Bureaucratic meddling likely in new changes

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The evidence is mounting: It’s as if Californians want people to do jobs that don’t belong to them, all at the expense of 405,000 CSU students.

Consider for a moment the recent scheduling changes likely to be rolled out at CSUN in the next year or so. The university is just finishing off its transition to Year-Round Operations, which will turn summer term into its own full semester, essentially turning this school into a tri-semester. On top of that, university officials are planning on rolling out a new annual online schedule of classes to replace the semesterly paper version, as well as a new day-by-day scheduling model that will more fully utilize campus facilities at certain times throughout the week.

All of these changes, to some extent, are asking lawmakers to become educators, educators to become magicians, students to become malleable, and taxpayers to become patsies.

The weekly academic schedule, which was discussed last summer by university officials, is at least in draft form, if not further along, and will likely change the traditional M-W-F and T-TH static scheduling that’s been around as long as I’ve been here.

When asked, the administration says faculty members (and students) have expressed interest in mixing things up, producing longer than 50 minutes for M-W-F classes, and spacing out those three-hour night classes that are just so darn easy to fall asleep during. Students might even see a benefit in all this, as professors say this change could facilitate better learning.

But university officials also admit there is a fair amount of pressure from the Legislature and from entities like the state’s Department of Finance to make better use of existing facilities, specifically on Fridays and Saturdays.

How much of this scheduling change is rooted in that pressure, and how much is rooted in best practices theory of CSU faculty? Judging from state precedent in matters dealing with economics and education, odds are that it was more the former, and barely any of the latter.

The same goes for a change in how students will select their classes beginning next year. The university, in a fit of efficiency, will produce an online-only annual schedule of classes that students will use to plot their academic course for an entire year.

The general opinion from the administration is that this will allow students to better prepare themselves for their academic future, forcing the long-term in the short-term, producing more forward-thinking students, faculty and staff. Again, this annual SOC sounds more efficient than anything that should be associated with a university.

Hearing some of the reaction from department chairs and students about an annual schedule of classes, many are confused as to how the university can plan an entire year ahead for something as important as course scheduling. In the game of numbers that CSUN has become since the Age of Budget Cuts began, how can much benefit come from locking in class numbers and sizes without an opportunity for reactionary changes?

These two scheduling changes might work out well for students in the long-term, but their roots in over-efficiency and Department of Finance-mandate is suspicious at best, and at worst a sign that the wrong people are making the decisions about education.

But the most far-reaching example of this is Year-Round Operations, which CSUN will finish its transition to in Summer 2006. After five years, a big legal dispute and a bunch of question marks, the state-mandated switch to YRO will produce a large-scale summer term run exactly like the fall and spring semesters. Coming off a 2005 summer term with a small to moderate drop in enrollment, expanding CSUN’s summer program seems an odd move.

Again, maybe it’ll work. Who knows? Maybe student behavior will change, summer jobs will lose their appeal, and Matadors everywhere will be jazzed about loading up in the summer to try and graduate in less than six years. But maybe not. Maybe this will be a gigantic waste of money and effort and nobody will get on board and CSUN YRO will get scaled back.

Regardless, it’s further evidence that lawmakers and California accountants are making important decisions about how CSU academics work. Even though these changes could produce, in the long run, a better educational experience for students, sometimes it seems like a happy accident that results from a decision made for primarily financial reasons.

In an ideal world, and perhaps in a glowing dream of years past, educators should be able to make decisions about education, lawmakers should make the laws, accountants keep the books and students should learn how to become all of the above. Boy, how that has changed.

Ryan Denham can be reached at editor@csun.edu.