Wednesday, March 18, 2009


A while back I was a member of the Senate Curriculum committee. Interesting dynamic, as I was the only non-faculty member sitting around a table of extremely self-important blow-hards.

Today I was reminded of one particularly entertaining proposal review. Mechanical engineering had submitted a proposal to drop WRT 307 (the professional writing course) as a required course from their curriculum. When a professor from the program showed up to defend the proposal, I asked if they planned to replace the course with another perhaps more discipline-specific writing course. He looked at me rather miffed and muttered, "We DO know how to write." He then turned his attention to his peers and continued on with his inane defense.

Of course I was not implying that mechanical engineers do not know how to write. They do. We all do. Which is exactly why WRT 307 or a more discipline-specific course must be part of the mechanical engineering curriculum.

What got me thinking about that episode in the curriculum committee was something I stumbled across in an IST brochure about summer courses. Tucked away on the last page in a small box labeled "Online Courses" was IST 600, 900 Technical Documentation.

Interesting you say? Why yes, it is interesting. Let me explain.

You see, under RCM (the university's vastly under-appreciated accounting and budgeting methodology) schools and colleges are expected to locate and use existing courses to meet curriculum requirements -- regardless of where the existing courses reside. This, of course, never happens. It's all about the money you know (and it is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY). Schools and colleges create duplicate versions of existing courses so they can keep 100% of the revenue. The math is quite simple.

So where is the process broken? Well, when course proposals pass through the Senate Curriculum Committee, the committee takes the submitting program at its word that due diligence was performed to locate an existing or similar course that could meet curricular requirements. The committee itself does not check the catalog. However, in cases of obvious duplication (such as a writing course), the submitting program will include some smack about how the unique nature of their curriculum requires a "different" course.

And so it must have been with IST 600, 900 Technical Documentation. There are at least five 600-level technical writing/communication WRT courses on the books. I know this because I worked on the framework designs of four of them. And so I can say with the utmost certainty that any one of the existing 600-level WRT courses would meet any curricular requirement IST places in front of their 600, 900 course.

Bigger issue: Did IST research the catalog to locate the WRT courses? Not a chance. Did anyone on the curriculum committee ask if the Writing Program was consulted? Not likely.

More to come on this. Much more to come.

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