Faculty senate passes new gen ed program

Changes in UB's general education curriculum could be implemented as early as 2016


After a semester-long process, UB faculty senators finally passed new general education requirements – but that decision came after a tumultuous Tuesday meeting.

There was a motion to overrule the Faculty Senate chair and confusion over whether a vote was to pass an amendment or to pass an amendment to an amendment. After an hour-long faculty debate, UB has a new general education program, which could come into classrooms as early as 2016.

The Faculty Senate voted to pass the new general education program on Tuesday. Fifty-one faculty members voted “yes,” to the overhaul, while seven voted “no,” and five abstained.

The new curriculum, which was spearheaded by the General Education Committee, emphasizes critical thinking and communication skills by incorporating capstone projects. Student will also be required to complete an “e-portfolio” – a digital portfolio that will archive their academic career.

“The most exciting thing is it gives a chance for our undergraduates to integrate their general education to a field,” said Peter Horvath, an associate professor of exercise and nutrition sciences. “Students now see their gen eds as a bunch of discordant things, while the e-portfolio chaining them all together, they can envision their courses they’re taking as a whole.”

Horvath was one of 51 faculty members to vote “yes,” Tuesday, and he spoke positively for the proposal to the Faculty Senate for an allotted 2-3 minutes before the vote. Horvath told the Senate that the proposal should be approved in part because the Student Association endorsed it, and he said students were a “key portion of all this.”

A UB survey showed 68 percent of students thought the current required general education classes were just something to “get out of the way.”

Paul Zarembka, an economics professor, voted against the proposal and spoke negatively about it to Senate. He took issue with the proposal’s plan to have untenured faculty teaching general education courses.

Kristin Stapleton, an associate history professor, voiced those same concerns after the new general education curriculum had already been passed.

“There are a lot of unknowns about this,” Stapleton said. “Are we going to have a group of underprivileged faculty running gen ed, overseen by a very small committee of tenured faculty members with no one else paying attention? That would be a very bad outcome.”

Zarembka proposed an amendment to the general education overhaul to have tenure-track professors teach the new curriculum, but it was voted down. Zarembka told the Senate he was “frankly disappointed” at the decision and that it is “damn important” to him that tenure-track faculty teach the new general education classes.

Confusion broke out during the voting of Zarembka’s amendment.

Some faculty believed they were voting for a change to a previous amendment, rather than voting to pass that entire amendment for the general education proposal.

James Holstun, an English professor, had originally proposed the amendment to have tenure-track faculty teach the new classes at a Nov. 18 meeting. Zarembka submitted a substitution of Holstun’s amendment for Tuesday’s vote. Zarembka’s amendment slightly changed the wording of Holstun’s to recommend that non-tenure track professors still be considered to fill general education teaching positions if they are qualified.

When Faculty Senate Chair Ezra Zubrow called for the vote of Zarembka’s amendment at Tuesday’s meeting, it was passed. But Horvath voiced concerns that faculty members believed they were simply voting to allow Zarembka’s amendment to substitute Holston’s, not to pass the amendment as a whole.

Zubrow admitted he, too, thought the vote was on whether or not to allow Zarembka’s amendment to substitute to Holston’s.

The Senate agreed to re-vote on whether to pass Zarembka’s full amendment with the changes. But one faculty member was still confused and thought this new vote was to change Zarembka’s amendment again. He asked Zubrow if this was the case, and Zurbrow incorrectly answered, “yes,” which caused uproar from the faculty. Zubrow had an officer of the Senate explain the voting situation to the faculty.

When Zarembka’s amendment was finally voted on, it received 35 “no” votes and only 29 “yes” votes. The amendment to replace the thematic cluster with a new “breadth of knowledge cluster” and the amendment to eliminate freshmen and transfer seminars were also voted down Tuesday.

Two amendments to the general education overhaul were passed. The amendment to have more mathematics in the new general education program, and the amendment to have a domestic diversity requirement were both passed.

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Zubrow said a “secret vote” – an anonymous vote done through mail – for the general education proposal would not be allowed, although some faculty requested it. Holstun told the Senate Zubrow’s decision went against the group’s constitution.

Zubrow said that the Faculty Senate never had a secret vote as far as the records could show, and this was justification for not allowing it.

Holstun’s proposal to overrule Zurbrow’s decision to not allow a secret vote was voted down by the senate, with only 10 faculty in Holstun’s favor.

Another motion to overrule Zubrow had to be made just for Holstun to speak before the senate.

Zubrow cut off all discussion about the potential to have a secret vote, and said Zarembak was out of order for speaking on the issue. Holstun then walked toward microphone to speak, and Zubrow instantly said “No.” He then asked Holston if he was speaking on the issue of voting.

Holston only replied, “I’m going to proceed in parliamentary fashion.” Zubrow told him again to sit down. But a motion was made to overrule Zubrow and Holstun was allowed to speak.

While speaking to the Senate after the vote had already passed, Stapleton suggested the Faculty Senate receive regular reports on the implementation of the new general education program.

Zubrow then asked Stapleton if she was suggesting an official motion that Faculty Senate will receive reports.

Stapleton replied, “I would like to motion that the chair of the faculty senate empowers its committees to do the work they should be doing. That’s my proposal,” which caused some faculty members to applause.

The changes to the general education curriculum would be implemented in 2016 at the earliest.

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