Perhaps the recent change in the cross-listing courses policy has untangled departments a bit, but it has also left a number of faculty members cross as well.
The College Faculty approved a motion 2 to 1 at their Oct. 6 meeting to amend the process by which a course becomes cross-listed. The source of disagreement in the new policy lies in the level of communication between departments that the Educational Plans and Policy Committee (EPPC) will now require.
The policy states that a course will achieve cross-listing status if it is team-taught or taught by a professor with a joint appointment between departments. The controversial third point said a course would be cross-listed after the EPPC approved its application. "By cross-listing a course, each department assumes a measure of responsibility for the pedagogical approach and content of the course," the policy stated.
According to Associate Dean of the College Suzanne Gay, the EPPC has been considering a change in the cross-listing policy off and on for years. With some 25 percent of Oberlin's courses cross-listed, the EPPC felt a more rigorous standard was needed. The advent of the new integrated administrative computer service, BANNER, however, was the primary impetus for acting on the most recent discussions.
The system is useful in storing course data on the number of students enrolled in various classes and departments, but it has trouble with organizing the number of duplicated sections. For example, a cross-listed course between English and Women's Studies that enrolls 30 students would be counted as two courses with 15 students each. This creates problems for institutional research and departmental resource allocations.
Director of Institutional Research Ross Peacock said, "Technology is not the reason for any curricular issues. The challenges were part of the discussion, but it was really framed around curricular goals."
"It's truly a combination of both," EPPC member senior Laura Iverson said. "We have been discussing cross-listing nebulously, but BANNER was the impetus for the discussion that has been dormant."
According to the EPPC, cross-listed courses should share curricular content as well as pedagogical methods between departments. Currently, such a level of integration is not enforced.
"There are a huge number of cross-listed courses, many of which are not actually cross-listed because they don't involve genuinely interdisciplinary approaches," Dean of the College Clayton Koppes said.
Early this school year, the EPPC began to gather anecdotal evidence on how cross-listing was actually being done. They found a system which was less than critical in its process of cross-listing a course. According to Iverson, some professors didn't even know their courses were cross-listed.
"I would hope it would encourage departments to discuss with each other courses they want to cross reference," Iverson said.
Some faculty members didn't see a problem with the former policy which required only the signatures of the department head.
Among the most concerned faculty members were those from departments and programs with a significant amount of cross-listing. Chair of the Woman Studies Program Sonja Kruks was opposed to the policy because of its cumbersome nature.
"If it is to be done thoroughly, it will require a lot of work. We can't go through that process, and those courses not cross-listed will become cross-referenced and we will have less oversight," Kruks said.
The difference between cross-listing and cross-referencing is one Gay hopes will be recognized and embraced. "Cross-referencing is easy for everyone concerned. It just entails making a list of courses which counts toward one's major, but are from other departments. But I don't expect cross-referencing to replace cross-listing," Gay said.
EPPC member and Professor of Mathematics Jeffrey Witmer supported the new policy. "We should be intentional about the cross-listing we do," Witmer said. "People had legitimate concerns, but the policy is flexible enough to handle those concerns."
Professor of English Sandra Zagarell said the new policy was discouraging for developing interdisciplinary courses. "It entails onerous levels of work," she said. "We shouldn't have bogus listings and the college is certainly committed to interdisciplinary courses, but making it harder is not the best way to encourage that across the board."
"I think there needed to be more study before changes were proposed. Nobody convinced me that we currently had a broken policy," Kruks said.
Professor of Politics Harlan Wilson said he had a number of concerns about the policy, but it passed the College Faculty so it was final. "Since the legislation has passed, though, we'll see what happens," he said.
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 7, October 30, 1998
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