In addition to examining Cal Poly’s possible conversion to semesters — a notion that was ultimately rejected — the Semester Review Task Force presented other ideas that could change campus even if it stays on the quarter system.
Most of the proposals the task force introduced in its final report, which members released the week after fall quarter finals, focus on ways to overhaul Cal Poly’s curriculum if the university does convert to semesters.
But some ideas would be relevant even if Cal Poly remains on quarters.
Generating those suggestions wasn’t explicitly what President Jeffrey Armstrong charged the task force to do, but philosophy professor and task force chair Rachel Fernflores said she wanted to give the president as much information as possible in the report.
“As we were doing the work, it was obvious that transformational change can come from many, many paths,” Fernflores said. “So we started to learn, especially in the workshops, what kind of change people would be open to, whether we were on semesters or not.”
Those kinds of changes include more integration of general education courses with major courses and admitting students in “zones” instead of majors.
But these ideas aren’t finalized or under formal consideration yet, statistics professor and task force member Andrew Schaffner said.
“I would guess it wouldn’t be this year when these things would happen,” Schaffner said. “This semester report rattled the university pretty good, so it might be a lot to take up something else right now.”
Armstrong began fall quarter commissioning the task force to examine the possibility of converting to semesters, stirring the campus and bringing the president public criticism from faculty, staff and students.
For now, Armstrong is keeping quiet on addressing specifics in the task force’s report, but he did say he would take a “holistic” approach to the task force’s suggestions. This, he said, means weighing ideas with student success in mind.
During the lead up to the task force releasing the report, Armstrong said converting to semesters would be a “catalyst” to promote student success because it would streamline courses and improve graduation rates.
Now, he says, those changes could happen anyway.
“I think it’s a lot higher likelihood (that curriculum gets reevaluated) now than when we started the discussion,” he said.
One of the changes mentioned frequently in the task force’s report is using zones for admission instead of the current major-based process for which Cal Poly is known. This would involve placing freshmen into clusters such as humanities or engineering and allowing them to declare majors later.
The report says this could help optimize students’ path to a degree by eliminating some “wasted units.”
Schaffner, who led discussions on the topic as a member of the Academic Senate Curriculum Committee, said moving toward zones could be done on quarters. He added, however, that it would require in-depth evaluation so students don’t get “stuck” in the process.
One student who says he would have benefited from zones is junior Alex Klimaj. He said that though he was sure he wanted to study electrical engineering when he applied to Cal Poly, he began mulling the idea of switching to a different engineering major once he arrived.
Klimaj, who eventually decided to remain an electrical engineering student, said the process would have been easier if he had enrolled in a wider range of engineering classes.
“I liked getting into it right away,” he said, “but I would have liked to get a full look at the different engineering classes, too.”
A counter-argument in the report is that when students choose their major before enrolling at Cal Poly, they show self-awareness and a plan that contributes to their success. The task force, however, wrote that students would keep those qualities even if they chose zones instead of majors.
“You have to still think of where you want to end up, and the university still has to have a plan for you,” Fernflores said of future students, who might enter Cal Poly with zones instead of majors.
In addition to ideas the task force presented, the report also included discussions from the Academic Senate Curriculum Committee and the General Education Governance Board, where faculty and staff considered long-term changes to Cal Poly’s curriculum.
The participants in the forums noticed a separation between general education and major courses, and several thought the university would do well to bring the two closer. This could be accomplished, Schaffner said, by opening classes with learning and teaching opportunities between majors and colleges.
This could eventually lead to “flex” tracks that tailor general education classes to students based on their major, the report says.
But Schaffner recognizes it would be demanding — if not impossible — to begin organizing those general education classes in all majors.
“I think it’d be really difficult to implement this across the board,” he said. “Some majors are just too small to tailor GEs to.”
Associate vice provost for academic programs and planning Mary Pedersen said Cal Poly’s faculty are already reviewing changes to the general education structure. Though the last complete overhaul was in 2000, the Academic Senate passed a resolution in 2012 to shift governance of general education to the Senate.
Professors are already attending conferences and brainstorming ways to improve the general education system, Pedersen said.
“One of our goals is to get students to see GEs are not an add-on separate from your major, but that they can integrate,” Pedersen said.
Though several ideas the task force presented aren’t new — Fernflores said Cal Poly’s academic senate first discussed zones in Fall 2009 — the Semester Review Task Force put them in the spotlight and offered a glimpse of what might be in Cal Poly’s future.