Deans unsure of 4×4’s full impact on schools

School deans said last week that faculty across the University have mixed reactions to the four-by-four plan, with many wanting to know the impact the schedule would have on class time, teaching loads and financial savings before they cast a vote this spring.

The four-by-four proposal is to switch from the current five-class, three-credit system to a four-class, four-credit system. The change has been discussed since a task force convened in the spring.

According to the report, the study of the four-by-four curriculum was motivated by both academic and financial reasons, but academics were the primary focus of the task force. The four-by-four curriculum will generate a minimum savings between $5 and $10 million annually, according to the report.

The four-by-four report includes possible scenarios, but does not come to any conclusions about questions such as whether students would spend less time in class in a four-class, four-credit model.

“There’s no general view that I’m aware of among the faculty. The mass of people just need more information,” said Roy Guenther, the associate dean for faculty and special projects in the Columbian College.

“I’m not sure how it is expected to work its way out. The question in everyone’s mind is how, and this needs to be answered first,” he said.

Another concern is the question of who would make these decisions, and how much input the faculty would have.

“It’s not clear who would decide whether or not extra class time would be possible,” said Paul Duff, the Columbian College associate dean for undergraduate studies.

Faculty concerns echo those of Faculty Senate members who last month said they wanted to consider the actual implications of a four-by-four model before voting on it. The Senate passed a resolution that would allow them to vote in April, three months after the January date that Vice President of Academic Affairs Donald Lehman initially called for.

There has been little discussion between schools on the four-by-four system and administrators said they do not see advantages to cross-school debate. The schools are now mainly looking at the four-by-four at the departmental level, and some have begun to hold all-faculty meetings with Lehman.

David Grier, the associate dean of academic programs at the Elliott School of International Affairs, said it would be difficult for the Columbian College and the Elliott School to go in different directions, but that the business and engineering schools could remain in a five-by-three structure if the other schools adopted a four-by-four.

Grier said the Elliott School was already looking at ways to revamp its curriculum and that changes will be made whether or not the four-by-four is adopted.

“Whichever way it goes, we’re going to try to use that decision to advance the school,” he said. “We want you to have the skills so that you will be prepared when 2030 comes around. The goal is to produce better students.”

Administrators in the business and engineering schools questioned the impact the four-by-four would have on their programs, where students tend to have more structured curriculums than in the other schools.

“Here it is a pyramid. It is based on a very solid foundation. You can’t just take out a brick from it,” said Marta Pardavi-Horvath, the associate dean for academic affairs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

She said the schools with more of a liberal arts base will have an easier time implementing the four-by-four plan.

“I think it is easiest for them. In the Columbian (College) students have much more freedom,” she said.

She said the engineering school faculty will be determining if the four-by-four is possible for their school and what would need to be done to implement it.

Mary Gowan, the business school associate dean for undergraduate programs, said business school faculty will be working out cost scenarios in the next months before they vote on the four-by-four.

“Because we’re the business school, we’ll have a lot of faculty who will run the models,” she said.

Gowan said a common concern is that implementing the four-by-four would be a daunting task for the new president in his or her first year. In August, a new president will be taking over when Stephen Joel Trachtenberg steps down.

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