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Faculty leaders blast Internet courses bill
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — University of California faculty leaders have endorsed a letter that opposes legislation to allow public college students to earn degree credits for online courses from outside education providers, officials said Tuesday.

The letter was overwhelmingly approved by the executive council of the UC Academic Senate and "raises grave concerns" about the bill introduced last week by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, said Robert Powell, chair of the Academic Senate.

"There is no possibility that UC faculty will shirk its responsibility to our students by ceding authority over courses to any outside agency," Powell and Vice Chair William Jacob wrote in the open letter. "The clear self-interest of for-profit corporations in promoting the privatization of public higher education through this legislation is dismaying."

Powell, a UC Davis chemical engineering professor, met on Tuesday with Steinberg to discuss the legislation. Details about the meeting were not immediately available.

Steinberg's bill would allow students who can't get into overcrowded classes on campus to take similar online courses from outside institutions, including private companies such as Coursera and Udacity.

Under the proposal, a panel of nine faculty members from the UC, California State University and California Community Colleges systems would have the authority to approve as many as 50 high-demand courses for which students could receive credit.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the first-of-its-kind legislation is aimed at relieving classroom bottlenecks that are making it more difficult to graduate.

Faculty leaders counter that course access is not an acute issue within the UC system, which has some of the highest graduation rates among public universities. In addition, UC already has more than 100 online courses and is developing many more, they said.

The UC Academic Senate is responsible for overseeing curriculum and course development and has no plans to give that up, Powell said.

"These students are expecting a certain level of rigor when they come to UC, and that's what we want to make sure they get," he said.

Steinberg's press secretary, Rhys Williams, said the legislation is written to give faculty control over the course-approval process and ensure high academic standards.

"Steinberg isn't trying to wrestle away power from the faculty — quite the opposite," Williams said. "We need to work on a solution because there are tens of thousands of students who aren't getting an education because there isn't enough room in our classrooms."