Southern Oregon University faculty members expressed concern Monday that the provost and the Faculty Senate chairman may have overstepped their authority in allowing students to enroll in programs that haven't been fully approved by the senate.
Faculty Senate members said that the process for approving curriculum within the new House program was being expedited and was being favored over existing departments.
In an SOU House program, about 50 students work together on specific regional issues while fulfilling their general education requirements for their degrees. The programs allow students to collaborate with the same group for all four years, according to the university.
The Faculty Senate, a governing board representing faculty at SOU, is in charge of approving curriculum at the school and did approve a pair of House programs, along with their curriculum, to be taught this year at SOU — the Green House and the Social Justice House. The senate did not vote to extend the programs or their curriculum past one year.
However, there is an SOU document giving about 100 students enrolled in those House programs the opportunity to commit to the programs for four years.
"I hope I misunderstood what I just heard," said John Richards, a senator and professor of social science, policy and culture at SOU.
"Was that a document promising one year or four years?" Richards asked Provost Jim Klein.
"I guess four years," Klein said.
"Well, that has not been approved by the senate, so you were approving curriculum without approval from the senate and I think that's overstepping your authority. I am sorry, but that's what it sounds like," Richards said.
Klein had the document approved over the summer by the chairman of the Faculty Senate, David Carter, on behalf of the Faculty Senate, Carter and Klein said.
More than one faculty member in the meeting said they observed Klein's signature on the document allowing students to commit to their current house program for four years, although there is no curriculum developed past this year.
"I hope that the provost and the Faculty Senate chair do not get in the habit of approving curricular matters without full discussion of the senate," Richards said.
Other faculty senators expressed concern over whether promoting the new House Program before the curriculum was developed or approved by Senate was ethical.
"When we don't have any curriculum approved for a House, or any entity, is it ethical to market for Houses that are not approved in the curriculum?" said Vicki Purslow, a senator and associate professor of music at SOU. "It seems to me if we advertise that we have that House and then the Senate says 'no we're not going to approve that curriculum' then are we misrepresenting what we offered here at the university?"
If students are allowed to continue signing up for House programs with undefined curriculum, Purslow said, "it really does force our hand into approving a four-year curriculum that we may or may not want to approve."
Klein said any curriculum proposed to be implemented at the school will go through Faculty Senate for approval first and that the process for approving a House program is similar for approving any academic program within the school's existing departments.
"This (the House model) we wanted to get going sooner, because it was retention and this was a way to get students interested," Klein said. "We're building these Houses as we're building the curriculum. ... It's being constructed with the assistance of the students in the program."
"We appreciate the big idea behind it (the House model) and that's why we were willing to approve the first-year courses only with the clear understanding ... that the program itself would be approved before it was continued ... so we can know what we're promising to offer," said Amy Belcastro, a senator and assistant professor of education at SOU.
"The issue tonight would be if we change it, then it's going to create an issue for the current houses," said Sherry Ettlich, a senator and chairwoman of the math department at SOU.
Klein said SOU hopes to introduce four more Houses by the beginning of next academic year.
"The other concern I have is I feel that we're expediting approval for house curriculum and we're not allowing that same opportunity for all departments," Purslow said. "I think if we are going to expedite curriculum for one area of campus, we do it for all or we don't do it for one. And I realize this is a special project ... and I am not for or against it, because I don't know enough about it, I really don't."
Pete Nordquist, a senator and associate professor of computer science at SOU, said he wanted to echo Vicki's concerns about how the houses have been handled.
"It's like the cart driving the horse," Nordquist said.
"I don't know that were are making any accommodation for this program that we wouldn't make for any other program," Klein said.
The meeting concluded with a long list of unanswered questions from faculty surrounding the issue and faculty members requesting a time line of how the House programs will be implemented at SOU.