• November 21, 2014

Angered by MOOC Deals, San Jose State Faculty Senate Considers Rebuff

Mohammad H. Qayoumi, president of San Jose State University, has spent much of the year turning his campus into a testing ground for new online-teaching tools. But apparently he's also been testing the patience of faculty members, who say the idea of shared governance has been all but forgotten as he has sought technology that might eventually help the university teach more students for less money.

Now the faculty is striking back. The Academic Senate is expected to vote on Monday on a proposed policy that would forbid the university to sign contracts with outside technology providers without the approval of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in whatever department would be affected.

In a more head-on reproach of Mr. Qayoumi's administration, the senate is also expected to vote on a measure asking the chancellor of the California State University system to review governance at San Jose State.

"A series of conflicts over the last year has highlighted issues related to communication and transparency, has opened serious rifts in our shared sense of community, and has contributed to extremely low morale," wrote the senate's executive committee in a draft of the resolution provided to The Chronicle.

Clashes Over edX and Udacity

Mr. Qayoumi has cultivated close relationships with edX and Udacity, two major providers of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, and it's those relationships that have sparked conflicts with the faculty. EdX is a nonprofit undertaking backed by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, while Udacity is a for-profit enterprise founded by three Stanford University computer scientists.

The fieriest clash occurred in late April, when philosophy professors at the university, dismayed by the provost's suggestion that they incorporate material from a famous Harvard professor's edX course into the curriculum, published an open letter in The Chronicle criticizing the notion of "one-size-fits-all vendor-designed" courses.

San Jose State's experiments with Udacity have also generated criticism. Last spring, professors at the university redesigned several mathematics courses for Udacity's platform and offered them for credit to a number of students, some of whom were enrolled at the university.

Some professors involved in the experiment praised the Udacity platform, but the results of the spring trial were not promising; students in the "Udacified" versions of the courses performed significantly worse over all than did their classroom counterparts.

Not a No-Confidence Vote

The Academic Senate's proposed rules would modify a 2001 policy governing distance education at San Jose State. The proposed policy seeks to expand those rules to include blended online and "technology intensive" courses, while also reining in the administration's power to unilaterally create partnerships with private companies.

"As departments and faculty control and determine the appropriate pedagogies for their courses, the university will not agree in a contract with any private or public entity to deliver technology intensive, hybrid, or online courses or programs without the prior approval of the relevant department or program through majority vote of the tenured/tenure track faculty," says a draft of the proposed policy that was provided to The Chronicle.

The document defines "technology intensive" courses as those that require "intensive use of technology beyond the norm of current, traditional classes."

There is no guarantee that the senate's recommended language will become San Jose State's policy. The recommendation could be modified during the debate before the vote or sent back to committee, said Lynda A. Heiden, chair of the Academic Senate. And President Qayoumi would have to sign off on any final rules changes.

The resolution asking the Cal State chancellor to review governance at San Jose State, however, would need no such presidential approval.

The Academic Senate is seeking "a full discussion of the problems we face as a campus and the development and implementation of constructive solutions," wrote Ms. Heiden, a professor of psychology, in an email. But she added: "I do not consider this equivalent to a no-confidence vote."

Mr. Qayoumi was traveling late last week and was not immediately available to comment, but he is expected to return to the campus in time to attend the senate meeting. "The president is supportive of the conversation," wrote Pat Harris, a university spokeswoman, in an email. "Better communication is important, and the upcoming meeting is a good start."

Corrections (11/18/2013, 12:01 p.m.): This article originally stated that Lynda Heiden is an associate professor. She is a full professor. The article also said the Academic Senate's recommended language "could be modified during the debate before the vote or sent back to the executive committee." The committee it would go to is the Senate Curriculum and Research Committee. The article has been updated to reflect those corrections.

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