We've had decentralized developmental education on our campus for
decades.  While I don't know that it is worse than having a centralized
unit, it does cause issues to emerge.

1. Communication between units:  Basically there isn't much
communication.  We have an advisory committee that has reps from each
area, we also have some linked developmental courses, etc, but there
isn't much incentive for this communication to happen, and certainly no
mandate for this to happen, so attendance in such meetings varies
considerably from semester to semester.  We find that the DE curriculum
works best when the various academic units talk to one another, and many
of them agree.  But some simply don't see a need, so they just plain
don't. And there isn't much anyone can do about it.

2. Budget: Having these units in academic departments brings attention
and controversy to the cost of running them.  These courses are for
first-year students only, and have small class sizes.  Department Chairs
and Deans watch that carefully.  Every couple of years, or every time
there is a new person in leadership in the areas, we have to defend why
the class sizes need to stay where they are.  Those administrators who
are inexperienced in DE or don't value it will fight to change that on a
very predictable basis, and it is always a little scary to see what ends
up happening when wholesale changes are made on the basis of money
rather than quality.  

English is one of our strongest DE course areas, but I remember one
Chair who didn't much appreciate the value of DE telling me, "You know,
we can't teach Shakespeare this semester (a 300-level course) because of
all these developmental ed sections."  It does make for some harrowing
times when money is tight or enrollments are high.  I think they should
teach Shakespeare all the time, but if they don't cut DE, what do they
cut instead?  Low cap upper division courses. 

Administrators ALWAYS look at the DE courses to see if there is a way
to reduce cost  when there are cuts to be made.  Unless the DE money is
specifically designated in the department budget for that purpose only,
it rapidly gets included in the total budget discussions.  Preserving
the DE section numbers and class sizes then can raise a lot of
controversy among faculty who are teaching larger traditional core or
major requirement courses while the DE courses stay the same size.  

Staffing:  DE courses require pretty special staffing.  Instructors
need to have some experience in working with the issues that these
students bring and must be willing and prepared for more one-on-one work
with students.  When the traditional department is doing the hiring for
ALL courses and has difficulty in finding instructional staffing for a
certain semester, we find that, depending on the value system of those
department administrators, sometimes the DE courses end up being the
default position for questionable hires, and those weaker instructors
have problems all year, as do the students.

Hiring instructional coordinators for the DE courses can also present
some problems.  Recently, a new department chair who has the task of
replacing a 20+ year veteran  DE coordinator told me that no one in his
department cares about DE nor do they have any expertise in it, and he
has no interest in doing a national search for such a small part of the
department, so what is he supposed to do?  Again, there is that value
system thing.  And in this case, it has us pretty nervous about the
future of the curriculum for those courses, the instructional hiring,
the class sizes and virtually everything else about it.  

Another issue that we have faced with staffing is that some
instructional staff on campus consider working in DE to be an
aggravation and a frustration.  In math for example (though I am
speaking hypothetically here) some instructors simply do not have the
skills to teach at the DE level.  When all departmental hiring and
assignment is designated to the same administrator, that skill set may
not be considered in assigning instructors.  A bad assignment then
causes problems for an entire semester, for everyone involved.  Some
care about this, and if asked, we offer all kinds of input and advise,
but many others say things to students like, "I can't believe you people
didn't learn this in high school" and other such damaging comments,
frustrating everyone.  We have also run into the problem of department
administrators who hate the idea of teaching DE themselves think that
this is a punishment for the instructor.  In that case, some of the best
instructors are moved out of DE every semester or two because (and I've
heard this more than once), an administrator "can't imagine how high the
burnout must be for these people" even when they aren't burned out. 

In your case, Katy, depending on how the DE administrative and hiring
responsibilities are assigned in the academic unit can have a big effect
on how successful this change is.  

Obviously, from my experience, this can be an overwhelming crap shoot
in some cases and smooth as silk in others.  It all depends on the
receptivity of the departments.  If they want this because they want to
oversee the money for DE, you all are in for some pretty interesting

Shevawn Eaton, Ph.D.
Director, ACCESS/ESP
Northern Illinois University
DeKalb, IL 60115
PH: (815) 753-0581

FAX: (815) 753-4115

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