Thursday, September 24, 1998
"Dr. Smith''s overall strategy for building a strong university is to establish that it is first and foremost the questions that drive an educational institution''s quality of evolution, not necessarily traditional answers."
--from the CSUMB Website bio of university president Peter Smith.
From its very inception, CSUMB broke with traditional educational goals and guidelines by conceptualizing a university predicated on the belief that multiculturalism and high technology are the twin engines transforming society as a whole. Employing a curriculum that combines traditional and innovative educational modes of teaching with a heightened sensitivity to the needs of ethnic minorities, CSUMB sought to become a model for the future of higher learning.
Beyond its educational mission, national, state and local politicians looked to CSUMB to serve as both a catalyst to revitalize the area''s economy, and as a magnet to attract high-tech, research-based companies to provide good paying jobs and a solid economic base for future growth.
In the three years since CSUMB first opened its campus to 654 students in the fall of 1995, there are as many questions as answers regarding how successfully the university has embarked on its mission, and whether it can fulfill its promise to meet the future needs of students and society at large.
This year, CSUMB will graduate its first four-year class. In anticipation of that occasion, it''s time to evaluate whether the rush to establish the university was fueled primarily by the gift of free land and facilities, whether the promise of federal funding, and the desire of elected officials to generate political capital by showcasing a model of base transfer, and whether that rush compromised the quality of education and services for students.
"We knew we had to begin with a short start-up time, and this is still viewed as a work-in-progress," says CSUMB President Peter Smith, who was recruited from a model community college in Vermont to lead the new university. "We''ve been consistent with that pioneering metaphor throughout the last three years."
Adds Smith: "No one has played ''hide the ball,'' and from day one we haven''t overpromised. Everyone tells me they would have liked more time to plan, but the way the transfer and appropriation came we got boxed into it. "
In an effort to understand and evaluate CSUMB''s performance in its first three years, Coast Weekly spoke with students, faculty and administration officials to get their assessment of how well the university has implemented some of its key educational tenets, and what needs to be done in order for CSUMB to live up to its promise and potential. What we found was an institution still dewy with idealism and making some strides toward making those goals a reality. Most members of the academic community gave the institution above-average marks for what it has achieved in four years, but they underscored where and how the school needs to improve.
Innovative learning goals sound good, but will they fly?
From the outset, CSUMB promised students a new type of educational experience, one that eschewed traditional curricula and classroom instruction in favor of more self-directed, community-oriented learning.
At the core of CSUMB''s educational model is what is characterized as "outcomes-based" learning, a system whereby students and faculty outline the specific goals and benchmarks of each course, tailored both to student desires as well as university and faculty standards.
"Outcomes-based education is not a grading system, but a way of organizing the curriculum and holding students accountable for certain learning expectations," explains Provost Dell Felder, who also serves as vice president for academic affairs.
"Outcomes are made public to students in advance so they know what they are expected to demonstrate, and faculty and students have to agree to the learning outcome."
CSUMB has a current staff and faculty of 311, offers 12 undergraduate and two graduate degree programs, and is in the process of obtaining accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
According to Felder, CSUMB is the only campus that is fully outcomes- based, and is serving as the model for what may be the future of education in the CSU system.
In addition to traditional forms of study and learning, students, whose average age is 28, must also complete a community-oriented service component, in which their particular field of study is tested and applied within the community at large. As part of the overall evaluation process, students are also graded by "portfolio assessment," which, depending on the course or program can include art work, videos, traditional test scores and reports, or any other means students feel best demonstrate mastery of their subject.
Administration officials and students readily concede that CSUMB''s educational model is not well suited to everyone, and that it requires a great deal of self-motivation on the part of students themselves.
"I would call the school innovative and progressive, as opposed to reading canonized literature, and it''s definitely moving toward the 21st century," says Sarah Lerma, a fourth-year graduate majoring in human communications who also serves as president of the student organization Student Voice.
"[CSUMB] is quick-paced and goes above and beyond what other schools try to teach, but you have to be an independent student," adds Lerma.
While the university has generally received high marks from within its campus community for outcomes-based learning and the school''s philosophical emphasis on service learning, students and faculty have expressed concern whether such an innovative approach will be recognized by other colleges and universities.
Some students who spoke off the record say they have encountered problems transferring CSUMB credits to other schools; and in university transcripts of recent meetings between faculty and administration officials obtained by Coast Weekly, concerns have also been expressed over CSUMB''s academic program.
Citing "conceptual flaws" in the credit compact, difficulties with policy formation and the establishment of common outcomes in all degree programs, some faculty members have questioned whether CSUMB needs to reevaluate its system of credit allocation, and whether to reduce the number of courses it currently offers.
Acknowledging that CSUMB''s conceptual framework for education is still in development, Smith nevertheless says these issues are being addressed by the university, and that students and their parents can be assured that CSUMB''s curriculum is accepted within the educational mainstream.
"No other CSU campus is as committed across the board to graduating students in terms of knowledge, skills and ability," says Smith, who announced that CSUMB just received a three-year, million-dollar matching grant for a teaching and learning assessment center director to help refine CSUMB''s grading system.
"All degree programs were state-approved on day one," says Smith, "and I have said before and believe that the risk to students is far less at a public institution. As part of the world''s largest higher education system, students and parents can take real confidence in our programs. It has been confusing to students in some cases, and a little tougher initially for younger students, but the faculty is getting better at describing, advising and putting together learning plans. It''s just a matter of continuing to develop and practice a capacity to do it well."
Students cite concerns, administrators say they''ll try to be more informative.
CSUMB has the dubious distinction of being a university located upon a federally listed Superfund site. As an active military installation for more than five decades, the former Fort Ord is littered with unknown amounts of spent munitions and unexploded ordnance (UXO), and may encounter unanticipated problems from the variety of toxic chemicals that were present on the base.
How well the Army completes its cleanup of the base, and the degree to which it assures campus residents that the university is a safe environment, will be critical to maintaining enrollment and attracting new students and staff to CSUMB.
As cleanup crews garbed in ominous-looking white uniforms continue the cleanup effort on and around campus, there is a feeling of disquiet among some students that they haven''t been adequately informed about the full extent of the cleanup and the potential health risks. Of particular concern to students is the large landfill within 200 feet of student housing, which is being used to dump the lead-filled sand being removed from the beach firing ranges on the west side of Highway 1.
"I saw a whole mountain range of big sand piles appearing and disappearing, yet everyone remained silent," says a student who lives in the Fredericks Park housing complex near the landfill and who asked not to be named. "Sand was blowing on my doorstep and I didn''t find out what the landfill was about until I attended a Restoration Advisory Board meeting two years later."
"We''re worried because we hear the word ''toxic,''" says student Kendia Herrington, the environmental and campus planning senator for Student Voice, "and no one really knows [if there is a problem]."
Based on official air quality monitoring and Army environmental cleanup reports, student concerns about the landfill and encounters with UXO may be somewhat justified.
Air quality monitoring data released jointly by the local Fort Ord Toxics Project (FOTP) and California Public Interest Research Group show that on at least seven occasions between July and November 1997, lead dust concentrations near the landfill were in excess of guidance levels set by Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District. Additionally, an Army environmental engineering cost analysis report provided by the FOTP indicates the potential for 450 "exposures" per year to UXO on the CSUMB "footprint."
According to Flo Miller, the interim clinic administrator with the Campus Health Center, some students have in fact requested to be tested for lead exposure. Although Miller would not release the results of those tests, citing patient confidentiality, she did say there has been no evidence of health problems related to lead exposure.
There is no agreement between the administration and students whether people were fully informed, if informed at all, about the environmental issues at CSUMB when the campus opened in 1995.
State law requires written notification to prospective tenants if they move into an area known to contain UXO, and while a number of students say they were fully aware, others say they had little or no knowledge at all that Fort Ord was a Superfund site. Many of these students wonder whether CSUMB downplayed the issue in order not to jeopardize its start up.
"I don''t know if the administration downplayed the issue, but in my freshman year I didn''t receive any information on water quality, the landfill or the Superfund site," says Lerma. "That didn''t come up until early my junior year in the spring of ''97. Up until then, there was no formal notification that I heard."
"I was not very aware," adds Herrington. "I went to orientation and received all the appropriate student documentation and I don''t recall any written material or documents on toxic waste. Nothing was said about Fort Ord being a Superfund site."
Students have also raised concerns over the quality and safety of on-campus drinking water, which is charitably described as "drinkable" by those who choose to drink the odiferous, off-tasting liquid.
Whatever CSUMB''s initial response to students'' environmental concerns, the administration has acknowledged the need to keep students better informed, and has stepped forward to provide on-campus meetings and workshops on environmental issues. While concerns seem to have diminished, some students remain skeptical whether anyone fully grasps the extent of the problem.
In response to the ongoing environmental questions at CSUMB, Vice President for Administration and former Fort Ord Garrison Commander Hank Hendrickson says there is little cause for worry, that the water is tested monthly and safe to drink, and that students, faculty and staff have been kept informed on environmental issues since day one.
"There is no risk for UXO on campus property, and there is no UXO threat as long as students stay on campus," says Hendrickson, who lives on campus. "There is no UXO north of campus but if you get out into the area controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the impact areas, there is a risk if someone got in there."
Projections off, anticipated dollars fall short.
Two key documents on the planning, establishment and implementation of CSUMB''s programs and policies provide the best understanding and insight into where CSUMB stands now, and where it may be headed in the future.
"A Vision in Progress," The Decision to Establish a Public University at Monterey Bay, prepared by the San Jose-based think tank California Higher Education Policy Center in June, 1997, took a critical look at the politics and rationale of the founding of CSUMB, while CSUMB''s Master Plan, and Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) provide a blueprint outlining campus planning and future goals of the university through the year 2030.
The Policy Center''s evaluation of the process by which CSUMB was planned and established suggested that university officials and politicians focused too heavily on the availability of free land and buildings (valued at $1 billion), the promises of federal funding (currently $57 million), and the political capital of providing a nationwide model for military base conversion-- at the expense of honestly evaluating the future educational needs of the Monterey-Bay region and the state.
The report noted--and CSUMB officials, including Hendrickson and Smith, now admit-- that faculty hiring, curriculum planning and establishment, and student admissions were abbreviated to get the campus open by 1995.
CSU officials anticipated future enrollment demand to increase statewide by more than 100,000 students between 1995 and 2005. With a current student enrollment of approximately 330,000 students, officials felt CSUMB, particularly with its emphasis on "distance learning," could help meet that growing demand.
Preliminary enrollment projection for CSUMB in 1992 were 2,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students in 1995; 5,000 by the year 2000; and 1,000 more students per year to a total of 20,000 by 2015.
But from its inception, CSUMB was somewhat of a financial gamble for the CSU system statewide, and remains so to this day. According to a study conducted by the Legislative Analysts Office in 1994-''95, CSU needed $21 million in ''95-''96 to serve 1,000 (FTE) students at the CSUMB campus. The Analyst goes on to say that the same amount of funding could have been used to support 4,500 students on existing campuses where support and services were already in place. For 1998-''99, the report estimates that funding for 4,000 (FTE) at CSUMB would support 10,000 students elsewhere.
At the time of its public release last year, CSUMB''s Master Plan represented a $100 million proposal that envisioned overall development and construction on its 1,300-acre campus of approximately 2 million gross square feet of space for educational uses, 3.8 million square feet for residential use, and 237,000 square feet of commercial development to accommodate the 25,000 "full-time equivalent" students expected to attend the campus by 2030.
The plan itself was approved by CSU trustees in May and will be filed some time in November for state approval in Sacramento.
To date, CSUMB has converted over 553,000 square-feet of buildings for educational use, and boasts current enrollment of approximately 1,900 students.
Estimated potable water use based on CSUMB water use rates by 2030 was 1,191 acre-feet annually. That figure is lower than the estimate made by the Fort Ord Reuse Agency (FORA) charged with overseeing land use at Fort Ord. FORA''s projection of 1,510 acre-feet-per-year is based on anticipated water savings from conservation and the use of reclaimed water. FORA''s overall reuse plan currently allocates 1,160 acre-feet to CSUMB, and CSUMB has indicated it plans to retain its rights to the full.
Given the current projected limits on available water, the uncertainty over future school enrollment and concerns about the ability of the school to secure future federal funding and compete with other state colleges for state funding, administration officials now concede that CSUMB''s original Master Plan will likely be scaled back.
Water supply figures alone suggest that CSUMB can only support somewhere between 8,000 and 13,000 students on campus--a far cry from the original 25,000 FTE figure originally identified in the plan. Based on current enrollment projections, Hendrickson says 6,800 students are expected to attend CSUMB by 2005, of which 5,200 will be FTE, and the rest "distance learning" students who will commute. By 2008, Hendrickson anticipates a total of 8,900 students, and by 2015, a total of 12,500--exactly half the 25,000 FTE figure.
Hendrickson had no forecast for the number of students by the year 2030 and conceded given the existing limits on water, that, "We''re not sure we''ll ever go beyond 12,500 until new water resources are introduced." Of the 12,500, Hendrickson did not know what percentage would be full-time on-campus students.
Hendrickson admits the original estimate of $100 million for campus construction is now closer to $190 million. He acknowledges CSUMB''s ability to meets its future goals will depend greatly on continued funding for a myriad of projects, including retrofitting of old Fort Ord buildings to meet seismic and accessibility requirements. The CSUMB Foundation is expected to help generate 30 percent of CSUMB''s funding needs for capital projects.
"We just got $7.5 million, but there is no guarantee there will be more," says Hendrickson of the most recent federal grant. "We have requested more, but we know it''s a gift that can dry up. We are prepared for that."
To date, CSUMB has received no money from the state for construction, just for operational costs. CSUMB began with $1 million from the state its first year an amount that rose to an astounding $43 million for operational costs for this year. So far, the federal government has kicked in $56.5 million--including the $7.5 million this year.
For students who have been attending CSUMB since 1995, there remains a sense that the university ignored student needs in the frenzy to secure the gift of funding, land and facilities, and that now is the time for the school to give something more to students.
"Over the years when I first got here, I thought they were just making buildings for themselves and that it was all political," says Herrington. "Now I''m hoping there is going to be more for students and what they want."
"I think the things we''ve fallen short on, and what we''re organizing to correct, is we kind of left things for student physical activities on the back burner," admits Hendrickson. "We need a swimming pool and playing fields, and we didn''t take those on because we felt we didn''t have the student load to justify that. But we''ve found out since that whether you have 600 or 2,000 students you need those facilities. The esthetics have been overlooked and we need to come to grips with that and make [CSUMB] look like a first-class, quality campus."
In documents and reports obtained by Coast Weekly from recent administrative meetings, as well as university-conducted student and staff surveys, concerns remain that the speed with which CSUMB was founded has compromised the university''s ability to deliver on its promises.
A recent report by the University''s Continuity, Infrastructure and Renewal Workgroup cites "...insufficient staff and organizational resources to facilitate and coordinate planning throughout the university, a limited amount of professional training or experience in coordinating university planning initiatives, and a lack of initial administrative support."
Faculty in particular complain of being tired and overworked, and critical of top administration officials'' ability to meet student and faculty expectations.
"People are feeling overworked and tired, but at the same time I find that the vast majority of faculty wouldn''t want to work any place else," responds Smith. "It''s a hard place to live and very intense, but a vast majority are excited and find the work fulfilling. None of us believe we can continue to work at the same pace, but it was understood coming in it would take this kind of effort with students."
As far as Smith as concerned, CSUMB will ultimately justify its founding and have significant future role to play both regionally and within the state-wide CSU system.
"We do have an explicit state-wide mission and were given two charges by the board of trustees-- one to be the CSU for the tri-county area, and the second to be a technologically infused, high-quality distance learning center."
A for Effort
B- for Results
At the core of CSUMB''s philosophy and educational vision is a commitment to multiculturalism-- a belief that students must be prepared to engage a world that is being rapidly transformed by a variety of competing cultural interests and aspirations.
CSUMB''s "Vision Statement" contends that, "The campus will be distinctive in serving...the working-class and historically under-educated and low-income populations. The identity of the university will be framed by substantive commitment to a multilingual, multicultural intellectual community..."
Like any institution that seeks to chart its own course, CSUMB''s experiment in multiculturalism has earned mixed grades from students and faculty. For as many that give CSUMB high marks for tackling the issue of multiculturalism, there are those who either question the ability of CSUMB to deliver on its promises, or who feel ignored and left behind. For staff in particular, there is concern over the university''s ability to recruit additional faculty and staff to reflect the goals of diversity.
"The philosophy behind it [multiculturalism] is excellent, but at CSU they cater to the Hispanic community only," says one student who asked to speak anonymously. "It seems that the Hispanic community built a large power base to the exclusion of other minorities and Caucasians, even though there is a large African American population in Seaside and Asian population in Marina. Blacks feel there is nothing for them there, and others feel there is no one to come to bat for you if you''re in the mainstream."
Figures provided by CSUMB show that the college is still primarily white, taking into account faculty, staff and students. Particularly low is the percentage of African American faculty and staff. In fact, African American students are lower in proportional representation than the percentage of Native Americans attending the school.
According to figures released by CSUMB, the school''s current student population is 44.5 percent Caucasian, 25 percent Latino/Hispanic, 6.6 percent Asian, 4.5 percent African American, and just under 3 percent Native American. The remaining students surveyed listed "other" or "no response" for their ethnic breakdown.
Among faculty, 47 percent are Caucasian, 31.5 percent Hispanic, 10.5 percent Asian, 5.3 percent Native American and 3.7 percent African American. Among staff, 45 percent are Caucasian, 21 percent Hispanic, 17 percent Asian, 12.5 percent African American, and 4.5 percent Native American.
"We don''t practice multiculturalism and our statements that we do so may be a facade," is how one faculty member characterized the issue in recent staff meetings. "There appears to be no real effort on campus within the organizational structures to understand other cultures. It''s not happening in the classroom and it''s not being lived out in the faculty."
For Amalia Mesa-Bains, who serves as director of Visual And Public Arts, multiculturalism is a proper philosophical goal for CSUMB. The debate that is currently raging on campus, says Mesa-Bains, is a healthy acknowledgment of both the problems and promise of a multicultural approach to education.
"Sometimes things get uncomfortable when you open new ways of thinking about relations to others," says Mesa-Bains, who admits to an emphasis on Latino culture in many departments.
"We''ve managed to begin a dialogue, but we''ve got a long way to go," adds Mesa-Bains. "CSUMB is taking on and needs to recruit more black students. We''re always striking a balance so other students feel their backgrounds are acknowledged, but there has to be an understanding that Latinos are becoming the major power in terms of demographics and cultural productivity."
"We don''t have any quick fixes or magic powder, but we''re committed to work on the toughest problem in this country today-- finding commonalty amongst people of different ethnic backgrounds," adds Smith, who remains a staunch supporter of multiculturalism, "You''ll find the vast majority of students of all ethnic backgrounds working together and educating each other.
There have been negatives, but the support we''ve gotten from the communities around us who have such a rich, extraordinary ethnic diversity has been helpful."
As a campus set from the beginning on becoming a university of the next millenium, CSUMB set itself up for grand expectations for growth and the quality of the educational experience
Like any experiment that has yet to be fully tested, CSUMB has received plenty of sharp criticism and concern, yet there is agreement that CSUMB officials seem genuine in their desire to provide an education that legitimately addresses the needs and desires of students entering the world of the 21st century.
"What makes me proud of this place is we don''t walk away from an issue nor declare victory," says Smith.