10/23/19 Purdue Hovde Hall

Purdue's Board of Trustees approved the civics literacy requirement to be implemented on the Purdue West Lafayette campus starting in the fall. It will start on all other campuses in fall 2022.

But dueling press releases after the meeting highlight just how divisive the topic has become.

Provost Jay Akridge brought the proposal to the board Friday morning. The proposal had been discussed since 2019, he said.

Acknowledging the requirement had not been discussed on campuses besides West Lafayette, Akridge said it will not be implemented on other campuses until fall 2022.

West Lafayette students will choose one of three tracks to fulfill the requirement, with options like completing an approved course or watching a series of 12 C-SPAN podcasts. A proficiency test for each track must be passed to fulfill the requirement.

Similarly, he said satellite campuses may alter the requirement for their campus.

The Exponent previously wrote about professors feeling the civics literacy requirement was being pushed too quickly, without enough input or final approval from the University Senate.

"I think our faculty did a terrific job of building a credential that is flexible, it's creative," Akridge said after the approval. "It gives our students several paths to enhancing their own specific knowledge and understanding of civics."

He said the exam is one that students "can take until they pass it to demonstrate the foundational understanding."

On why the board wanted to see the requirement approved despite pushback from some faculty, Akridge said the requirement will apply only to incoming students, and in that spirit they wanted to "act sooner rather than later."

More than 135 professors sent letters to trustee JoAnn Brouillette urging her to hold the civics literacy requirement until it can be approved by the University Senate. The letter-writing campaign was organized by the Purdue chapter of the American Association of University Professors. 

"Today’s board action marks the culmination of two and a half years of discussion, consultation and planning," Michael Berghoff, chairman of the board, said in a statement. "The board thanks the faculty working group that designed the new civics proficiency program and the countless faculty and staff who contributed ideas to it.

"Under Indiana law, the trustees have the sole, exclusive authority to 'prescribe the curricula and courses of study offered by the … institution, and define the standards of proficiency and satisfaction within the curricula and courses established …' (IC 21-41-2-1). That is the responsibility we are discharging today."

Berghoff cited a recent petition against the requirement, saying it was "neither a reasonable nor widely supported viewpoint."

"The petition gathered the signatures of barely 5% of the faculty," Berghoff wrote. "Nothing would be gained by yet another postponement, at the behest of such a very small, self-appointed group.

"The episode illuminates another, broader issue. As the most recent Senate chair said to the board this spring, the University Senate has become a non-productive, 'dysfunctional,' in her term, organization," he said. "This has been evident to most observers for a very long time."

The AAUP also sent out a press release after the board's approval of the requirement, stating its continued disapproval of the requirement being voted in without University Senate approval. The release also said the faculty did not know the civic requirement would be implemented systemwide. 

Noor O’Neill Borbieva, a faculty member at Purdue Fort Wayne and president of the AAUP chapter at PFW, in the release wrote of her disagreement with the ruling and the surprise faculty at PFW felt when they realized the requirement would be implemented there as well.

“Faculty at Purdue-Fort Wayne have been completely blindsided by this vote," Borbieva said. "The issue of a civics education requirement was not raised at our faculty senate meetings this last academic year, suggesting that even our leadership, including both faculty and administrators, were not aware that the provost and board meant to impose this requirement across the system.

"PFW faculty who knew about the civics proposal at Purdue-West Lafayette were concerned about the violation of shared governance it represented," she said, "but we had no reason to believe it would apply to us.”

David Detmer, professor at Purdue-Northwest and president of the AAUP chapter at the Purdue Northwest campus, also expressed disagreement.

“Students should know that the board is doing this against the will of the University Senate and without consultation with faculty at the Purdue regional campuses," he said. "Please don’t take this as an illustration of good governance, or about what good civics literacy can give you.”

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