Minutes of the Undergraduate Council Meeting of November 20, 2013

Present: Steven Adelson, Janet Clarke, Jennifer Dellaposta, Arlene Feldman, Sarah Fuller, Rick Gatteau, Norm Goodman, Ellen Hopkins, Peter Stephens, Michael Mooney, , Anne Moyer, Jean Peden, Scott Sutherland Guest: Charles Robbins

Minutes of the previous meeting: The minutes of November 13, 2013 were approved with minor revisions.


Open SUNY and Seamless Transfer

A memo has been sent to each campus from the SUNY Interim Provost about implementing the SUNY Seamless Transfer policy. In the memo, she requests each campus to select a faculty member of the discipline in which a “transfer path” has been identified.  The purpose of these faculty is to review the courses in the transfer path for their discipline to insure their adequacy in allowing students to complete the lower-division requirements in that major  when they transfer from one SUNY institution to another.  SUNY will arrange for these selected faculty members to communicate with each other about the adequacy of the identified transfer path for their discipline.

In the end, it is more complicated than just that. Stony Brook University, along with the other University Centers, has voiced its concerns with regard to the Seamless Transfer policy.  In some ways it is counterproductive if Stony Brook University cannot guarantee that a specific course in the transfer path can adequately satisfy the level of quality of a similar course at Stony Brook. This means that Stony Brook University may not be able to guarantee that some transfer students will be able to graduate within four semesters of full-time study after transferring since their lower-division preparation may not be adequate to meet the requirements of the upper-division courses in their major.

Philosophically, nobody is opposed to Seamless Transfer because there is a large demand for student transfers within the SUNY system for any number of reasons.  But each SUNY campus is unique, with its own courses and curricula. Some courses at other SUNY campuses may simply not be sufficiently equivalent to ones at Stony Brook University or to courses at other SUNY campuses.

In terms of the professional schools at Stony Brook University, it is not possible to guarantee that a particular course, or a program of courses, taken at one SUNY campus will satisfy the admission requirements of the professional schools at Stony Brook University similar to those required of its native students.  To assume that it will may be construed as false advertising when it comes to Seamless Transfer.

One can look at the name, number, and syllabus of any given course, but that in no way determines the quality and rigor of the course itself.

Every SUNY campus must meet the SUNY general education requirements.  Presently, if a student completes the SUNY general education requirements at one SUNY campus and transfers to another, then that student is deemed to have satisfied these requirements at whatever campus to which he or she has transferred.  However, a campus is free to add additional general education requirements as long as they do not constitute a  barrier to a transfer student obtaining her or his degree within 4 additional semesters of full-time study. SUNY Albany has apparently found ways around that by “burying” some general education requirements into the requirements of their majors.

There are opportunities for students to appeal the denial of transfer credits. Also, any SUNY campus is able to appeal to the SUNY provost as well. As of now, nobody from Stony Brook University’s West Campus has ever appealed the denial of transfer credits.

What does the SUNY system mean by faculty reviewing transfer paths?  The SUNY system has identified ten to twelve of the more popular disciplines into which students transfer.  SUNY established committees of faculty from the community colleges and the 4-year colleges to identify those lower-division courses that typically are required in these majors prior to achieving junior standing. The intent of these “transfer paths” was to allow student to understand what is required of them at the receiving institution in the major to which they wish to transfer if they are to satisfy the lower-division requirments of that major. 

The issue remains that the quality, rigor and level of preparedness of any specific course is subjective. Will transfer students to Stony Brook University be prepared for its upper division courses after taking lower division courses at another SUNY campus? To answer that question, there needs to be a review and analysis of the details of each course to ensure that all of the key topics are covered at an appropriate level of quality. It is not possible to determine the quality of a course based simply on its title or course description.

As of right now, Seamless Transfer is SUNY policy, and that is not likely to be changed in the near future.  Consequently, if we are unhappy with it, we need to develop a Plan B that shows that it is not working well for transfer to Stony Brook.  For example, there are some previous data on student transfers to Stony Brook University from Nassau Community College and Suffolk Community College that demonstrate the quite different success rates of transfer students from these two campuses.  If we can show that there is a disparity in quality of what is deemed adequate preparation for success in any given course from sending institutions, we might be able to have SUNY consider modifying the policy.

Seamless transfer will be easier for some disciplines than for others  In theory, for example, seamless transfer should be relatively easy for calculus courses because there is general agreement among mathematicians about the specific topics that need to be covered and the quality level required to move from calculus to more complex mathematics courses, even though the organization of these agreed-on topics may differ from campus to campus.

The SUNY system is not the only large system that has to deal with within-system transfer.  For example, California has a large system of higher education. We might inquire what it does for its transfer students.  California has standards for its courses, and if the standards are met then the course can seamlessly transfer to other campuses in the system. It would be a good idea to communicate with California and get more specific details. One problem with that is that California has 3 separate systems, which complicate any direct comparison to SUNY.

Majors, Minors, and Areas of Interest

There has been discussion about the automated confirmation of student majors. It was done for the first time last semester through Solar. Students confirm “yes” or “no.” If a student says “no,” a message is conveyed that the student should meet with an academic advisor to declare the more accurate major.

One-third of post-sophomore students were in a different major than what was presently declared. 45% percent of freshmen, too, were in a different major than what was presently declared. This year, of the 5,400 students who completed the automated confirmation of student majors on Solar, 20 to 25% were following a different major pathway.

The current system does not allow for students to indicate what their present major pathway is, as opposed to what is in the system. These percentages do not indicate that students are or are not changing their majors 4 or 5 times, as is typical for a student throughout his or her college career. Rather, it does indicate that students are self-advising.

It is possible for it to be included in Solar that students periodically confirm their desired major pathways. Should this confirmation be official or unofficial (unofficial, meaning that the student would still need to meet with an academic advisor)? Suggestion: Make it official, but if the student does not meet with an academic advisor within a designated period of time, then the confirmation expires. The temporary switch will remove the student from one major, but will not place them into the other major until a meeting is had with an academic advisor. It does make the student “Undeclared,” and thus forces them at some point to do something with regards to declaring an accurate major.

Should this be done towards the very beginning of any given semester, so as to not impede upon a student’s scheduling? Suggestion: After the add/drop period, or day fifteen. Are there any issues when it comes to switching an Area of Interest or major to “Undeclared?” – The student will still have to declare a major by his or her junior year.

Every academic major should have an Area of Interest. A student can declare an Area of Interest at any time, and prior to reaching 57 credits, the student can be “Undeclared.” A student will have to declare a major upon reaching 57 credits. The student can change his or her Area of Interest after reaching 57 credits, with the approval of an academic advisor. This is a way to say, “You are interested, but are not ready to get married.”

Respectfully submitted,
Steven Adelson and Norm Goodman