Way back in 2008 I and several colleagues put together a proposal for a new history course called “The Digital Past” (.pdf) that was designed to do two things — give undergraduate students an introduction to the theory and practice of digital history and to teach them information technology skills within the context of a discipline (as opposed to just as a set of skills to be learned). This new course came out of our academic program review process in which we identified a need for us to start offering more undergraduate digital history courses to compliment the suite of graduate courses we offer in this field. After all, with the Center for History and New Media in our department, we ought to be offering more undergraduate digital history courses.
So far so good, right? As they say in Hollywood, that was then, this is now.
And as of now, there is still no sign of that course being available for our students. See the counter in the right hand sidebar for an exact count of the number of months, days, and soon to be years, since this course went to the George Mason general education committee for approval.
Why, you might ask, is this taking so long? I’m not a member of the general education committee, nor have I been invited to attend their meetings, but I do know that the process bogged down in the spring because the committee decided to rewrite the IT competency requirements that are part of our undergraduate general education curriculum. I even sat in on one meeting where we had a kind of free for all about those requirements. That was back in the spring and as far as I know, that process ran its course a while ago. My hopes rose in early August when the Dean’s office got an email from the general education committee saying that the proposal would be reviewed during the fall. With only 12 days left until the start of winter, I’m not so confident that they’ll make the “fall” deadline.
As I have written previously, the Soviet apparatchiks would have loved our general education system here at Mason (and lots of other places). Because the entire revenue model of the university is predicated on academic units placing butts in seats, any change to the general education requirements — including a new course that allows students to meet the IT requirement — means that some of those butts will shift to seats in a department other than the one(s) they might have been in before the change. And that means lost revenue for the effected departments. For this reason, any change in the general education requirements is fraught with political and budgetary consequences on our campus.
Note that I said “political and budgetary consequences” and did not say “educational consequences.” Therein lies the problem. So long as colleges and universities build their budgets based on butts in seats, educational considerations will almost always be trumped by budgetary considerations.
And so, The Digital Past recedes further and further from our memories…But the counter will remain here until the course is approved.