HLC requirements affect interterm structure

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Last year, Faculty Senate decided to allow variable credit hours for interterm courses so students could choose which classes they wanted to take based in part on the credit hours required.

With recent credit-hour requirements designated by the Higher Learning Commission, interterm is changing the way it functions for both students and faculty.

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Changes to interterm cause frustration

“The most important issue is that the university has integrity,” Educational Programs and Curriculum Committee Chair Darcy Russell said. “If we say we are going to teach a three-hour course, we are going to teach a three-hour course.”

Russell told Faculty Senate on Oct. 7 that if demand for enrollment goes as expected, the university may need to find room for 70 more students in the January 2015 interterm session, mainly due to lack of faculty interest in teaching interterm courses.

“Teaching interterm is always optional,” Russell said. “Faculty are making money up and above what they are already making, but some have decided that they are not going to teach one this year.”

Russell said that monetary considerations have come in to play for many faculty members. Prior to this year, most were paid for teaching three-credit-hour interterms.

But in order to follow the HLC guidelines, interterm courses must fit 90 hours of work into approximately two weeks of classes, something that can seem almost impossible. Many interterm classes have switched from three credit hours to two, or even one, which means less pay for faculty since they are paid by the credit hour.

Assistant Professor of Mass Media McKay Stangler is in his first semester at Baker University, but said he has always wanted to teach an interterm course. Stangler believes it is a great opportunity to teach things that don’t “fit neatly” into the traditional major structure.

But, with the new HLC requirements, he believes fitting in the required amount of work for his two-credit-hour interterm course, The Baseball Novel and Spirituality, will be difficult.

“Mine is not going to be a class for the faint of heart,” Stangler said. “But the idea, regardless of credit hour, is that we all have time. I think that is part of the philosophy of interterm.”

After this year, Russell imagines the university will have to rethink the format and function of interterm. Currently, students are required to take two interterm classes before they graduate.

Because of the amount of seats the university is short for interterm, Russell said “we must solve the interterm issue.”

“With Quest, we tried to move it to a format where all classes we wanted students to take followed what ideas and beliefs we thought were important for all students,” Russell said. “I think we have to look at interterm the same way.”

The university website says that interterm is “a time to spread your wings and discover more about the world.” Last year’s offerings ranged from leadership courses to fly-fishing. But this year, out of the 12 interterms offered, students probably would put fewer courses under the category of “fun.”

Sophomore Lauren Freking is the Student Senate representative at EPC. She said that the first word that came to her mind during the meeting regarding interterm was “concerned.”

“I think the changes take away from the idea of interterm and takes away from the tradition and the thought that comes to mind when we think of interterm,” Freking said. “There are a lot of changes that will come with this year’s interterm, ones that are not necessarily visible on the syllabus.”

Freking said that although the names and descriptions for each class might be the same, her example being Introduction to Board Games, the structure of the class may be totally different. She wonders how the instructor will be able to design out-of-class hours in order to complete the HLC requirements.

“As of right now, I don’t think interterm is heading in the right direction,” Freking said. “It’s going to be a lot of work – not what students expect when coming in.”

So while the university is still in limbo about the future of interterm, Russell has a few ideas on where the university can go from here.

“There are many ways we can look at it,” Russell said, suggesting the idea of a May-mester or that interterm classes could be taken for no credit. “But I just think faculty need to look at it and see what they want it to be. The impetus behind this change is academic integrity, not financial.”