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‘Sensitive issues’ discussed by Faculty Senate

Conversation at the Faculty Senate Executive Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon centered around two pressing issues at universities: excess credit hours and trigger warnings.

According to a report from USF St. Petersburg, 66 percent of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree are doing so without excess credit hours. Meanwhile, increasing numbers of colleges are requiring professors to include trigger warnings — advance warning of certain subjects covered in the course — including, potentially, USF.

Excess credit hours start when a student takes more than 110 percent of credit hours required to earn their degree. After passing that point, current state law has students paying twice in tuition per credit hour. 

Some credits don’t count for this rule and special allowance is made for students double majoring, as long as they finish both degrees around the same time.

Additionally, the number of students graduating with excess credit hours is one of the factors looked at when the state evaluates Performance Based Funding for a university.

Discussion during the meeting included limiting students in major options based on credits with which they’re transferring in, further monitoring student progress and educating students about the effects of taking more than 110 percent of classes needed to graduate. 

However, the committee didn’t come to a resolution on what to do.

“While I do honestly believe that the legislature had the best intentions of providing affordable … education, it’s put students and universities in a very, very difficult position,” Provost Ralph Wilcox said at the meeting.

Wilcox also encouraged the committee, and the Faculty Senate at large, to start a dialogue about sensitive issues, such as trigger warnings, that he feels the faculty is hesitant to discuss, both with other faculty members and with students.

“As we look across the nation today, increasingly public and private universities are becoming ground zero for some of the most difficult conversations,” Wilcox said. 

“Increasingly what we hear on campus and across the country is questions raised about the whole notion of free speech, civil discourse, micro-aggressions, call for trigger warnings and this is something of a new climate.”

His main question for the committee was what role faculty should have in these conversations. That he left open to the committee but the one course of action he discouraged was remaining silent. He said the Senate needs to find a position and stick to a position.

The committee discussed specific faculty members’ concerns about bringing up certain topics in class and the idea of encouraging open communication around campus between people with differing opinions. 

A decision was made to brainstorm ways to openly discuss the topic.

“College is an important time of discovery,” Wilcox said. “Intellectual and self discovery as it was for many of us. We are effectively eliminating that opportunity for discovery.”