The Senate Source

February 2013

Online Ed, Faculty Diversity Headline Regents Meeting

The January Regents meeting was an unusual and lively one. For the first time in living memory, all four government officers who serve as ex-officio members of the Regents—Governor Brown, Lieutenant Governor Newsom, Assembly Speaker Pérez and State Superintendant of Public Instruction Torlakson—were in attendance. The Regents discussed several issues of interest to faculty, including online education and faculty diversity.

Governor Brown and other state government officials are interested in the potential of online education to reduce costs and increase access. The Governor’s proposed 2013-14 budget for UC earmarks $10 million “to increase the number of online courses available to matriculated undergraduates through the use of technology,” and indicates that a similar amount of funding will be set aside for that purpose each year for the next six years. The Governor requested a discussion of online education at the January Regents meeting, and with the help of the divisions, Provost Dorr presented information about the 109 credit-bearing, undergraduate online courses currently offered at UC.

The Provost has called for a systemwide working meeting in the spring that will discuss how to allocate the funds to meet the Governor’s goals. Two invitation-only workshops with synchronous interaction are being planned for Senate and campus administrative leaders in mid-April—one in the north and one the south, followed by a combined meeting of representatives from each session. Both will have a strong Senate presence. The Provost is preparing a Request for Proposals that will invite faculty to develop gateway, high-enrollment online courses for undergraduates. The Provost also says the initiative will be “of and for the willing,” and that faculty and students will not be required to teach or take online courses.

“We will work with the Provost to ensure that the majority of funding is directed to the development and support of online courses through departments on the campuses. We will encourage departments to submit their courses for systemwide approval, and we will work with the Provost to facilitate cross-campus enrollment,” said Chair Powell.

Chair Powell says that while online instruction has been considered as a way to raise revenue in the context of more austere state budgets, it is still not clear that it will save the University money. “I want to reiterate the Academic Council’s statement that funding for online instruction should be first and foremost directed toward the education of UC students,” he said. “I also want to emphasize that the costs of mounting a quality online course are unclear. While some ‘efficiencies’ may be achieved such as improving students’ time to degree, we must maintain UC quality above all.”

UCOP is also moving forward with a variety of online planning efforts, including the development of a systemwide communications hub that will facilitate cross-campus enrollment by UC students, as well as a systemwide course catalog that will list campus-based online courses that have been approved for systemwide enrollment. UCOP also plans to discuss with the Senate a process to facilitate the approval of online courses for major and general education requirements, as well as transfer articulation. Approval would still rest with the departments and colleges on the student’s home campus, but a cross-UC articulation system could be used in a similar manner to how community college courses are identified as appropriate for major or GE credit.

“We will be working to establish a pilot data transfer process for cross-campus enrollment into online courses by next fall,” says UCOE Director Keith Williams. “We will also be exploring ways to streamline the process by which students get approval from their home department or college for requirements. In the long run, this will involve a more complex data transfer system (the communications hub), and hopefully a more robust articulation system to facilitate major and GE approval where appropriate. Senate involvement will be key to these efforts.”

The Regents also discussed whether and how UC should engage with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) to serve its own students and beyond. The founders of MOOC providers Coursera, Udacity and edX spoke at the Regents meeting and highlighted their views on the potential of online courses for building critical thinking skills and improving educational outcomes. The MOOC providers say they are researching how technology can transform learning. They emphasized that the pedagogy used in the online environment is different from the traditional classroom and is often most effective when combined with classroom interaction and/or student services and support.

“In his remarks to the Regents, President Yudof offered an excellent definition of quality,” notes Chair Powell. “The President said, ‘By ‘quality’ I mean professors who participate in the discovery of knowledge, and not just in its transmission. I mean that problem-solving and cognitive skills are developed, and not just rote memorization skills. It is imperative that we avoid the commodification of knowledge that is so tempting as a short-cut. Students must engage with their coursework as critical thinkers.’

“We all must keep this definition in mind as we develop new modes of course delivery.”

Another major topic at the Regents meeting was a report from Provost Dorr and Vice Provost for Academic Personnel Susan Carlson on faculty diversity (see report). The report showed that relative to the Comparison 8, UC as a system has been successful in recruiting women and under-represented minorities (URMs). 8.6% of faculty at UC are URMs versus an average of 7.3% in the Comparison 8, and 30.5% of faculty at UC are women, compared to 28.1%. However, Provost Dorr noted that all universities need to work to diversify the pool of potential faculty—it is a national challenge. She outlined efforts such as the President’s Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program, and UC’s participation in ADVANCE PAID, a National Science Foundation funded program to help campuses recruit, retain and advance more women, including underrepresented minority women, faculty in STEM fields.

Several Regents noted that they expect the University to achieve better faculty diversity outcomes. They asked for a breakdown of faculty demographic data by campus and a “roadmap” for each campus that sets specific goals and ways to accomplish the goals.

The Regents also expressed impatience with the role of the faculty in helping to achieve diversity. They said while they appreciated the University’s diversity statement, which was spearheaded by the Senate’s Committee on Affirmative Action and Diversity (UCAAD), the statement is “just words” without leadership. Vice Chair Jacob pointed out that leadership at the level of the deans is critical to conducting searches that yield a diverse pool.

The University is now posting videos of Regents meetings on its website. You can view the public sessions of the January Regents meeting here.