Academic Senate

A Message from the Academic Senate CSU (ASCSU) Chair

Christine Miller (Sacramento)
article image
This Month's Issue
Front Page
Message from the ASCSU Chair
Report of the Faculty Trustee
Reports from Standing Committees

Academic Affairs
Academic Preparation &
   Education Programs
Faculty Affairs
Fiscal and Governmental

Talking about General Education: The first in a series of courageous conversations
Capitol Watch
The California State University Emeriti and Retired Faculty Association (CSUERFA)
STAR act (SB 1440): Call for discipline faculty course reviewers
Resolution Summaries


I’m not sure if you’ve seen the movie Sully, but even if you haven’t, I don’t think I need to issue a spoiler alert: you know how it turns out.  The movie is named after pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger who landed an airliner in the Hudson River in 2009.  I think some specific moments from the film can help frame an accounting of what the ASCSU accomplished during its most recent meetings.  Specifically, I’ll use this frame to account for our resolutions, as well as issues that dominated our discussion which didn’t end up in form of resolutions.

The first moment in the movie I’d like to isolate is a scene featuring Katie Couric interviewing Captain Sullenberger wherein she calls him a hero.  She wasn’t only one; it was a common theme in news reports.  His response: I don’t feel like a hero.  His humility, firmly enveloping an abiding expertise that cannot be questioned, reminded me of the work of the Quantitative Reasoning Task Force:  it was heroic!  Task Force members are humble about their work, but their expertise and the expertise of those with whom they consulted cannot be questioned.  Because of that, ASCSU generated three resolutions on quantitative reasoning.
The first resolution is titled, “Receipt of the Quantitative Reasoning Task Force Report.”  The Senate formally “received” the Report so that it could be entered into the Senate record and we can then take action on what’s in the Report if we think it’s prudent.  The resolution also forwarded the Report to Chancellor’s Office with a request to begin discussion of the recommendations within the Report.  Two of the four recommendations in the Report had already been considered by the Senate in the past, which brings me to the second resolution.
It is titled, “Implementation of Quantitative Reasoning Task Force Recommendations That Reflect Items Previously Approved by the Academic Senate CSU.”  This resolution references prior actions by the Senate which recommended a fourth year of high school quantitative reasoning be required for admission to the CSU, and the establishment of a Center for the Advancement of Instruction in Mathematics.  It further asks that the Chancellor’s Office and ASCSU partner on pursuing those recommendations.
Finally, ASCSU discussed a resolution titled, “Endorsement of the Quantitative Reasoning Task Force Recommendations.”  This resolution was heard as a first reading, and action on it won’t take place until our next meeting in November.  This will give senators time to discuss with their constituents the elements of the Report that the Senate hasn’t considered in the past.
Moving from the heroic work of the Task Force to the second connection I see to Sully, if you’ve seen the movie trailer, you know that prior to the water landing, the flight attendants shout to the passengers, “brace, brace, brace.”  I think that same mantra could be shouted to the people of the state of California if Proposition 55 on the November ballot doesn’t pass.  The Board of Trustees as well as the California Faculty Association support this proposition, and the Senate concurs.  That’s why we unanimously passed a resolution titled, “Support of Proposition 55 on the November 2016 Ballot: Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare.”  I won’t go into the reasons why, you likely already know them, or you can consult the resolution for more information.  I’ll just offer the opinion that if Proposition 55 doesn’t pass, the CSU will need to “brace for impact.”
The third theme in the movie Sully that helps me frame the actions of the statewide Senate is a comment made by Tom Hanks’ character when he says he spent over 40 years in the air, but in the end, he’s going to be judged on just 208 seconds.  This is similar to how the Senate felt when we learned there were questions recently about general education (GE), questions raised by Governor, the legislature, and Board members; questions about website clarity, transfer of GE courses, assessment, and so on.
Just like Sully, we on the faculty have decades of experience in general education.  We hope that experience is valued, and we aren’t judged on the last confusing website or student problem with transfer.  To address those kinds of perceptions, at our meetings the Senate discussed two resolutions in first reading that we will act on in November.  The first is a response to Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 158 by Assembly Member Holden, and the second is the establishment of a faculty workgroup to study general education.
This latter resolution proposes examining the value, quality and diversity of GE curricula across the system.  It would start by analyzing the data currently being collected in a system-wide survey of general education programs initiated by a recently released Coded Memorandum.  It would also offer suggestions on best practices in general education.  This effort would be entirely consistent with the Graduation Initiative presentation that took place at the Board of Trustees meeting, in particular the “serving students differently” discussion and its emphasis on faculty-led curriculum review.  We on the faculty welcome discussions about general education, including potentially the opportunity to talk with the Board, and we trust our expertise as developed over the decades won’t be eclipsed by recent hiccups.
Returning to the overall frame, I’ll develop the fourth theme from Sully very briefly.  It has to do with a moment in the film when Tom Hanks’ character corrects a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator who calls the incident a “crash.”  Sully says it wasn’t a crash, it was a “forced water landing.”  That reminded me of the fact that words matter.  What you call something, what it is, and what it isn’t, matters.  There are a couple of things on the minds of the faculty that matter to us very deeply, and the Senate talked about them quite a bit at our September meetings.  We discussed the development of systemwide policies on academic freedom and intellectual property.  We’re working with Chancellor White and his cabinet to try to find a way for faculty to be involved in the development of those policies, because the words in those policies matter to us more than those who aren’t faculty members might ever know.  What is and isn’t considered academic freedom, what is and isn’t protected by intellectual property rights—those kinds of words are matters of academic safety and health to us.  We want to be involved in crafting the policies that go in the seatback pocket in front of us.  We hope these discussions don’t crash, we’d much prefer a smooth landing.
Finally, there’s one last theme I’d like to develop from the film.  According to this fictional plot point, the NTSB conducts flight simulations and alleges that Sully could have landed at one of two airports instead of in the river.  He tells them, though, that their simulations haven’t accounted for the added reaction time of a real, live human being, rather than a machine.  This has been called “the human factor.”  Once it was taken into account, the NTSB concludes that Sully did the right thing.
This scene reminded me of the Graduation Initiative. As blogger Paula Barton wrote, “When it came down to it, a gut feeling saved the 155 souls on board Flight 1549.  It was the human factor.  Few if any of us will ever face a decision comparable to what Capt. Sully faced.  But in this age of communication chatterbots, information algorithms, and data analysis, it’s important to remember the human factor and how it impacts our work and our personal lives.”  What does that have to do with the Graduation Initiative?  It means that all of the algorithms and all of the data dashboards in the world can’t replace understanding our students.  They are the human factor.  It means we aren’t in a flight simulator under controlled conditions, where we’ll go home to dinner no matter how many times we crash the plane.  It means understanding more than just the numbers, and the view from 30,000 feet.  Our students are the human factor, and the decisions made affect their lives.
Instead telling students we want them to graduate “on time,” how about if we say we want students to graduate in “their time”?  Then maybe we won’t be sending the message that they’ve failed if they don’t graduate “on time.”  “Their time” accounts for their complicated lives.  “Their time” accounts for their choices, and their constraints, and their mistakes, and their successes, and everything else that goes into their university experience.  “Their time” accounts for the human factor.  Let’s help them graduate “their time.”

Please feel free to contact me via email ( or phone (916-704-5812) with any questions, concerns or suggestions on these or any other issues.