8/2/19 board of trustees

Purdue Board of Trustees' meeting on Aug. 2 discussed giving out a survey to all BGR participants over civic literacy understanding at the University.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to include additional data given by the Student Affairs Committee Chairman David Sanders on the civic literacy survey and to correct the title of Robert Browning, who is a senator representing the College of Liberal Arts instead of the C-SPAN Scholarship and Engagement senator. The Exponent regrets this error.

The idea of requiring students to pass a civic literacy test to graduate circulated campus when Purdue President Mitch Daniels proposed the addition to curriculum in January.

The Board of Trustees recently approved having all freshmen attending Boiler Gold Rush take a civic literacy survey, after months of deliberation in the University Senate.

Daniels first proposed the idea to implement a standardized test about U.S. history and politics, required of all students, to the University Senate in January. Each student would have to complete the test before graduation.

Daniels’ proposal received mixed reactions from senate members.

A Senator representing the College of Liberal Arts, Robert Browning, supported the idea and said the test could have about 10 questions inspired by the U.S. naturalization test. Students would have to get around six of the 10 questions correct to pass.

Senate member Ralph Kaufmann worried whether or not international students should be exempt from the test or not, according to prior reporting by The Exponent. Another concern was if a short, multiple-choice exam is the best method to judge a student’s civic literacy.

“It is my understanding that one of the major reasons some faculty were opposed to the resolution is that President Daniels was quoting national data in his original proposal to the Senate,” said Natalie Carroll, past chair of the University Senate via email.

No study has yet shown a correlation between the national statistic, which shows low civic understanding, and Purdue students.

The University Senate requested feedback from students and faculty on civic illiteracy at Purdue through a survey in February, which was available on the Purdue News website.

The University Senate received 2,014 respondents in total, with about half of them being undergraduate students.

Current University Senate Chair Cheryl Cooky said 55% of undergraduate and 52% of faculty agreed or strongly agreed that teaching civic literacy is Purdue’s responsibility.

Student Affairs Committee Chairman David Sanders later said via phone that the question asked whether the University is responsible to address concerns about civic illiteracy, and did not specify if it were Purdue's responsibility to teach it.

According to Cooky, about 45% of undergraduates and 54% of faculty said they did not want international students to be exempt from the civic literacy requirement.

Sanders said about 24% of faculty said they support a civics requirement, but believe international students should be exempted. As well, 24% of faculty agree that current students demonstrate an insufficient understanding of civic literacy.

About 35% of faculty reported they would support a standalone test to assess competency and 21% of faculty said they would support a standalone test but believe it should differ, according to Sanders.

"If you look at the survey when it asks specifically whether we should have an exam or things like that, the faculty are overwhelmingly opposed to it," Sanders said.

Currently, there is no evidence that supports teaching civic literacy as being a responsibility or to have an exam.

"There's no support for either one of those propositions," Sanders said.

Daniels later announced that his initial idea was to give freshmen the same 100-question test given to immigrants trying to naturalize. Students would be able to spend four years to pass the test.

A resolution to form a special committee was created to work on developing a proposal for the Senate to vote on in the fall semester. The resolution met some resistance from the senate members. Sanders said the creation of a committee would violate senate bylaws and be unnecessary, per previous reporting from The Exponent.

A 61% vote by University Senate members to establish the committee didn’t pass the required two-thirds majority vote, according to the April senate minutes documents. Thus, no special committee was formed to create an official proposal.

Although there is no special committee coming out of the Senate, Cooky independently gathered a group of experts to develop a survey to gather baseline data of students’ views on civic literacy.

This year’s BGR participants will be given a voluntary survey on civic literacy. Data created from this survey will help compare Purdue students to other demographic groups in civic literacy understanding.

The survey will be 28 questions long and have both multiple-choice and fill in the blank questions. It will be distributed by email early in BGR.

Cooky said the survey will help move forward plans regarding civic literacy.

“My hope is that we can get as many students to participate in the survey as possible,” Cooky said. “The more students we have in that survey, the better the data that we get will be.”

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