The California State University system has been mired in a state of push and pull, where deep cuts and rapid restorations have become routine. Yet, as the litany of cuts continues, there is a growing concern that students will not receive a quality education.
With reductions at Fresno State already at historic proportions and cost-cutting measures at a premium, the university has considered eliminating one of its stand-alone upper division courses to meet students’ needs.
Last month, The Collegian reported that Fresno States Academic Senate met to reconsider whether the university’s general education (GE) requirements reflected the mandate handed down by CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed last spring in Executive Order 1033. At that point, nothing had been voted on.
In a pre-emptive move, the Associated Students, Inc. voted last week to adopt a resolution calling for the university to seek alternatives to eliminating the multicultural/international (MI) general education requirement.
The resolution contained propositions for amending the MI, which included: “California State University, Fresno should continue to offer and encourage students to take courses with a MI and cultural emphasis,” and “The GE committee should consider a GE unit reduction.”
ASI presented the resolution Friday to the university’s Academic Senate’s subcommittee on general education requirements.
The chair of the Academic Senate’s GE committee, Andrew Lawson, said there was “a lot of talk about eliminating the MI,” but he said the discussion was never part of the actual proposal.
“At the system level, [the CSU] only requires nine units of upper division, we have 12 units,” Lawson said. “So, what the committee was discussing was how we could achieve our objectives within the 48 units.”
One of the alternatives Lawson proposed was modeling Fresno State’s GE package after other universities where the university considers areas of study like MI a “topic” and incorporates it into a multitude of disciplines within the required 48-unit GE package.
Lawson said MI courses are important to the campus and the committee does not wish to get rid of them; rather, the committee is looking for ways to teach students to live in a multicultural-international world with less required GE units.
“We now have to decide if this is something we would like to pursue, in terms of reducing the number of units or if it’s worth the political fight to try and do that,” Lawson said. “And there are probably strong opinions on either side of that.”
Selena Farnesi, ASI senator, said during the Feb. 10 ASI senate meeting that she was asked by the chair of the committee to informally collect the opinions of students and to draft a resolution.
In order to gauge student perception of the MI requirement, ASI distributed a survey and conducted two subsequent focus groups. The survey, which involved an anonymous questionnaire, was drafted by the ASI staff. The questionnaires were made available online, sent through several different listserves, and were also distributed in physical form across campus by ASI senators, Farnesi said.
“I feel very strongly that the resolution supports the information that we have gained from students,” Farnesi said during the meeting. “I also think that it supports the interest of students and I think it will be very effective in guiding the GE committee’s decision.”
Farnesi said that the survey was conducted to get a feel for the student perspective before ASI presented the resolution to the GE committee. The focus group, she said, was an additional measure.
“I wanted to conduct focus groups in addition to a survey, because focus groups are discussion based, not just statistically quantitative,” Farnesi said. “I feel giving students the opportunity to have that discussion is important.”
However, several participants in the focus group conducted by ASI as well as students who attempted to take an online survey reported to university officials that they found instances of possible “compromised voting” and “ethical violations.”
Anthony Rispoli, a social work major, said he noticed what he considered improper practices being conducted during the focus group He said that he also noticed that all of the answers were being screened before they were recorded.
“At one point, I made a statement that wasn’t very favorable about the way [Farnesi] was conducting the focus group. She said that she was going to have to change my words around before she presents them to everyone else,” Rispoli said. “She also cut people off and gave feedback on what people were saying.”
Hector Cerda, a graduate student who participated in the focus group, said that he had an issue with the way it was being facilitated.
“In my opinion, the focus group was very selective,” said Cerda who showed up to the focus group without prior notice of the event. “This is a question of ethical research.”
The focus group was made available only to students from the College of Arts and Humanities as well as the College of Social Sciences.
Cerda said that he also found an instance of compromised voting while taking the online version of the survey in early February.
“I found it quite upsetting that when I went online to take the survey, I was able to manipulate the system,” Cerda said. “When I completed the survey, [the system] didn’t lock me out. I was able to take the survey over and over and over. I found that I could distort or change the outcome.”
Dr. Tamyra Pierce, a media effects researcher at Fresno State, cautions against such oversights when conducting surveys.
“We always have to use caution when doing online surveys and especially if there is a possibility of participants being able to take the survey multiple times as this can skew the results and weakens the validity of the study,” Pierce said. “If indeed many of the responses were a result of people taking the survey multiple times, it would be best to discard these online results and conduct new surveys in person to increase the validity of the study.”
The survey, which was hosted by Web-based survey service Surveymonkey, allows users to limit a respondent to one response by enabling cookies, according to representatives with the company. Users may also use an e-mail invitation collector to send out a unique link to each respondent.
However, according to representatives, if a respondent’s browser is set to delete cookies each time it is closed, then the cookie will be refreshed and a blank survey will open the next time the link is accessed. The respondent will be able to take the survey again.
Cerda, however, said that at no point did he log off of his computer, clear his Web browsing history or manipulate his IP address.