Amendments to online education bill SB 520 aim to appease opposed faculty

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State legislators approved amendments to a controversial online education bill last week in response to opposition from faculty members in the state’s public institutions of higher education.

SB 520, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would make the 50 most oversubscribed lower division courses in California’s higher education system available online. In the original draft of the bill, a nine-member council would be responsible for approving and overseeing the online courses.

The Senate Education Committee approved amendments that would eliminate the nine-member council and allow the UC president, the CSU chancellor, the chancellor of the California Community Colleges and each system’s respective academic senate to administer the new online education platform.

“(The amendment) eliminated the nine-person council so that more administration and faculty can be involved in the decision-making process for this online platform,” said Mark Hedlund, Steinberg’s communication director.

The bill has been met with much opposition since its introduction in February. Last month, the members of the Academic Senate of the University of California sent an open letter to the committee condemning SB 520. Earlier this month, the Berkeley Faculty Association created a petition opposing the bill that garnered more than 1,600 signatures.

“The primary victims of this bill and the trend it opens up will be California students who are going to be offered a subprime education,” said Colleen Lye, secretary of the BFA.

Representatives from the Academic Senate declined to comment.

Although Hedlund said the bill was amended to address the concerns of faculty members and administrators, many feel that the amendments are not enough. Dan Acland, an assistant adjunct professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, signed the petition and said that the amendments do not change his mind about the bill.

“They talk about ‘oversubscribed’ courses,” Acland said. “An oversubscribed course is a course in which there are not enough spots available. But there are not enough spots available because there’s not enough funding. And there’s not enough funding because the Legislature has not provided enough funds.”

According to Hedlund, Steinberg presented additional amendments at a Wednesday hearing of the education committee. Currently, the bill requires private firms like edX, Coursera and Udacity to provide the online courses. Steinberg’s proposed amendment would allow California’s public colleges to design and implement their own online courses.

ASUC External Affairs Vice President Sharyar Abbasi said he does not think there is a one-size-fits-all approach and that online courses need to be implemented to supplement, not supplant, the classroom.

“I think it’s an important and innovative step in higher education, and I think it’s important to consider how these courses are implemented,” he said.

Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected].