On April 19, 2001, the AAUP and the Faculty Congress jointly sponsored a discussion, for faculty, of proposed changes to the program for Part-Time Studies students.
The subcommittee on part-time studies of the Strategic Planning Committee of the College of Arts and Sciences has proposed creating a new bachelor’s degree which would be available only as part of the part-time studies program. The degree would be in Interdisciplinary Studies; students would choose one of two concentrations—Information Systems or Strategic Leadership—and would have a somewhat reduced Core Curriculum, although their total number of credits would be unchanged.
Representing the subcommittee at the discussion was Associate Dean Robert Stokes, who began the discussion by giving the thinking behind the proposed changes. In recent years, he stated, enrollment in the university’s part-time programs has gone down significantly. Although one reason is that other colleges in the area have been aggressive in pursuing new students, market research has suggested that another reason is that the requirements of our program—requirements which are no different from those of the full-time program—pose a problem for part-time students. Villanova’s program is seen as less flexible than that of other schools, requiring more of a lock-step progress, and less appropriate for older students, who don’t need things prescribed for them as much and for whom strict Core requirements can make transferring credits difficult. The proposed changes (along with other changes to provide better services to part-time students) are designed to make the Part-Time Studies program more flexible and adult-friendly, without losing Villanova’s distinctive academic characteristics.
One area of concern for the faculty at the discussion was the cost of creating flexibility. Does the reduced Core Curriculum—which would eliminate such things as the requirements for advanced courses in the four Core departments and in the social sciences—constitute a sort of Villanova Lite, a watered-down version of the regular degree, especially since the Core requirements are much of what defines Villanova’s distinctive program? Dr. Stokes noted that for traditional majors the requirements would not change.
Another concern was the question of staffing the expanded program. First, the need to hire new teachers would seem to increase the university’s reliance on adjunct faculty (though full-time faculty would be able to teach in the program). The economic reasons for developing the program would also favor hiring less costly adjunct faculty. Second, who would be responsible for these new faculty? Dr. Stokes said that for courses in current departments, the chairs would do hiring, as in the past; for the new programs, the program directors would be responsible, in conjunction with the college. Dr. Stokes also argued that other schools have hired excellent teachers with real-world experience, and that in the new programs there would be effective quality control and evaluation, because the program directors would work closely with the teachers.
This issue of hiring and evaluating teachers raised questions about the two program directors for the new Information Systems and Strategic Leadership programs. In the proposal, each director is full-time but not on a tenure track; each is widely responsible for his or her program, including recruiting, training, and assessing faculty, as well as teaching seven courses per year (over the course of 12 months). Faculty at the discussion argued that this set of requirements is unrealistically burdensome. They also were concerned that academic decisions such as curriculum design and hiring would no longer be the clear responsibility of regular full-time faculty. Under the proposal, the directors may face particular economic pressures, and would have less independence than regular department chairs, who have tenure. They would be more vulnerable to non-academic pressures; the popularity of their programs would have to be a powerful concern for them, so that (for example) the CATS scores of their teachers might mean more than they would in a regular department.
The topic of faculty responsibility came up also in relation to the review of the proposed changes, with the faculty at the discussion arguing that the proposal should be reviewed by the Academic Policy Committee.
Finally, the faculty expressed concern about the risks involved in devoting extensive resources to such an expansion of the Part-Time Studies Program. How confident can we be that these proposed changes would be successful in resurrecting the program?