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EMU officials defend contract to boost online degrees, say professors’ concerns unwarranted

On EMU's campus.

There is growing concern on the campus of Eastern Michigan University (EMU) about the school's future.

Tomorrow, EMU's two faculty unions are planning a protest over the university's decision to sign a contract with a for-profit company called Academic Partnerships (AP). The goal of the arrangement, administrators say, is to better market EMU's online degree programs and recruit more students.

But many professors are concerned this arrangement could damage EMU's reputation.

“It dilutes the quality of courses, because students do not have that kind of direct contact with professors that has become the hallmark of an EMU education," said Judith Kullberg, a political science professor and head of one of EMU's faculty unions. She joined Stateside a few weeks ago.

Today on Stateside, we spoke with Kevin Kucera, EMU's point person in negotiating the deal with AP. He's vice president and chief enrollment officer for EMU.

We also spoke with Ron Flowers, a professor and department head of Leadership and Counseling in EMU’s College of Education.

Listen to the full conversation above, or read highlights below.

On why Kucera believes the agreement with Academic Partnerships is good for Eastern Michigan

KUCERA: “On a national basis, distance learning and pursuing full degrees online is becoming really popular. When you take a look, you’ve got 2.5 million adults who are pursuing degrees totally online, which is approximately 19% of all degrees that are conferred in this country today are done online.

"And Eastern Michigan has wonderful courses online, but we haven’t fully developed the marketing of those courses. And so our goal really was to draw students who never would have considered Eastern Michigan and put them into wonderful programs like Ron Flowers has in a Master's in ed leadership, so it’d be a win-win situation.

"So the student would get the advantage of a quality Eastern Michigan degree. The student really wants the flexibility that distance learning provides, and so that’s what kind of brought the whole marriage together.”

Kucera's response to the faculty’s concern about the use of coaches, or outside instructors, from a third-party company contracted by AP:

KUCERA: “The only people that will be teaching our students are our instructors. There are no coaches that are being utilized now, there are no coaches that will be utilized in the future. We’ve hired a firm to do marketing.

"Our faculty – and you can see it in the second page of the contract – our faculty retain control of who’s teaching in the classroom.

"I understand people having concerns that, ‘Oh,  in the future, you know, could you do this?’ No. We have a collective bargaining agreement with our faculty that we’re going to adhere to.

"The thing that excites me most about the concept of working with Academic Partnerships – they’re bringing us students to our instructors. We have capacity to take these students.

"That’s the niche that will separate us, perhaps, from some of the other online degree providers who may use the coaching model, and if that’s what they want to use, that’s fine. But we’re sticking with our instructors to do the classroom instruction.”

Listen to the full conversation above.

Hear our conversation with Judith Kullberg, a political science professor and head of one of EMU's faculty unions, by clicking here.

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Stateside is produced daily by a dedicated group of producers and production assistants. Listen daily, on-air, at 3 and 8 p.m., or subscribe to the daily podcast wherever you like to listen.
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