Faculty senate addresses University Studies

Insuring the quality and success of University Studies remains a hot topic at PSU. The faculty senate meeting on Monday listened to David Horowitz question the qualifications of the faculty teaching the Freshmen and Sophomore Inquiry classes.

History professor Horowitz conducted a study to examine the faculty teaching Freshmen and Sophomore Inquiry classes.

He voiced concern at the low number of tenure and tenure-track faculty teaching the inquiry classes. Scott Burns, the faculty senate’s presiding officer, postponed the debate for a later meeting.

University Studies, adopted in 1994, has attempted to redefine general university education by providing an integrated learning program. PSU has received national recognition and awards for the program, but there have also been some past complaints from a group of faculty, who claimed that the program has watered-down general education.

Judith Patton, program director of University Studies, defends the program, highlighting that it combines the general university requirements with the changing pedagogy of modern higher education.

University Studies strives to teach students critical thinking, communication skills and the appreciation of diversity, ethics and social responsibility. These skills and knowledge are seen as the building blocks of a well-rounded and quality education.

She said, “The content is integrated, the pathway links are integrated and the goals are threaded throughout the program, culminating in the community based experience.”

A report provided by the Office of Institutional Research and Planning (OIRP) listed that 34.4 percent of the faculty teaching Freshman Inquiry and 25.7 percent teaching Sophomore Inquiry were tenure or tenure-track faculty during Winter Term.

Patton said budget constraints make the hiring of tenure and tenure-track faculty more difficult.

Patton added that the amount of tenure and tenure-track teachers in Freshman and Sophomore Inquiry courses do not greatly differ from the percentages of the entire university.

University wide tenure and tenure-track faculty made up 46.7 percent of the faculty during Fall Term according to OIRP.

Administration and the University Studies Committee, made up of department representatives, have taken steps to increase the percentages of tenure and tenure-track faculty. These steps include agreements with various departments that guarantee tenure track professors will teach Inquiry classes each term and rotating professors, which work as a team to teach the year-long Freshmen Inquiry class, rather than standard one professor.

Horowitz claims it is hard to recruit faculty because teachers are often required to teach outside of their area of expertise. He stressed that the faculty does not deserve criticism, because “It’s just an impossible job, it’s impossible to ask someone to do all that.

Patton said her department is always open to new ideas and changes. She added that the numerous course, teacher evaluations, portfolio reviews and class assessment have shown high rates of satisfaction from students.

Patton said, “Tenured faculty can come in and make sure that their concerns are on the table and are being addressed.”

Provost Mary Kay Tetreault, who held a presentation about managing increasing enrollment at the Senate Faculty meeting, said she was aware of the issues surrounding University Studies and reiterated her commitment to getting faculty to address the subject, during a later interview. She added that tenure track searches continue and that additional research on the topic is being conducted.

One of these studies will come from Heather Ayers, a graduate student at Harvard, who is writing her dissertation on the barriers that keep faculty from taking part in new education curriculum at PSU and Temple University.

During the faculty senate meeting, Tetreault did a presentation to explain the adjustments that PSU has made to deal with increasing enrollment, including the creation of 16 new classrooms and investments in buildings and technology.

Patton added that since the establishment of University Studies, there has been a consistent rise in enrollment. Freshmen retention has increased by 9 percent and sophomore retention has increased by 4 percent since 1995 according to the OIRP.