Monday, April 09, 2007

Storm on the Horizon: General Education Reform

Word about town is that we are about to see the beginning of a sustained effort to fix the general education component here at UWO. Apparently, the accreditors were upset by the lack of any coherence to our general education requirements. They told the administration that we need to deal with this fairly quickly.

The chancellor wants to start with a general discussion about the goals of a liberal education and then dive into the specifics. I imagine that we will be able to find agreement on a basic definition about what we think is important for college students to learn. I think most of us can also agree that the gen ed requirements are a mess.

However, can you imagine the hornet's nest that will be stirred up when we have to talk about what this means in terms of courses? The last time that this was attempted, apparently just before the last accreditation visit, we got TBIS and PBIS courses. Going any further was stymied.

What will happen this time around? Do the Chancellor and the Provost have the willpower to battle all the constituencies and transform the university?

My feeling is that this can only be good for us--I have long been a proponent of a liberal education, that stresses critical thinking and analysis ahead of practical job skills. It will, however, be an ugly fight. Can the faculty put their own interests (and their departments' interests) aside and think about the good of the university and education? We shall soon see!

Here is what I have found on the web: The website mentioned in the alumni magazine that may serve as a starting point for the change


lammers said...

Lake Winneblogo wrote:
>>Apparently, the accreditors were upset by the lack of any coherence to our general education requirements.<<

One thing that amazes me about our gen-ed requirements is how we try to micro-manage it. So many of this flavor, and a sprinkle of that flavor, and a dash of this.

When I was an undergrad in the College of Science & Humanities at Iowa State in the 1970s, there were just four requirements (I'm going on memory here so bear with me): 15 credits of Humanities, 15 credits of Social Sciences, 20 credits of Math & Science, and 15 credits of Arts & Literature. The only course required was Speech 211, Public Speaking. There was room for a TON of electives, and I sampled very broadly outside of Botany -- The Bible as Literature in the English Department, Invertebrate Paleontology in Geology, etc.

Your description makes it sound as though the system will become even more proscriptive, but based on my experiencem I favor a more wide-open approach.

Anonymous said...

Well its hould not come a s a surprise to most faculty that the current gen ed system has problems and needs to be changed. Most profs I know have problems with the existing system

And yes Winneblogo this could get ugly, a lot of departments have something to lose if we change the current system.

The good news is that I think that Koker's leadership style will be more constructive in such a debate. I think that will improve things.

What worries me is how the general debate will be structured. The last time I went to one of these all campus discussions organized by the chancellor I found most people outside of COLS to be hostile to the Liberal Arts ideal.

Still, I think we have enough people who care about education that we can move towards some structure that meets the goals of a good libveral arts education while also preparing students for a globalized world.


Bill Wresch said...

Since I am outside COLS I guess I can be expected to be against a good liberal education (and also against motherhood and apple pie), but I have to say I hope this effort finally yields a general education effort that is less silly than out current effort.

For what it is worth, I think our current system is based on John Burr's declaration at a Faculty Senate meeting some ten years ago when he said "the purpose of general education is to distribute students." We seem to do that well. I would like to think we will eventually do something more.

Anonymous said...

Actually Bill, I would say that you hit the nail on the head. Thank you for reminding me of that quote.

Okay since we are in agreement so far, what do you think should be incorporated in good program?

Also does anyone know if the accreditors have made any specific suggestions aboutb what they want to see?


Bill Wresch said...

My concern is less about content at the moment, and more about process.

My dream is to someday work at a university where before the chancellor calls a meeting and drones on and then task forces meet forever and we put sticky notes on a piece of paper voting on our prejudices, the university approaches the discussion as we would approach a scholarly endeavor. We read up on the history of general education, we study the range of models currently in use, we study how well various models are working.

In short, I would like to be part of a community of scholars that shows the world how scholars can approach problems.

And, BTW, I would put John Koker in charge of the effort.