What began as a discussion to help resolve lingering concerns about IC 20/20 during the Student Government Association meeting last week evolved into a tense discourse with President Tom Rochon about the perceived absence of student opinion in the creation process.
SGA invited Rochon to its Feb. 8 meeting to address what some see as a lack of student input in the implementation of IC 20/20, especially in its Integrative Core Curriculum, but the meeting took a more combative tone.
Junior Rob Flaherty, vice president of communications for SGA, said though he appreciated Rochon’s time and effort to entertain questions, most of the concerns ultimately remained unanswered.
“We had concerns before this meeting that the students’ voices were not being heard in the implementation of IC 20/20, and it was pretty clear from the way he responded to our questions that those concerns are still valid,” Flaherty said.
IC 20/20, the college’s strategic vision for the next decade that was approved by the board of trustees in May, centers on student, academic and co-curricular development to be implemented before 2020. There are 15 initiatives included in the final plan, which are geared toward fostering an integrative educational experience and increasing diversity.
Rochon told SGA that most of the initiatives will not affect current students.
“Some of you will be touched by some parts of IC 20/20, but for the most part, you won’t be,” Rochon said.
A part of IC 20/20 affecting current students is the establishment of the New York City Center. In another two years, the college will launch a China Center.
During the discourse, concerns mostly focused on the first initiative to be implemented next fall — the Integrative Core Curriculum requirement.
According to the final IC 20/20 plan, the curriculum will provide “focused, question-based learning in the liberal arts and sciences through a themes and perspectives approach.” There will be about five themes to choose from that will drive their core requirements next fall.
Flaherty said the curriculum is a concern because the themes were decided without student input.
“There is still a concern about the college deciding to focus on a more centralized academic experience than on professional programs, and whether or not I agree with it, the real issue is that this process has really been done without a lot of student voice put into it,” Flaherty said.
Rochon did not elaborate on all of the themes in the core curriculum and deferred the matter to Danette Johnson, professor of communication studies, who will be speaking to SGA more about the themes at a later date.
Current students will not be affected by the core curriculum, but freshmen next fall will be.
“Most of the students in the room have at least started their general education credits, and we’re not going to change the requirements on students who are already here,” he said.
Some senators disapproved of the establishment of the themes of the curriculum, which they said may hinder students who want to explore different options.
Rochon said including a theme would elicit the opposite outcome.
“The experience of picking a theme and seeing the range of courses that are attached to a theme can help you better explore the wide range of knowledge and the wide range of topics,” he said.
Another concern raised by senators in the meeting was the degree to which faculty opinion was considered over student opinion in the integrative core curriculum.
In response, Rochon said the faculty are more experienced in creating a curriculum that is more useful to the students.
“You don’t actually go to a doctor and say, ‘Here’s what’s wrong with me, and here’s what I want you to do,'” he said. “The faculty are the equivalent of the doctor in this analogy. Faculty, collectively, are the only ones who can review, approve and create curriculum. That is by the governance rules of the college. The faculty are the curriculum and the teaching and the subject matter experts.”
Flaherty said there are parts of the document that will benefit students, specifically in diversity, freshman programs and civic engagement.
“Focusing on diversity is a really great thing, especially diversity education,” he said. “It’s great that we’re focusing on increased civic engagement off campus, but there are a lot of things that students are suspicious about. There are areas of concern and areas that deserve a lot of praise.”
A vision for IC 20/20 was drafted in September 2010 and initiatives were assigned to a task force or an existing standing committee or administrative office. There were eight task forces created, and the final reports were then given to the IC 20/20 Steering Committee, cochaired by the provost and a faculty member. On April 26, 2011, the final proposal was presented to the president.
Senior SGA senator Elma Borcilo said this was not the first time she thought student input was not considered.
As a student member of the IC 20/20 Steering Committee, Borcilo said she felt her inclusion in the process was not all she hoped it to be.
“My intended role was to be a voice for the students, but my actual role ended up being something different,” she said. “In the end, it was like I became a note taker and a scribe, more than another body member who was actually participating. This perspective showed me a different side where maybe the needs of the students aren’t always put on the forefront.”
Rochon said the incorporation of student input will come in a matter of time.
“The student voice is going to truly come into its own in the coming few years when it is implemented,” Rochon said. “Things will either work and make sense to students, and they will subscribe to them, or they won’t.”
Flaherty said he felt Rochon’s presumptions about student opinion were a barrier in communicating the faults in the initiative.
“I was frankly disappointed with some of the assumptions that the president made about our engagement, our interests and our involvement,” Flaherty said. “He made it pretty clear that he thought a lot of student criticism on it was unfounded. There’s not much [we can] do. As President Rochon pointed out in the meeting, ‘What’s done is done.’”