Faculty Senate rejects four-by-four proposal

The Faculty Senate rejected the University’s plan to adopt a four-by-four credit structure two months before their vote was scheduled to take place.

At Friday’s meeting in the Marvin Center, the body passed a resolution recommending that the schools should not switch at this time from the three-credit, five-class system to the four-class, four-credit plan administrators have proposed. The Senate’s resolution states that reduced class time will not lead to improved academics and that there is little evidence that the model will save costs.

Last November the Faculty Senate voted to wait until April to make a decision on the four-by-four plan, extending the original January deadline set by Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Donald Lehman. At the time, members of the Faculty Senate said they needed more time to study its benefits and disadvantages, but on Friday, the body decided to make the vote two months earlier than expected.

The deans of GW’s individual colleges are still considering the plan and Lehman said he had expected that the schools would vote on four-by-four in April and make a recommendation to the Faculty Senate. He said he thought the Faculty Senate would at that point make a recommendation.

Lehman urged the Senate not to just dismiss the entire four-by-four plan and to consider the merits of each of its parts.

“Adopting a scenario is not a vote to make the change to a four-by-four,” he said. “It is possible to change some parts of the scenario and to give up some parts but not all.”

Switching to a four-by-four model was studied twice before in 1992 and 2003 and was rejected both times. The Senate resolution states that the 2006 four-by-four report does not present any new evidence that disproves the conclusions of the 2003 study group that found there is little empirical research about the connection between curricular structure and academic engagement.

In 2002 a Joint Academic Affairs/Faculty Senate Task Force rejected the plan and in 2003 a study group of students, staff and administrators again rejected four-by-four. The Educational Policy Committee of the Faculty Senate also studied the plan in 2003 and recommended that it not be implemented.

The four-by-four taskforce appointed by Lehman that first convened in 2005 was the first task force to recommend the four-by-four. In May 2006 the recommendation passed by a vote of 13-8.

At Friday’s meeting faculty members explained their discontent with the plan.

“We are now charging the highest tuition in the country,” said law professor Arthur Wilmarth. “Are we going to charge the highest tuition and cut the amount of classroom time?”

According to the report that the taskforce released in October, 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 report states that the four-by-four may or may not involve reduced class time, but Faculty Senate members said only reduced class time would lead to the financial savings that the report predicts. They were critical of the academic benefits of a model that decreased class time.

Outgoing University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg has repeatedly pushed for the four-by-four because of its potential for substantial cost savings. The four-by-four curriculum will generate a minimum savings between $5 and $10 million annually, according to a school report.

Trachtenberg told The Hatchet earlier this month that he would like the new Columbian College dean to support the four-by-four plan. Candidates will be interviewed in February and March, and a new dean will be in place by July 2007.

Administrators continue to point to the four-by-four as a way to remedy what they see as low academic challenge and engagement at the University.

The Faculty Senate’s resolution recommends as an alternative to the four-by-four that the faculty review their curriculums beginning next fall in collaboration with President-elect Steven Knapp.

The resolution is also critical of evidence that points to low academic engagement and challenge, stating that there has been modest improvement over the past few years according to exit surveys of seniors.

In April each of the schools will still be voting on the four-by-four. Schools can potentially vote in different directions, but Faculty Senate members said they did not believe different curricular structures among schools would be plausible.

“I think it would be chaos for some schools to reject it and others to not,” said philosophy professor William Griffith.

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