Epistemology on Display: A Fictional Example

The CSU Chancellor’s Office was encouraging all 23 campuses to “disenroll” students who did not demonstrate solid basic skills in math and English writing by the end of their first year. So, CSUMB formed a faculty and student committee to consider this issue: Should CSUMB disenroll the students, or should we allow them to stay and continue to help them? Which course of action would best serve students?  

The following is how different members of the committee processed the issue. Which Epistemologies do each of these arguments best represent?


1. If we disenroll the students and encourage them to go to the community colleges to develop their basic skills, they will get much better assistance. Then, in a year or so, the students can return to CSUMB with a much better chance for success and graduation. The community colleges have more resources and better services in this area. CSUMB is a university that just is not equipped or financed to provide basic skills development. ____________________

2. The Vision Statement says that CSUMB is particularly committed to helping educationally underserved students from across California. By definition, these students we are talking about are educationally underserved. So, our stated Vision requires us to allow these students to stay and to continue to serve them. Kicking them out because they are educationally unprepared would contradict what we say we stand for.  ____________________

3. I have reviewed all the existing research on this topic, covering 17 universities around the country that have faced this same issue. Ten (10) universities chose to disenroll the students, and 7 allowed the students to stay and continue working on their basic skills. Where the students were disenrolled, 38% of them eventually returned and graduated from the university. Where students were allowed to remain in the university, 26% of those students went on to graduate. So, it’s fairly clear that disenrolling students would be the best policy for CSUMB to follow.  ____________________

4. I can’t really put it in words or fully explain it, but I just have this deep feeling that telling some of our students that they will have to leave would be really wrong. Particularly the ones who feel like they are part of our community and whom we know are working hard to improve their skills. Like I said, this is a gut feeling, but its message to me seems so clear. ____________________

5. Look, most of us have experience at only one or two campuses. The Chancellor, on the other hand, has been responsible for many, many campuses over two decades in a number of different states. So, if the Chancellor thinks that disenrolling students would be the best policy, then I think we should rely on his extensive knowledge and experience. He was selected to lead the largest university in the nation for a reason.  ____________________

6. In my seven years here at the university, I have worked with many students who need further work in their basic skills. The very students that we are talking about today.  And, I can tell you that they think that their skill levels in reading, writing, and math are just fine. So, they resist every suggestion that they engage in further development work. Therefore, I strongly believe that sending these students back to the community colleges is the only way that they will get the message that they are not ready for university-level academic work. ____________________

7. At my tribal council meeting the other evening, I asked our tribal elders to consider our dilemma. After deliberating on the issue, they reminded me that the occupants of this land have a tradition over thousands of years of nurturing and protecting members of the community. They advised that kicking out some members because they need help would seriously violate the spiritual traditions of this space. Of course, they did note that more recent occupants of this land had different ways that might well approve of disenrollment. ____________________

8.You know, when I was in college, I was a student who had a lot trouble with math, but I was able to work my way through it and to successfully graduate. So, I try to imagine how I would have felt if my university had told me to go back to a community college. I think I would have felt devastated, like a real loser. And that’s what I think our students would feel like. It’s a feeling that would probably crush them, not motivate them.

9. I frequently consult with my psychic when I have these difficult issues to deal with, and I had a session with her last night. She suggested that the Ouija Board or talking board could be helpful, so I posed our question to the board. The Ouija Board responded by spelling out something that was a lot like “Tough Love”. I take this message to mean the we should disenroll the students because it would be the best way to show them that we care. ____________________

10. Frankly, I’m having trouble making sense of what any of you is saying. I think it’s all just different ways of guessing. How in the world can we know how an individual student will react to a disenrollment letter or to being allowed to stay? Anger, relief, challenge, depression, fear, inspiration…these are just some of a million possible reactions. Every single student will decide how she or he is going to make sense of whatever we decide, so let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we know what will be best for the students. If that’s really our goal, we ought to just let each student decide for themselves if they want to go or stay.  ____________________