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April 13, 1995

Plans for CGS criticized; administration responds

To the editor:

Since 1958, the "School" later to become the "College of General Studies" has been the advocate where the majority of western Pennsylvania nontraditional students could earn their four year college degree. It has symbolized upward mobility. Also, many other people have completed CGS courses for enrichment or to prepare for graduate programs — including medical school. The motivation and maturity of these returning students is very impressive.

Those students could lose much if administrators decide in favor of a March 3 Dean's Report to the Provost. There is no doubt that the committee of deans and an administrator who met several times last fall and twice this year are well-intentioned. Quality and cost-effectiveness are important to them. However, I respectfully take exception to aspects of their proposal.

A reader of this letter might wonder what right I have to disagree, since I am merely a staff member — and for what reasons. One reason is anecdotal. Since 1968, I have had the privilege of advising thousands of nontraditional students and have observed them succeed despite added responsibilities and burdens. At times they have needed special attention and encouragement that could only be provided by a school designed not to make college easier for them, but had them as a first priority.

Another reason for disagreement with the majority proposal is the recent trend in other Pittsburgh colleges to compete for and court nontraditional students. By truncating CGS so that only a few four-year majors remain, the result will be that other colleges who are conscious of support and scheduling needs will take many desirable students from Pitt. CGS has provided a valuable quality and diversity of four-year programs. When the University's students are absorbed by other Pitt schools for their last two full-time-equivalent years, they will no longer have a strong advocate. And there will no longer be a strong administration that will consider these students as most important.

There is even an example of lack of success of a program that was transferred from CGS to another University school. In the mid 1980s, the evening information science undergraduate major that had its start in CGS was moved to the School of Library and Information Science. The result was that its enrollment declined drastically. Even now, in this very well managed program, nontraditional students are not able to have the priority they had in CGS.

The nontraditional, returning student often has to plan school around other responsibilities and the financial need for employment. CGS is the one college at Pitt that has made assisting that person a priority. Who will care properly for the nontraditional four-year students at the University of Pittsburgh if General Studies becomes essentially a junior college for the rest of the University? It is easy to criticize. I realize how much administrators care and do for the University, and I appreciate efforts they make to listen to students, staff and others involved. I also feel it would be best financially and academically for Pitt and for the region if CGS remains a four-year college.

Tom Henry

College of General Studies

Academic Adviser


Jack Daniel, vice provost for Academic Affairs, responds:

Thanks for this opportunity to discuss several issues related to the Provost's office desire to clarify the College of General Studies (CGS) mission, and move expeditiously with the search for a dean. Recently, I met with CGS student and former student representatives to listen carefully to their concerns. This meeting proved to be extremely beneficial, and we welcome input from others as we attempt to offer the best possible set of educational opportunities for generally older students who

[1] are more career oriented,

[2] must attend the University primarily on a part-time basis during weekends and evenings, and

[3] desire to make use of various forms of distance education. The CGS student representatives underscored the importance of CGS activities such as The First Degree, the College of General Studies Student Government, the Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society, and other activities supported by the CGS student activities fee. Recognizing the diverse needs of nontraditional students, the CGS Mission Working Group members indicated, ". . .and CGS must play a critical role in the provision of quality support services to these students." Interim Dean Robert F. Comfort, Provost James V. Maher, and I understand well the importance of comprehensive support services for enhancing the pride and sense of connectedness that many CGS students experience, and these support services will be attended to as we move forward.

Under no circumstances would the Provost's office permit CGS students to be "absorbed by other Pitt schools for their last two years" without the benefit of strong advocacy related to meeting CGS students' needs. For the record, the CGS Mission Working Group indicated full transfer to other units as only one option. A second option indicated that students could transfer to another unit, and continue to be served by CGS for advising, registration, and other support services as well as continue to take courses at the nontraditional times. While Provost Maher has not acted on these recommendations at this time, I can assure CGS students that our office's general disposition will be to [1] increase, not restrict, options and [2] enhance not decrease support services for CGS students.

Members of the CGS Mission Working Group placed considerable emphasis on providing CGS students with high quality academic programs, and high quality advising, registration, career counseling, and other support services that are unique to CGS students. There has been no expressed desire to "truncate" CGS. Rather, the CGS Mission Working Group recommended that, "The University should have the capacity to respond to regional educational needs for new programs that emerge over time," and the group recommended that CGS play an important role in developing new experimental degree programs.

I was saddened to read an institutional representative's reference to having CGS become "essentially a junior college. . ." I read these comments with dismay because a number of us at the University of Pittsburgh are very proud of the work done at the Community College of Allegheny County, and we will soon sign a very important articulation agreement with that institution. I also read that comment with considerable concern because, while some criticize unnecessarily our University, many of us are extremely proud of the fact that the University of Pittsburgh offers undergraduates the opportunity to study with world renowned research faculty members. Recognizing our academic strengths as well as our commitments to nontraditional students, the CGS Mission Working Group argued persuasively that CGS students should have access to the same quality of programs and faculty as that provided to students who receive degrees from any of the daytime undergraduate programs. In short, we argued that CGS students should have the same opportunities as other Pittsburgh campus undergraduates, i.e., CGS students should be able to access a high quality set of academic offerings for which this University's distinguished faculty is uniquely qualified to provide in this region.

Very shortly, Provost Maher will issue directives for moving CGS forward as a primary unit designed to meet the educational needs of nontraditional students.

Based on my conversations with him, I am extremely confident that his directives will include things such as [1] enhancing educational access for CGS students, [2] maintaining and improving the CGS support services that are of critical importance to CGS student recruitment, retention and graduation, [3] providing the highest quality curricula that our faculty is uniquely prepared to deliver, [4] making CGS much more competitive in terms of serving the needs of students in our region, and [5] having CGS be an academic unit that provides students, faculty, staff and administrators with academic pride and distinction.

To be sure, some changes will be necessary in order to enhance academic services and programs for CGS students. Therefore, I encourage us to not cast unwarranted jaundiced eyes at change. Instead, I request that people forward constructive comments to me as I assist Provost Maher and Interim Dean Comfort in developing a CGS appropriate for meeting the needs of students in the 21st century.

Recently, Provost Maher received a very thoughtful letter from the Executive Committee of the College of General Studies Alumni Council. We agree with the Executive Committee's view that, "It is imperative that careful consideration be given to the many items necessary to effect any changes." Permit me to take this opportunity to thank these proud CGS alumni for their pledge of continued CGS support, and to indicate that Interim Dean Comfort has already initiated meetings with the Provost's office to address implementation issues.

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