Colorado Department of Higher Ed joins probe into CCA after prof’s firing

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AURORA | The Colorado Department of Higher Education is joining a probe into the Community College of Aurora to confirm that recent curriculum changes at the college are in line with certain state standards, a department spokeswoman confirmed Monday.

The CDHE is asking the college to explain its process for determining how certain introductory courses that qualify for the Guaranteed Transfer Pathways program align with state standards, department spokeswoman Megan McDermott wrote in an email Oct. 31.

Applicable to several introductory courses in writing, math, the humanities and science, Guaranteed Transfer courses can be transferred to core credit requirements in most bachelor’s degree programs at every public institution in the state, according to the CDHE website.

“Our team members who work with the GT Pathways courses … are examining whether or not the changes being made by the Community College of Aurora impact the course standings as GT Pathways eligible,” McDermott wrote in her email.

The state’s higher education probe comes one week after the American Association of University Professors announced plans to send an investigating committee to CCA in December to learn more about the firing of former adjunct philosophy professor Nathanial Bork. The professor’s dismissal brought the issue to department’s attention, according to McDermott.

A professor at CCA for about six years, Bork was allegedly let go from his part-time position for failing to implement a “curriculum redesign” in an introductory philosophy class, according to the association of professors. They claim Bork was released after he sent a letter to the Higher Learning Commission — CCA’s accreditor — taking issue with the proposed curricular changes.

The curricular changes have been put into effect in six introductory humanities classes — two each in philosophy, history and English — with high enrollment and low performance, particularly among minority students, according to CCA officials. The changes, which exist under the moniker “gateway to success,” stem from House Bill 14-1319, which called for the state to alter its funding formula for state colleges and universities in an effort to bolster performance and transparency.

Bobby Pace, chair of social science at the college, said last week the Colorado Community College System awarded CCA a $48,000 innovation grant to implement the new curricula in the aforementioned six classes this school year.

Bork said, while the newly tweaked classes at CCA may still satisfy the state’s GT Pathways requirements, the curricular changes fly in the face of “the spirit of the law.”

Are these new courses within the letter of the law? Possibly, because they were intentionally designed to reduce quality and rigor to the most absolute minimum levels allowed by GT policy,” he said. “The aim was for the bare-minimum that they might be able to get away with, and it’s possible that CCA may have pulled it off.

“Are these new courses within the spirit of the law? Absolutely not. The spirit of Guaranteed Transfer courses is that a student taking a course at a community college should be getting the same level of quality in the classroom as their peers at University of Colorado-Boulder, or Colorado State University, or the Colorado School of Mines, such that they’ll be ready to pursue higher-level courses at those universities upon graduation or transfer. But these students are not being put in a position to compete with their peers at the four-year schools.”

CCA officials did not immediately return requests for comment on this story.