UCR Academic Senate strikes down proposal to convert the business administration major from a two-year upper division major to a four-year major

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On Feb. 23, UCR’s Academic Senate struck down a proposal to convert the business administration major from a two-year upper division major to a four-year major. UCR’s School of Business drafted a proposal to convert the business administration major at UCR to a four-year major by allowing applicants to UCR to apply directly to the business administration major. The pre-business administration major at UCR is currently housed under the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) and serves as the primary entry to the business administration major in the School of Business. This proposal would have allowed students to apply for direct admission into the business major as freshmen, instead of applying first to CHASS.

The official proposal states that since 2009, the School of Business has conferred the undergraduate degrees in business administration. The proposal aimed to complete the process started in 2009 by bringing the entire business administration major under the School of Business. In converting the business administration major to a four-year degree, in which students begin their college experience as School of Business students, the School of Business claimed that they would improve the student experience in key areas including recruitment and admission, academic advising, studentship and career preparation. The proposal states that by converting the business administration major from a two-year major to a four-year major under the School of Business, the program would be able to grow in numbers and in reputation.

In an interview with The Highlander, Subramanian Balachander, the academic chair of the School of Business and a professor of marketing discipline, stated that he felt the School of Business presented a compelling case for the proposal. “The four-year major would have provided for superior advising and co-curricular experiences to undergraduate business students from day one of the freshman year. It would have also made our program more in line with the majority of competing programs who provide such a superior experience to students,” stated Balachander. He claimed that in particular, the School of Business benchmarking studies revealed that 73 out of 87 competing undergraduate programs offered a four-year business administration major. UC Irvine is one of the 73 schools in their benchmark study.

The School of Business’ proposal presented survey data that illustrated that a substantial majority of UCR undergraduate business students agreed that a four-year major would enhance their undergraduate experience. According to Balachander, the School of Business has made significant changes to the curriculum in recent years, including offering new electives. Another opportunity the School of Business has recently offered is allowing students in their sophomore year to take a core business course in order to ready them for internships early in their studies.

“The improvement in the advising and co-curricular experience was the one remaining piece that would have made this a truly great program all around,” stated Balachander. While students would be directly admitted to the four-year business major under this proposal and would be advised by the School of Business from day one of their freshman year, students who were unsure about their plans to study business as a major could still choose to follow the traditional route by choosing to be admitted to CHASS to explore other options before deciding to transfer to the School of Business in their junior year.

If the proposal were implemented, it would have retained the transfer route to the business major from junior colleges and other four-year universities. Balanchander stated that in his opinion, as an administrative matter, the conversion to a four-year major was going to be implemented in a way that would not adversely affect the budget of CHASS, to which UCR business majors are currently admitted as pre-business students. “Unfortunately, despite the compelling case offered by the proposal, many of my esteemed colleagues (mainly from CHASS), spoke against the proposal, even though some acknowledged the benefits to students from this conversion,” stated Balachander.

In their latest rounds of the Academic Senate review of the School of Business’ proposal, the Committee on Educational Policy was concerned with the School of Business’ proposal to encourage students to participate in study abroad programs and internships. The Committee on Educational Policy claimed that this could present a challenge for students that concurrently hold a paying job with the additional recommendation to hold an internship. The committee recommended that unpaid internships have a similar workload to the course(s) they will receive credit for, to ensure that they are not providing work for no compensation.

In response, the School of Business maintained that an internship is not a requirement for graduation but would be strongly encouraged. The School of Business would also work to ensure that unpaid internships arranged through the school’s career center have a workload similar to a course that they will receive credit for and will not impose undue demands on out-of-pocket expenses for students.

The CHASS Executive Committee expressed that at a time when UCR is awaiting a new provost and executive vice chancellor (EVC) to assume office and when challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic result in financial, pedagogical and administrative uncertainties, “a decision about such an important program should be postponed.” The School of Business indicated that it is important to approve the proposal now and have the program ready to launch as the pandemic recedes. They claimed that post-pandemic, “Students are likely to benefit from having graduated from a strong program,” such as the proposed four-year major.

The CHASS Executive Committee also questioned whether the School of Business could hire the necessary instructors and academic advisors needed for this increased student population. The School of Business stressed that there is only a need for three additional staff members in advising, as the business content in the curriculum is not affected by this transfer. They wrote, “Thus, the resource demands placed by this transfer are not beyond the means of the School of Business, considering that this change will lead to a superior undergraduate experience, stronger job placement, and a more competitive program.”

Additionally, the CHASS Executive Committee remarked that “that there is no substantive value added in the academic curriculum of the pre-business students as the current academic structure of courses will remain in place, with most of the courses taken in CHASS.” The School of Business, however, asserted that the proposal to move to a four-year major is prompted by student interest and feedback, and competitive offerings which show that only 14 out of 87 similar or higher-ranked programs that offer an undergraduate business 321 program offer a two-year major. The School of Business wrote that “this move is designed to offer a superior undergraduate experience with the business major, as improvements in the academic curriculum have already been instituted to a significant extent in the past several years through addition of more electives, and by providing the option of taking one or more core business courses in the first two years.”

The CHASS Executive Committee encapsulated their argument against the proposal stating that they believe that this proposal should be carefully deliberated by CHASS and the School of Business with the incoming EVC and relevant senate committees. They also stated that CHASS and the School of Business should collaborate with the Office of the Vice Provost and the dean for undergraduate education to add value to the existing structure where the pre-business program remains a CHASS program.

With respect to these concerns, the School of Business stated that there is already a wealth of benchmarking, survey and other data, as well as input from outside consultants, that have supported the recommendation for converting the undergraduate business major to a four-year major. In addition, the School of Business maintained that a special review committee appointed by the Committee on Committees vetted their proposal which included both CHASS and School of Business representatives. The School of Business argued that “the proposal has been vetted through the approval process by various university committees that are external to the business school. Thus, we would like to respectfully submit that additional deliberation of this issue at this stage is not warranted and that the proposal be presented at the upcoming Winter 2021 divisional meeting.”

To the disappointment of the School of Business, the Academic Senate ultimately struck down the proposal to convert the business administration major from a two-year upper division major to a four-year major. Balachander told The Highlander that by striking down the proposal, “The recommendation of these esteemed colleagues appears to disregard the wealth of benchmarking and survey data collected by the proposal in favor of maintaining the current process while inexplicably expecting different results.”

Despite the fact that the proposal failed, Balachander maintained that the business administration major is still a strong program with a solid curriculum. He stated that the improved advising and other co-curricular piece that would have come with a four-year major was intended to make the experience even better, filling a gap where many competing schools have moved ahead with their adoption of a four-year major. “Going forward, we will evaluate our options on how to strengthen these aspects of the program under the constraints that we have been put under as a result of this recent vote,” stated Balachander.

While they are still in the early stages of exploring their next steps, improving the experience and success of their undergraduate business majors will always be their priority, explained Balachander. He encouraged students who feel strongly about the four-year major to let their voices be heard by petitioning the Academic Senate and asking to speak to the senate and its committees. He stated, “History has shown that it is the students and the younger generation who have been instrumental in bringing about meaningful change, which is often resisted by established players and institutions.”

In an interview with The Highlander, the School of Business Dean Yunzeng Wang stated that the School of Business faculty, staff and many students are very disappointed by this outcome. He emphasized that faculty and staff have worked tirelessly, drawing upon internal and external expertise and resources, to design and plan for the proposed four-year major that they believe will deliver a much improved educational and professional experience that business students and their parents are demanding.

He concluded, “We struggle to understand why the benefits to our students, in terms of academic success and career outcomes, are not recognized and supported by some of our colleagues. Disappointed, but not discouraged, we will continue and redouble our efforts to help business students, including those in their transitional pre-business stage. Our students will always be the priority in choosing where to put our resources and efforts.”