UC Faculty Weighs in on California’s MOOC Credit Bill

Only a few days after the first rumblings of discontent emerged from those associated with California’s public university system, the opposition to the measure now before lawmakers that would compel the University of California, California State University and California Community College schools to grant credit for online courses given by third parties is growing.

In the view of those opposed, the bill will either be an unprecedented encroachment by the government, introduce a sneaky way to privatize higher education, lead to reduction in academic quality or some combination of all three.

The legislation that has raised the ire of so many would seek to unclog the bottleneck resulting to constant over-subscription to 50 core courses typically needed to graduate from any California public university systems — but which are frequently too full for students to get into. Not having access to the required classes can throw off their academic schedule by years.

If the bill passes it will only have an impact in California, but the Los Angeles Times is reporting that the move has garnered interest outside the state. Although it is an innovative solution to a vexing problem, according to the critics, the cure will be worse than the disease.

The bill, authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), “raises grave concerns,” Robert L. Powell and Bill Jacob, the chairman and vice chairman of the UC system’s faculty Senate, wrote in a letter to colleagues. Among other things, “the clear self-interest of for profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying,” they said. Powell, a chemical engineering professor at UC Davis, and Jacob, a mathematics professor at UC Santa Barbara, rejected that plan as an assault on the power of UC’s Academic Senate to determine whether transfer courses cover the right material with the same rigor as UC courses do.

“There is no possibility that UC faculty will shirk its responsibility to our students by ceding authority over courses to any outside agency,” they wrote.

The issues outlined in the letter closely mirrored those expressed by members of the Cal State faculty union when they registered their displeasure with the measure last week.

Meanwhile, the letter claims that the problem as outlined by Steinberg is overblown. If students are having problems getting needed courses, it doesn’t seem to showing up in the system’s graduation rates. UC Berkeley, one of the premier schools in the UC system, graduates 70% of the students it enrolls. That’s a substantial gain over the graduation rate of only 45% in 1992.

“It doesn’t show respect for the processes that already exist,” Powell said. “It is a loosely knit organization with no vested authority from the University of California.”