LTTE: Mandatory First-Year Seminar strengthens the faculty-student connection


Mandatory First-Year Seminar strengthens the faculty-student connection

Next Monday, the Wichita State faculty will vote on whether to make First-Year Seminars required for all entering first-time college students. I hope my colleagues vote yes, since FYS is a way to keep teaching faculty at the core of the experience of being a Shocker.

I support making FYS permanent, both from my personal experience teaching them in the WSU pilot program since its inception in 2016, and also from teaching a similar course for four years at my previous institution. I also support it because the program will be under the control of my faculty colleagues on the General Education Committee.

Of the nearly 100 courses I have taught in my career, the most memorable was First-Year Seminar:  Election 2016.  I was lucky to experience that semester with a great group of students.

Our class included the current editor of The Sunflower (Matt Kelly), the next editor of The Sunflower (Kylie Cameron), a staffer for the Laura Kelly campaign for governor (Jaiden Soupene), the former president of the WSU College Republicans (Brayden Hosman), and a co-author of an article on environmental history for the Democratic Socialists of America (Hannah Tabler).

And that is just from the people sitting on the left side of our classroom in Devlin Hall the day after the election of President Trump. I will always remember how we all came together on that Wednesday morning, pulled up’s election maps, and started the work of understanding what had just happened.

The group I had for FYS: Election 2018 included less political junkies, and more future engineers — I think it had something to do with students taking Calculus II the period after our class.

This course also created opportunities for me to connect students to their personal path to employment and self-discovery. I was able to have the new dean of Engineering speak to the class, and to have a visit from Engineering Student Success staff.

My colleagues in Business, Music, Education, Engineering, and Spanish all have different stories about their FYS experience. But the common thread is that we were able to teach about what we knew, and thus create a space where ideas mattered.

At the last two meetings of the Faculty Senate, some of my colleagues have expressed concern about whether requiring FYS of all entering first-time students would threaten the academic freedom of faculty. I am glad they raised those concerns. Any large shift in curriculum deserves scrutiny.

But my perspective on FYS is that it is the embodiment of academic freedom. I, as a faculty member, have complete discretion on what topics to discuss — as long as that discussion supports the personal growth of my students. Even more importantly, teaching FYS is voluntary for faculty.

A limited quality control function is exercised by my colleagues who have been elected to the General Education Committee, which approves all FYS courses (and will continue doing so if the course becomes mandatory). If a faculty member wants to influence the development of FYS, they can do so through that committee, the Faculty Senate, or the Faculty Assembly.

Making FYS mandatory will begin a process of resource reallocation at WSU. The estimate from the Provost’s Office is that we will need to ramp up from 12-15 unique topics a year to around 45. That is a big commitment for a university, but I am confident that my colleagues will together create an excellent set of courses.

I support this move because it draws on the strength of teaching faculty. We have been trained, both in graduate school and on the job, to connect to our students through ideas and texts.  I hope my colleagues vote to make First-Year Seminar mandatory, so that we can do what we do best.

Neal Allen, chair of the WSU Political Science Department