Academic Council voices concerns over online education pilot

Read the letter from Academic Senate Chair Dan Simmons and the project plan for UC Online Education »

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As new specifics about the University of California's controversial push into online education continue to emerge, the chair of the Academic Senate sent a letter to UC President Mark Yudof last Friday detailing numerous faculty concerns about the directions of the online effort and advising that no new courses be developed until its concerns are addressed.

In the letter - written on behalf of the Academic Council, the senate's administrative arm - Chair Dan Simmons says that the since the UC Online Instruction Pilot Project secured a $6.9 million internal loan through the UC Office of the President in April, faculty members have raised new questions about the project's goals and the pilot's altering direction.

The online pilot's latest project plan, released in March, says the program will offer courses to non-UC students as well as enrolled UC students on a "revenue-generating" basis with the hopes that their fees will pay back the loan. This and other new details contained in the March plan differ from the plan the Academic Council approved in May of last year.

"There are questions on oversight and evaluation of the program, the dependence of the budget model on enrollments of non-UC students, the corresponding focus on lower division requirements and possible competition with the Community College mission, and the financial feasibility of paying back the loan," Simmons said in the letter. "In short, while the pilot project was intended to enhance access and to generate revenue, it is now unclear whether these goals may be meshed and met."

The letter goes on to request that no more courses - other than the 27 already selected for funding - be developed through the pilot until its concerns are addressed. UC officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

The online education program was developed through the UC Commission on the Future and was given approval by the Academic Council in May 2010, though the council made its approval contingent on the use of non-UC funds. At the project's inception, Christopher Edley, dean of the UC Berkeley School of Law and the chair of the project, estimated that $30 million in privatized funding could be secured for the effort, though since then, only a single $748,000 grant sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has materialized.

Contact Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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