By Kayla Lasure
At Eastern the word CACTUS is much more than just a plant; it is a mindset.
CACTUS stands for Citizens’ Assembly for Critical Thinking about the United States. CACTUS is a class that has been offered at Eastern since 2008, but the course will be discontinued for the 2012-2013 year because of budget cuts.
CACTUS prompts students with current problems America is facing, and the students work together to talk about solutions. Sometimes speakers are brought in to give the students new insight on the problem.
Jane Rainey, a political science professor and co-chair of CACTUS, said CACTUS was usually lucky by finding speakers who wouldn’t charge money, which helped alleviate the problem of needing department funding.
Rainey said CACTUS never really had the amount of support from the university they had wished.
“For example, we had hoped to get English classes to write about our discussions, or speech classes to do speeches on our topics and come out to public hearings and speak, but that didn’t happen,” Rainey said. “I think since we aren’t out winning trophies at competitions, it’s not as important as working together to come up with solutions to problems.”
Rainey said since the budget cut the faculty for the course has less support and fewer resources. Reluctantly, Rainey and others made a difficult decision to discontinue the class.
Another reason for the cut was because the QEP (Quality Enhancement Program) grant allowed the department one course release time for preparation, but only in the spring semester, not the fall. This didn’t allow the department enough time to train the professors or line up speakers, Rainey said.
Rainey said CACTUS is something that could look good on a resume. She said since most employers look for employees who are problem-solvers and critical thinkers, CACTUS would help students build that skill.
Cody Buell, a graduate assistant to CACTUS, said he had the chance to witness three seasons of the class in action.
“The class functioned to fully articulate what it is like to work in a democratic manner, politely exchanging ideas to come to what could be considered a group consensus,” Buell said. “CACTUS was a class that was not a class at all, it was a facilitated learning atmosphere that allowed and encouraged the students to grow both individually and as a group.”
Rainey said students of the class would work together to draw up a proposal to the prompted problem and posted it on Eastern’s website.
“The post would say something along the lines of: This is what CACTUS decided, do you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about the idea?” Rainey said. “People then had the chance to email a ballot for the vote. The students then put together a final report and sent these reports to conventional officers, or even President Whitlock.”
Buell said he thought CACTUS brought a lot of positive advertising to Eastern as a whole. CACTUS often published the student’s work and distributed it to many influential people in Kentucky such as the governor, certain legislators and other political leaders. Buell also expressed what he thought Eastern was losing by discontinuing CACTUS.
“The campus is losing a unique outlet for expressing their views and fully understanding how politics really work,” Buell said. “I think students often lack basic civic knowledge. By exposing them to a political process such as this I believe we actually made the students much more engaged in political issues.”
Rainey said she isn’t sure when the university will bring back CACTUS. She said if Eastern will not allow the department the resources for the class even after the 2012-2013 year, then the class will still be discontinued.
“On the bright side, we will be presenting a paper on CACTUS at a teaching and learning conference of the Political Science Association in California in February,” Rainey said. “This is in hopes that other schools can pick up the idea. Maybe smaller colleges can show more support and a future for CACTUS elsewhere.”