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Alamo Colleges Barely Passed Its Own Accountability Test

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After months of passionate protest, petitions and public forums, faculty, students and administration of the five Alamo Community Colleges let out a sigh of relief early last week when Chancellor Bruce Leslie rescinded his proposal to require all students enroll in EDUC 1300, largely based on Stephen Covey’s self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and seen by opponents as devoid of college-level critical thinking. The faculty-led furor elicited a formal accreditation review, attention from national higher education publications and an internal investigation from a campus legal association. While the faculty opponents eventually won this battle, their concerns over Leslie’s leadership and transparency remain.

Touted by Leslie as a way to better prepare students for the business world, the leadership skills-focused EDUC 1300 was to be included as a core course, to replace humanities subjects for the students enrolled in Palo Alto, St. Philips, Northeast Lakeview, San Antonio College and Northwest Vista.

If the change had gone through, students would be required to swap three of their required six hours of humanities courses in subject areas like logic, ethics, world civilization, Mexican-American studies, philosophy and peace and conflict with the 7 Habits-based course.

The EDUC 1300 Learning Frameworks course is described as an “introduction to psychological theories of learning, cognition and motivation” and is sold as a way to promote student success and “principle-centered leadership.” Leslie explains in a February 5 letter to the faculty that the course is a response to “employer demands for greater employee leadership skills.” He recounts a 2012 meeting with local business leaders, called jointly by Mayor Julián Castro and the Alamo Colleges, to incorporate employer demands and leadership skills in education. He says the employer community “overwhelmingly” endorsed the 7 Habits framework.

District 9 Alamo Colleges board of trustees member James Rindfuss, a supporter of EDUC 1300, verifies this perspective.

“The course was developed because of a high demand from businesses and employers [for instruction] that will allow more students to become employable,” says Rindfuss. (Full disclosure: His son, Bryan, serves as the Current’s associate editor).

“We are under a lot of pressure to produce well-qualified students and get a better success rate,” he says. “So we have to change the model somehow to provide the results that businesses and employers want.”

While some faculty members openly criticized the material as lacking the rigor one would expect in higher education, others say the substance of the course isn’t all bad, but why it should have replaced a humanities courses is beyond them.

“It’s not that it’s going to be necessarily harmful material, but it’s not going to be challenging or engaging to students on a college level,” says Northwest Vista humanities professor Neil Lewis, who considers EDUC 1300 as an offering of a “corporate” and “less diverse” outlook on life.

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