Rafael Castillo / Flickr
San Francisco State University, one of 23 campuses in the CSU system.

The California State University faculty is rebelling against recently announced changes in remedial education and math requirements at the 23-campus system and wants delays of at least a year.

So far the university’s administration shows no indication of slowing down. But if the university’s governing board agrees with the faculty, one of the most ambitious education reform efforts in California higher education in decades could be delayed or overhauled.

A resolution passed by the system’s Academic Senate sharply criticized CSU administration’s actions last month that seek to reform student placement in remedial and math education. The reforms would end the use of those courses that don’t count for degrees and allow some students to fulfill math requirements that don’t require mastery of Algebra II skills

The faculty document said the discussions with professors before adopting the executive orders were “severely time-constrained” and the overall process was “flawed.” The university’s goals of starting to implement changes next fall “suggest the administration is more attuned to the pressures of outside forces than to the needs of its students and continuing faculty efforts to meet those needs,” the resolution said.

CSU chancellor Timothy White does not have to agree to the faculty request that implementation be delayed at least a year to “at earliest fall 2019.” And on Tuesday, administrators said they do not plan to change course although they promised to consult more with faculty.

“The policy changes recently announced by the California State University were developed with one key goal in mind: enhancing academic pathways to ensure student success. I appreciate the discussion and feedback provided by the Academic Senate on those changes, and acknowledge awareness of the resolution they have passed,” Loren Blanchard, CSU executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs, said in a statement Tuesday. He pledged to review the faculty resolution closely and respond to the Academic Senate soon.

“I am confident we can work collaboratively to implement these and other changes that will continue to keep the California State University focused on student success and faculty excellence and among the top institutions of higher education in the U.S.,” he said.

The controversy is expected to be discussed at least briefly at Wednesday’s meeting of the CSU trustees when the faculty plan to formally present their complaint. Trustees are expected to examine the issues in depth at their November session.

Christine Miller, chair of the system’s Academic Senate, acknowledged in an email to EdSource that the faculty group could not block White’s program. But she said she has been telling administrators for months that “the timelines for consultation and implementation have been too ambitious” and that she hopes White now heeds the concerns. The faculty resolution, passed last week, calls for more time to study the costs of the changes and impacts on academic programs and noted the executive orders were issued in the summer when most faculty were off campus.

At Tuesday’s trustees meeting in Long Beach, trustee Steven Stepanek, the faculty representative on the board, requested that the governing body take up the matter at its November meeting and possibly act to delay implementation.

In an interview, Stepanek, who is a computer science professor at Cal State Northridge, said that some other trustees agree that such dramatic changes should not be rushed. White was trying to get “too much done in a very small time period,” he told EdSource. And he added that a formal trustees’ vote might not be needed to slow things down.

The administrative orders included strategies to help students overcome obstacles posed by remedial classes in math and English that cause too many to drop out before graduation.

Among other things, the changes will drop math and English placement tests the system has been using for years and will instead rely on multiple measures such as a student’s high school grade-point average, grades earned in math and English, and test scores on standardized tests like the SAT, ACT or Smarter Balanced assessments to determine whether incoming freshmen are placed in courses that include remedial work.

In fall 2018, students who need extra academic help will no longer be placed in no-credit remedial courses and will enroll in credit-bearing classes while simultaneously receiving additional remedial support. That is supposed to allow students to more quickly catch up on key math and English skills and avoid spending money and time on courses that don’t count toward their degrees.

Another new policy will soon allow some students to take math classes with pre-requisites other than intermediate algebra to satisfy the math requirements they need for graduation. Those classes could include statistics or computer science.

In its resolution, the faculty Senate wants the CSU system to assess incoming students using multiple measures, including whether they have a mastery of 9th-grade California Common Core Standards, which is essentially arithmetic and basic algebra.

Miller, the Academic Senate chair, said it’s “the $64,000 question” when asked what steps the Senate would take if the Chancellor’s office doesn’t reverse course. “I think it will depend on the rationale offered for not accepting the Senate’s recommendation,” she said.

“At minimum,” she added, “we will do everything we can to help our campuses meet these edicts, and we will continue to promote consultation with the Chancellor’s Office in the spirit and culture of shared governance in the CSU.”

The union representing CSU faculty is getting involved, too. The California Faculty Association has requested a meeting known as a “meet and confer” with Chancellor White’s office to discuss whether the executive orders might substantively change the employment of CSU faculty or other issues that are addressed in the collective bargaining agreement, said Alice Sunshine, CFA’s communication director. The meeting is set to take place next week, she said.

Toni Molle, spokeswoman for CSU, wrote in an email that while the chancellor’s office will meet with the union’s representatives, she noted that the law governing the relationship between the system and its faculty — the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act — “specifically excludes” course content and how degrees are awarded from the scope of union representation.  

In other matters, CSU administrators warned Tuesday that a tuition increase might be needed for the 2018-19 school year if state support for CSU does not increase enough to cover salaries, maintenance and enrollment growth. Officials did not offer any specific dollar amounts regarding tuition but said that a more detailed plan would be revealed in November. Their discussion at Tuesday’s trustees meeting was the first step in a long period of negotiations with the governor and Legislature.

In March, the CSU system approved a $270 tuition increase, or about 5 percent, for the current school year, the first raise in six years. That brought undergraduate tuition for a full-time student from California to $5,742 a year, not including campus fees, housing and books.  Officials note that about 60 percent of undergraduates have their tuition fully covered by financial aid programs.

A preliminary plan for next year from Gov. Jerry Brown calls for a 3 percent, or $102 million, increase in state funding for CSU while the university system is estimating that it will need $134 million to $215 million on top of that, according to a trustees agenda item. Ryan Storm, assistant vice chancellor for budget, said the university faces “very difficult options,” including possible tuition hikes and program cuts, if the state does not provide enough funds.

Last week, the UC regents floated the possibility of their own tuition hike next year, hinting that a $348 increase might be in the works. A formal recommendation is expected in November. This fall saw the first increases to tuition and fees at the University of California system since 2010-11, a 2.7 percent increase to $12,630 for in-state undergraduates. 

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  1. Patrick 3 months ago3 months ago

    Water it down. The kids don't graduate from high school with the skills necessary to be successful at college, so we change the requirements and redefine "success" while saying we are "enhancing" it. I have lost hope. We are trying to fight to regain the rigor and standards for graduation at the secondary level that existed even five or ten years ago. They have been sacrificed in the name of inclusion, diversity, and allowing all … Read More

    Water it down. The kids don’t graduate from high school with the skills necessary to be successful at college, so we change the requirements and redefine “success” while saying we are “enhancing” it. I have lost hope. We are trying to fight to regain the rigor and standards for graduation at the secondary level that existed even five or ten years ago. They have been sacrificed in the name of inclusion, diversity, and allowing all children to succeed.

    One of our best arguments was that they would need the skills we were advocating for in order to succeed in college. Now, what’s the point? I’m just glad I’m close to retirement, and my son is out of the system and grown.

  2. Don 3 months ago3 months ago

    "Additional remedial support" sounds to me like an unfunded mandate. Getting additional remedial support in K12 is prohibitively expensive. That's one reason why this "support" is needed upon entry to college. California isn't Washington, D.C., where money grows on trees, and this recovery is growing long in the tooth. Read More

    “Additional remedial support” sounds to me like an unfunded mandate. Getting additional remedial support in K12 is prohibitively expensive. That’s one reason why this “support” is needed upon entry to college. California isn’t Washington, D.C., where money grows on trees, and this recovery is growing long in the tooth.

  3. Fohne 3 months ago3 months ago

    It is encouraging to hear that the faculty is requesting that the decision be "thoughtful." I found that when one of my children attended a UC campus and another a Cal State campus, that costs were prohibitive in allowing students to take exploratory classes, much less remedial classes. Maybe a different model for charging students for courses that would allow a little latitude on course selection. Students are pressured to decide on their major … Read More

    It is encouraging to hear that the faculty is requesting that the decision be “thoughtful.” I found that when one of my children attended a UC campus and another a Cal State campus, that costs were prohibitive in allowing students to take exploratory classes, much less remedial classes. Maybe a different model for charging students for courses that would allow a little latitude on course selection. Students are pressured to decide on their major as freshman in order to take classes that only apply to their proposed major. I found that classes toward a desired major are often full causing the student to compromise the direction they wanted to go.

  4. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    I think part of what is going on is disagreement on how to define "mastery of Algebra II skills." All of the students in question, if I understand correctly, have passed an Algebra II class. What they might not be able to do is pass an exam under particular conditions some time after they have completed that class. In many years of being a student and assisting others, I have never seen the "Just Math Harder" … Read More

    I think part of what is going on is disagreement on how to define “mastery of Algebra II skills.” All of the students in question, if I understand correctly, have passed an Algebra II class. What they might not be able to do is pass an exam under particular conditions some time after they have completed that class.

    In many years of being a student and assisting others, I have never seen the “Just Math Harder” approach to remediation to be successful. More of the same math, more hours a day, doesn’t usually create the breakthrough of understanding that is sought. On the other hand, what I have seen as successful is when the student progresses to new tasks that the student personally values, and gets another direction to approach that foundational math. This is when the lightbulb dawns.

    If a student wants to take a class that requires that mastery, and does not have it, it is the student who will suffer, not the instructor. Giving the student that guidance through the diagnostic and offering the tutoring resources and the resource of the remedial class seems helpful and appropriate, but giving the student the option to take responsibility for her own learning and the chance to do both concurrently seems a better path to me.

    Our insistence that math education be linear is at odds with what math actually is, which is full of side paths and really quite broad compared to what most people experience.