Kent Core class reduction brews controversy

Anna Staver

Kent State’s liberal education has evolved into a “Kent Core,” a set of requirements every student has to take.

Currently, Kent students have 109 classes from which to choose their core hours.

But President Lester Lefton wants a drastically smaller list of courses, and so far, the university faculty has resisted.

When Faculty Senate passed the Kent Core in September, it removed the restriction on the number of courses from the proposal.

In his State of the University address a few weeks later, Lefton asked the faculty to go back and try to pass a smaller core.

The faculty and students at Kent State have concerns about class size, university funding, diversity and the method by which Lefton said the core classes should be chosen.

More info

The classes that would become the Kent Core are currently called Liberal Education Requirements (LERs). See a complete list of the classes and their latest enrollment numbers here.

Lefton’s argument is a smaller core will guarantee students get a clear liberal arts basis in their education. Deans and department heads worry a small core would restrict students’ options and cost some departments money because some of their budgets are based on the number of students they have. Core classes tend to be large, and therefore moneymakers.

Here’s a look at the various viewpoints:

The president

Lefton expressed his desire for a small, streamlined core for almost two years. He said students already have almost chosen a smaller core by the classes they take now, citing data from Regional Planning and Institutional Effectiveness that 80 percent of the students at Kent already take less than 40 percent of the classes.

Lefton said a small core is a win-win.

“From my point of view, as the president of the university, the students still have to take the same 120 hours so the revenue is going to be the same,” Lefton said.

A large core “costs us a lot of money which affects your tuition, it affects the quality of the courses being offered.”

Lefton said a small core would improve the quality of education for students.

“We could invest more resources into those courses and into those faculty members who teach those courses,” Lefton said.

Some of those investments could be more teaching assistants, more sections and new equipment.

The provost

Associate Provost Timothy Chandler was the head of the Kent Core Committee and helped create the proposal that originally went to Faculty Senate last spring.

“If we’re calling it a Kent Core, it probably should be narrower than 109 potential courses,” Chandler said. “If you’ve got too many choices, it really isn’t a core.”

He said he is now in the unenviable position of having to develop another proposal, and plans to work with the University Requirements Curriculum Committee and the deans. Chandler said he hopes this new proposal will fare better than the last one.

“To me, these issues should be academic first,” Chandler said. “We should decide what the right thing to do is, and then we need to find a way to pay for it.”

The deans

There’s a financial overtone to all this. Under the university’s budget model, called Responsibility Centered Management, part of a college’s funding comes from the number of students in its classes. But the deans divide their money among departments, and the dean has to decide how much each department should get.

Tim Moerland, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said if a small core were implemented, he and department heads would re-evaluate the direction any department(s) that no longer had a class in the core, and therefore saw their revenues drop. He said the focus of some departments might shift more toward research, or onto other higher-level courses.

He echoed Lefton’s assurances that no one would lose their jobs because their department lost its place in the core.

“If the department is so critically dependant on that one core class, then there are other issues at play,” he said.

Moerland also drew a comparison to General Motors. If GM has a make or model always in the red, the question of cutting the line all together eventually arises. But he said it’s more complicated when dealing with an academic discipline.

“I can’t think of many institutions where a philosophy department is a big money maker,” Moerland said. “But I can’t imagine many institutions without one.”

But another dean, who asked that his name not be used, had some concerns about a smaller core.

The dean said creating core categories and allowing students to fill them with a wide array of class choices would be the best solution.

“Personally, that’s the way I think it should be, but I don’t think it will ever be that way here,” the dean said. “It runs counter to the idea of a small core, which is what Lefton wants.”

The dean suggested getting rid of the something called “additional category,” which allows students to take any course in the core. Departments sometimes will require specific “additional category courses,” he said. “All that makes things very confusing for students.”

The department chairs

Richard Meindl is the chair of the anthropology department at Kent, and said the case for a small core has not been made to him.

“You would put one-third to one-half of tenure faculty, I don’t want to say out of business, but underutilized,” Meindl said.

While Lefton and Moerland said no one would lose his or her job, the question arose for Meindl about where the extra funds for increased sections, new equipment and graduate assistants would come from.

If only the top 40 classes in the list were kept, Introduction to Archeology, a course in Meindl’s department, might rest below the cutoff since it’s the 68th largest now.

“That would be harmful to our department if Intro to Archeology was taken out of the core,” Meindl said. “One-fourth of our faculty is in that sub-field.”

Meindl also serves as an adviser in the Anthropology Department, and he said he would step up to help.

“If students are confused, we can solve that,” Meindl said. “We shouldn’t let the idea of complexity held by a few students define what choices the whole have.”

The professors

Jon Secaur, a physics professor, said he recognizes a small bias toward having his classes in the core because, “in physics, the core classes that we have, pretty much fund our department.”

Beyond the financial concerns, he thought a small core was a bad idea for students.

“Who’s to say what is the best?” Secaur said. “I would never dream to tell people what to take.”

Secaur said he would fight to keep all the physics classes in the core. He drew the comparison to the diversity of species found on planet Earth, and said it was important for the health of the university as a whole to have a wide array of core classes available to students.

“I think it’s criminal to pair down the options to some minimal common core,” Secaur said.

The students

Ken Ruley, a junior biology major, said he sees both sides of the argument. On the one hand, Ruley said being able to transfer majors more easily would be better for students, but “at the same time I’d rather be able to take some obscure class.”

Ruley’s favorite class he took for his core requirements was the Greek achievement, the 82nd largest class. The course could still be offered to students, but Ruley said the main reason he choose the class was because it fulfilled a core requirement.

“If you’re taking away [a class] from the one percent who love it, then you’re kind of back handing students.”

Cody Kersting, a junior computer science major, said he dislikes large core classes in general.

“Anytime there’s over 100 students, I feel less involved in the class,” Kersting said. “I’m also more likely to skip.”

Kim Perkins, a senior fashion design major, said she chose some of her core classes because she heard they were easy. Perkins said she put off U.S. Formative History because of the amount of work required by the class.


All of the groups agree there is much disagreement.

Lefton said he is hopeful the faculty will do what he considers to be the right thing.

“I recognize there will be a political compromise,” he said. “The question is will we do the right thing for the students or is the faculty going to be so protective of their RCM unit, they will sort of go half of the way or a third of the way.

“Last year they only went 10 percent of the way, and that wasn’t good enough.”

But Faculty Senate Chair Mack Hassler said, “I can accept the principle, but I think it’s a little late in the game to be that focused.”

Hassler said the senate will consider Lefton’s ideas again, but when asked if he thinks a core of 35 to 40 classes will pass, he said, ”No.”

Contact Anna Staver at [email protected].