Sacramento State evaluates requirements, putting language, history on chopping block

Published: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 26, 2012 - 7:16 am

Sacramento State students may no longer have to take World Civilization or a second semester of writing to graduate. They could pass on the year of foreign language that has been required, as well as take three fewer units of an American history requirement if a committee's current recommendations are approved by the Faculty Senate in the fall.

The plan – albeit tentative – has caused considerable controversy on the Sacramento campus.

History teachers have railed against what they see as a strong-armed attempt to change their curriculum. Students of American Sign Language have vocally opposed dropping the foreign language requirement, saying it will mean fewer students in the Deaf Studies program. Some faculty question whether reducing writing requirements or the requirement to take race and ethnicity courses will hurt students academically.

Joseph Palermo, an associate professor of American history, said former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum's attack on California's universities for not teaching American history "might not be that far-fetched anymore."

The proposal won't mean fewer required units for graduation, but it would give students more flexibility to choose classes.

Faculty and students attended three forums recently to hear committee members float "a test balloon" about what they say are very preliminary proposals.

These changes will make graduation and general education requirements at the school more consistent with other California State University campuses and more equitable to those of transfer students, which make up seven of 10 of all Sacramento State students, said committee members.

Committee members said the suggested changes have nothing to do with hard economic times and a desire to push students through the system quicker.

"It's hard to make changes," committee member Janet Hesch said Monday. "The university is trying to do the best for most of its students."

If the proposal passes muster, students enrolling at Sacramento State will no longer have to take a year of foreign language. Sacramento State is one of the few to require a year of college-level instruction, said Reza Peigahi, chairman of the committee. Currently, most California State University campuses only require two years of high school foreign language before enrolling, he said.

Students from the Deaf Studies program said Monday they believe the program could lose students or even disappear if the language requirement were eliminated.

Hannah Dale said she changed her major to Deaf Studies after taking a class to fulfill her language requirement. "I found a passion for sign language," she said. "If I didn't have it as a requirement, I wouldn't have learned about sign language and the deaf culture."

There were few complaints Monday about eliminating English 20 – the second semester writing requirement.

The committee is recommending that English 20 and required course work on race and ethnicity be infused into other classes.

But the committee's proposal to teach American Institutions – about U.S. history and government – in three units instead of six drew the most resistance. Palermo said the change, if approved, could violate a state statute that outlines what students should learn about history before graduating.

"No one in the government or history department thinks it can be satisfied in one course realistically and, if so, it would be a low-quality course," he said.

History department faculty object to "a top-down imposed reduction in this requirement without substantive input from the faculty," Palermo said.

Peigahi said the committee is asking only that history professors try to fit the American Institutions requirement into one three-unit course. He said it is ultimately up to the faculty of the department.

The proposal also would reduce the number of social science requirements from 15 to 12 units and eliminate a World Civilizations course requirement.

The committee will use the comments from staff and students to make revisions to their proposal before presenting it to the Faculty Senate in May, said Peigahi. The Senate is expected to vote on the proposal in the fall. If approved, changes to the university's graduation requirements could take place as early as the fall of 2013.

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