daunting task, the Committee suggests – and the Registrar has agreed – that this be done by the Office of Records and Registration with the individual departments/programs as part of the transition to the PeopleSoft system next academic year.

RECOMMENDATION #2: That a common format be developed for listing major/program requirements in the Catalog which identifies – or otherwise “flags” – those instances where a listed requirement has a prerequisite not otherwise included or listed.

RECOMMENDATION #3: That this common format be incorporated into the Catalog revisions already scheduled for 2008-09 – i.e., the next “catalog year.”

RECOMMENDATION #4: That the use of hyperlinks within the electronic (i.e., on-line) Catalog be considered as a means of making cross-checking of listed requirements with course descriptions easier.

(C) On Scheduling Required Courses Only during J-Term and/or Summer Session: The Committee did not consider this matter.

ADDITIONAL CONCERNS –

The “Undergraduate Curriculum Committee Policies” provides:

“No department may require more than 40 semester credits in one major unless it becomes necessary to do so in order to meet external requirements for certification or accreditation as prescribed by an external agency or accrediting group and is approved by the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.”[4]

The Committee has recently approved two curricular changes that did not comply with this policy – in 2006-07, a revision to the Biochemistry major to 41 credits[5], and in 2007-08, a revision to the Art Major to 48 credits[6]. There is, then, a question of whether the language above is, in fact, still the policy of the Committee.

In addition, the Committee is concerned that over the years its forty-credit policy has not been administered consistently across the curriculum. In some majors/programs, the forty-credit limit (where applicable) includes required courses outside of the hosting department, while elsewhere the forty-credit limits excludes required courses outside of the hosting department, thus effectively making the requirements more than forty credits.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would add as chair that the members of the Committee were quite sterling in their duties. There were no problems with attendance, and members kept me informed when they would be absent. We never failed to get a quorum. The student members especially were regularly present and participating. Decorum was maintained even in our few truly contentious deliberations.

Special praise goes to Chris Bakkum, Interim Registrar, for her outstanding success in keeping the paper flow and the Committee’s deliberations in good order, and for providing us with guidance from her wealth of living institutional memory. Our job was much easier because she and her staff did their jobs so well.

If there are any questions or concerns arising from this report, please let me know how I may be of further assistance.

2007-2008 Committee Membership:

Rafique Ahmed

Cynthia Berlin

Mark Chavalas

Erik Kahl

Mark Malisa (Spring Semester)

Stephen McDougal, Chair

Kristofer Rolfhus

 

Barbara Rusterholz

Don Sloan (Fall Semester)

Dick Sullivan  

Katie Vice

Karly Wallace

Mao Zheng

 Chris Bakkum, Secretary


 

[1]  See: 2007-09 Undergraduate Catalog, p. 235, col. 2.

[2]  Ibid., p. 237, col. 1.

[3]  Ibid. listing E1 to E6, p. 235, col. 3.

[4] See UCC Policies, Revised August 2001, p.3; also at http://www.uwlax.edu/Records/ucc%20agenda/ucc_guidelines_2001.htm#MAJORS.

[5] See UCC Minutes of 11/28/06 and 12/12/06.

[6] See UCC Minutes of 11/13/07 and 11/27/07. PLEASE NOTE: The Art Department’s proposal was in furtherance of its pending accreditation application to the National Association of Schools of Arts and Design. However, the Association’s published criteria at the time were expressed as “highly recommended,” but not required. On the other hand, NASAD recently issued new standards and guidelines, which (on glance, admittedly) are far more precise and complex. See at http://nasad.arts-accredit.org/site/docs/NASAD%20HANDBOOKS/NASAD-Handbook_2007-2008_2ndEd.pdf. Thus, the Committee’s actions then (i.e., ignored its own policy) may no longer substantively be the case.