Skills-based courses removed from core curriculum

Kara McIntyre

On Aug. 18, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board denied the inclusion of all elementary and intermediate courses of French, German and Spanish into the core curriculum. They remain approved for the 2017-18 year, but will potentially be removed from the core in 2019. Other skills courses, including Ceramics for Non-Art Majors, Website Design and Acting for Non-Majors, are were also denied from the core.

“The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board oversees the core curriculum and course offerings in the state,” James Johnston, provost and vice president for academic affairs, said. “In this case, their rule, which comes from the legislature, means we are not allowed to have skills courses in the core.”

Jeffrey Oxford, chair of foreign languages, found out about this decision on Aug. 21.

“They [the Coordinating Board] consider foreign languages to be skills-based,” Oxford said. “In my opinion, English is a strictly skills-based course. Why should that be allowed and not foreign languages?”

Because MSU is part of the Council of Liberal Arts Colleges, this limitation on core curriculum can be problematic.

“Of course it’s always worrisome to us when we’re so restricted in what we offer, particularly in a liberal arts university like MSU. Our core is particularly important to us in providing a foundation for our students,” Johnston said. “To have that so restricted is sometimes a challenge, but I think they have some very good ideas and solutions.”

Oxford has submitted three different proposals for new foreign language courses: Hispanic World, France World and German World. They have been approved all the way up through the university, but not through the Coordinating Board. At least two Texas universities — UNT-Dallas and Austin Community College — got their proposals approved, but MSU has not.

“What we’re trying to do now is find a solution that allows us to continue to teach world languages,” Johnston said. “We know the importance and the value of those courses in our core and offerings to our students, but we still have to comply with the Coordinating Board rules.”

Oxford said he has 30 days to appeal the decision and restructure the proposal to resubmit.

“We just have to see where it goes and keep doing it until we get it right,” Oxford said. “Northlake College has already seen a ‘dramatic drop in enrollment’ of foreign language classes because of this, so we are addressing the issue as quickly as possible.”

If the proposals are not approved by fall 2019, Johnston said he has other means of making things work until they get everything sorted.

“We have to find some solution or some approach to meet the criteria regardless of the rules,” Johnston said. “I do have the ability to substitute a course for a student until we come up with a solution. That’s not something I do regularly, but I would do that to allow students to graduate without being penalized.”

Other department heads across the board have started the proposal process too, according to Johnston.

“Dr. Camacho [dean of Fain Fine Arts] has been working with theater, art and mass communication professors to come up with proposals as well,” Johnston said. “These things always seems to fall at the most inopportune times, but they [faculty] rise to the occasion and go the extra mile so we’re able to offer the core that we need to offer for our students.”

According to Oxford, 19 percent of people in Wichita Falls don’t speak English at home, so keeping these classes as a required part of the core curriculum is crucial.

“The foreign language classes are not just about learning the language, it’s about learning the culture,” Oxford said. “It’s much more than just skills. It’s learning a way of life, learning comparisons between America and France, Germany and Hispanic countries.”

Oxford also said that given the state of world politics right now, learning foreign languages is more important than ever.

“People are smarter than politicians, so we realize the importance of foreign languages,” Oxford said. “Removing them from the core curriculum shows a disregard for a culture and people different than us.”