EXCO loses bid for course credit

By Amy Ledig

Wish you could take classes from friends and other community members—and get college credit for it?
For now, that option is off the table.

Students involved with Macalester’s Experimental College (EXCO) were banking on being able to offer credit for future course offerings, but the Educational Policy and Governance (EPAG) committee turned down the students’ proposal last week.

EXCO wanted students to be able to receive up to eight credits for EXCO classes taken over the course of their four years on campus. The grades would be pass/fail, and the credits would count toward general distribution requirements.

“We’re really interested in making this something that’s part of the Macalester education,” Miriam Larson ’08, one of the students who brought the proposal to EPAG, said.

EPAG rejected EXCO’s proposal, citing concerns of how to justify tuition rates of $31,000 if unqualified students would teach some courses.

Another area of concern for EPAG was the situation at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, where students can receive credit for EXCO courses. Most courses are offered for either one or two credits, with up to five EXCO credits counting toward graduation. EPAG found that the program at Oberlin no longer worked as well as it had initially because all students have to do is show up to receive credit.

“We got bad vibes from the campuses where this is already in place,” EPAG Co-Chair and History Professor Peter Weisensel said, referring to Oberlin in particular. “We don’t want to get burned the way they feel they did.”

“We’re not sinking anything,” Weisensel said, adding that EPAG would be willing to hear future ideas about EXCO programming that do not involve awarding credit.

“This hasn’t really fazed me… whenever there’s something new and different, there’s always resistance,” Claire Stoscheck ’07, another student who brought the proposal forward, said. She said that EXCO fills an important gap at Macalester and that EXCO will keep working with EPAG toward the ultimate goal of awarding credit for its courses.

“We invite EPAG to observe EXCO as it goes on this spring,” Stoscheck said.

“I can’t see how the mood of [EPAG] would change,” Weisensel said of the possibility of a future decision in favor of awarding credit for EXCO classes.

EPAG received letters from multiple faculty members who opposed EXCO courses for Macalester credit. These letters further convinced EPAG it had reached the right decision, Weisensel said.

Students in EXCO courses can receive independent study credit if they find a faculty sponsor.

EXCO’s work is far from over, though, involved students say. The EPAG proposal also included secondary goals of encouraging new teaching methods on campus and providing more programming during winter break in January, or J-term, when some students are on campus.

The new teaching methods EXCO proposed involve collaborative courses, defined in the proposal as “[courses] with half Mac-students and half community members from a specific community, group, or organization,” and teach-in courses for student activists.

EXCO organizers said they hope to use J-term to offer short classes, allowing students and professors to try out course ideas to possibly be offered in the future. Options include having seniors teach underclass people classes about their honors thesis topics.

“The idea is that J-term is this long break that could be used for interesting interactions,” Larson said.

“There’s a huge gap in J-term… There [are] many students, faculty and staff that want to take advantage of that time,” Stoscheck said. “There [are] so many cool possibilities for J-term.”

Credit or not, EXCO is gearing up for spring semester with possible course offerings that include “Poetry for the People,” a course on “Bike Feminism” and a “Bike Mechanic Practicum,” “Solidarity in the Americas,” “Longform Improvisational Theatre,” “History of Television” and “Theatre of the Oppressed.” The final list, which will probably include about 10 classes, will be released during registration time. EXCO registration will begin around Dec. 12 and continue through the end of J-term.

“I think the important thing for us is to build this into a strong community education program, and then we can see where we go from there,” Larson said.