CSUN is a large, comprehensive, public, commuter university with close to 35,000 students. Therefore our primary task in infusing core commitments values into the curriculum and culture is integration. Our university already has many deep commitments to educating for personal and social responsibility. But these exist in pockets. We thus believe that the first step toward broader institutional and cultural change is bridging the gaps between these pockets by creating and strengthening cross-divisional relationships; developing a common language in which to communicate the shared values; and building and strengthening an infrastructure for organizing programs that span academic departments, administrative units, and student affairs.
Our eventual goal is institutional and cultural change. Thus the second concurrent task is to create incentives for change. We believe that part of this involves creating amongst the students a demand for courses which emphasize core commitments. Since departmental budgets are driven by enrollment, we hope that departments across campus will begin to offer or modify courses to address our goals. In essence, the second part of our strategy is to herd the administrative and faculty cats by moving the mice.
Unfortunately, the normal challenges for creating change in a large disbursed bureaucracy and isolated units are not the only hurdles we face. We face at least four significant barriers.
First, our students come from one of the most culturally diverse public school systems in the country. While this provides extraordinary opportunities for developing a deep understanding of our changing world, it also creates enormous challenges in preparing students for university-level work. There are over 150 languages spoken within the Los Angeles Unified School System and thus many students come from homes where English is either not spoken at home or is not the first language spoken at home. Many teachers within LAUSD do not have the necessary skill set to effectively teach these students and, as a result, 70-80% of our incoming class needs developmental math/writing. California state law requires students to complete developmental work within their first year at the university or risk disenrollment. Thus, since our initial efforts will be focused upon incoming freshmen, our programs will have to complement the demands of the developmental courses they exist within.
Second, many of our students face significant financial and time pressures. Approximately 70% of our students receive financial aid. A large number of our students must work part and full-time. Many have families, and most have schedules as tight as ours. Thus we expect them to be understandably resistant to our call for contributing to the campus and greater community. Even if they have the desire, many just do not have the time. Others already contribute through their religious affiliations, children’s schools, or community organizations; but they don’t necessarily link these activities to the University. The challenge is thus not simply inculcating moral motivation. We must design our efforts to complement their curriculum and their lives, so that they will at least see civic contribution as part of or a complement to their education, and not merely something extra.
Third, we are a commuter campus. This poses challenges in finding ways to reach a large proportion of the student (and faculty) population. It is rare that a huge number of people are in the same place at the same time. Therefore, we must wedge core commitments education and publicity into existing large-scale assemblies such as convocations, new student orientation, graduations, guest speakers, and the like.
But being a commuter campus poses an even deeper challenge. Many students want to just come in, sit in class, and leave before traffic gets too bad. That encourages a culture wherein people do not feel part of a larger campus community; a culture where the university is a shop one visits to acquire a degree. It will be difficult to cultivate an understanding of the necessity of contributing to a campus and local community which students do not feel part of.
Fourth, many of our students come from violence-torn neighborhoods. They therefore come to us with some very sophisticated ethics that, at first glance, can seem antithetical to core commitments values. If a student is raised to have an attitude of ‘I gotta get mine before you gonna get yours’ and ‘keep respect/ protect your neck/ by any means necessary’, it is prima facie difficult to inculcate the less self-centered ethos of core commitments.
In other cases, students come in with the materialistic selfishness and blindness to others’ needs and desires that seem to be a particularly unfortunate part of modern American culture. Opening these students’ eyes is challenging, but comparatively straightforward.
However, many ethics of the street are partially based in a Hobbesian attitude of self-preservation, and a deep sense of alienation and dislocation. These ethics are often a rational response to one’s conditions. The challenge isn’t to show these students that the ethics they enter with are wrong. It is to provide them the tools to integrate a sense of respect and attachment to their communities —personal and social responsibility— with the need to protect one’s own neck. It is a mistake to think that the problem is centrally a failure of communication. It will not be solved by ‘speaking to them in their own language’. Cultural fluency is important. But the challenge is fundamentally practical and normative.
We believe that the apparent incompatibility of core commitments and this ethos is specious. Our students can develop personal and social responsibility in ways that are compatible with their environment. We know this from experience. Indeed, we hope that such education can contribute to changing and repairing their communities. We are admittedly unsure of how exactly to do this. But in our university and within our community, it is imperative that it be done. We believe that the success of our programs will be a start and a solid foundation.
Our immediate project has two parts. First, we will focus on integrating the teaching of one relatively well-defined value into the culture and curriculum. Beginning in this tightly focused way will help us develop an infrastructure that will be crucial to larger change. Moreover, we hope that this can serve as a wedge into the expected resistance to the idea that educating for personal and social responsibility is part of the university mission. University-wide consensus on the legitimacy and necessity of inculcating academic integrity may serve as a starting point for later developing consensus on teaching other values.
Second, to create incentives for teaching personal and social responsibility, and to institutionally legitimize this role of education, we will be creating a certificate program available to all students in the university.
We want to make our initial push into establishing these goals as part of the university culture by beginning with academic integrity. Few teachers or administrators will deny that the university ought to encourage academic integrity. Hence we can expect some degree of receptivity to our proposals. Moreover, CSUN already has some existing programs and many resources. We can thus begin by bringing these to bear on the students’ experience in the Freshman Writing courses nearly all must take.
We hope to begin changing the institutional and student culture that enables and underlies cheating at all levels. After we have established some infrastructure and a culture of cooperation among the writing faculty on academic integrity, we will begin to scale up the project to include other aspects of personal responsibility (e.g., developing a common understanding and practice with deadlines). As we develop publicity and an infrastructure within the university through these programs, we will then begin to consider ways of extending these programs and changes throughout the university.
To do this, we will work to create a coherent policy, culture, and language between faculty and administration for dealing with academic dishonesty. For example, by creating a common understanding for what counts as cheating and a common commitment to enforcing a shared policy. This will be coupled with writing assignments and exercises to help students understand why cheating is wrong and what its consequences can be for themselves, their peers, their future professions and for society as a whole. With these understandings, they will be able to internalize a commitment to academic integrity. Another important aspect of these programs will be to address some of the root causes of academic dishonesty. For example, we will address the lack of confidence in one’s own voice which many of our students may be affected by, especially given the city’s challenged school system.
CSUN already has very strong service-learning programs and connections to the community. But these tend to exist in pockets and are not sufficiently integrated throughout the many aspects of a student’s experience over her time at CSUN. Our hope is that the enthusiasm for social involvement our programs in Freshman Writing will instill can thereby be sustained throughout their tenure with the incentive of a certificate they can take to future employers. Thus we will establish a Certificate in Social Involvement which students can earn by completing courses selected for their expression of core commitments values and work in the community. The certificate program will bring together programs across campus and divisions to provide a means for continuing and developing commitment and involvement past the first year; (eventually) help institutionalize civic learning as part of the curriculum and part of the university experience.
Roughly, to earn the certificate a student must complete 15 total units of approved courses. Six of these units will be in the Freshman Writing and Critical Thinking courses which all incoming students must take. Most of the remaining 9 units will overlap with GE requirements (preferably upper division) to encourage students to pursue the certificate within their educational plans. The 9 units will also include a service learning course or approved independent study (this probably will not be in a GE requirement).
Any courses approved for the certificate will have to include content and Student Learning Outcomes related to core commitments values. Thus the certificate will provide an avenue for instilling core commitments across the curriculum.