Senate approves changes to General Education Requirements

The Faculty Senate on Thursday approved modest changes to the university's General Education Requirements (GERs) that supporters say will provide students with a clearer idea of what the curriculum aims to achieve.

The vote was divided, however, with several senators arguing that because the GERs will undergo a more expansive review in two years, expending time and energy on them now would be unwise and potentially complicate the future evaluation.

The changes, which will go into effect at the beginning of the 2005-06 academic year, comprise two key elements: One, the number of requirements will decrease from 11 to 10; and two, they will be categorized under three, instead of four, areas, with rubrics that clearly reflect their goals.

Area 1 will remain "Introduction to the Humanities" and still consist of three courses. Areas 2 and 3, however, will be combined under the title "Disciplinary Breadth" and will require students to take one course in each of the following five subcategories: Engineering and Applied Sciences; Humanities; Mathematics; Natural Sciences; and Social Sciences. Area 4 will become "Education for Citizenship" and require students to complete one course in two of the following subcategories: Ethical Reasoning; the Global Community; American Cultures; and Gender Studies.

The move to retool the GERs began in 2002, when the Committee on Undergraduate Education asked its Subcommittee on General Education Requirements to review the requirements with an eye toward simplifying them, providing more course choices and clarifying the academic rationale for specific courses and GER categories.

The clarifications proved something of a revelation for Provost John Etchemendy. "I didn't know about this proposal until last Tuesday," he said during the senate debate last week. "I felt like the scales fell from my eyes and I saw: Now I understand, and now I can communicate to my freshmen and to my son why we require these things."

Perhaps the most striking outcome is the repackaging of Area 4 under the title "Education for Citizenship." Its goal is to equip students "with some of the skills and knowledge that are necessary for citizenship in our contemporary national cultures and in the global cultures of the 21st century," according to the concluding report on the proposed GER revisions.

To better reflect that description, the World Cultures subcategory was renamed the Global Community, and a new subcategory, Ethical Reasoning, was added. Chris Bobonich, an associate professor of philosophy and chair of the subcommittee, told the senate that by including Ethical Reasoning, it emphasizes the "important practical element" of studying the subjects of race, gender, religion and ethnicity that largely make up the third category.

"Part of the reason why we think students should know about these things is because we think it's important how we treat other people and how we interact with them," Bobonich said. "So emphasizing the ethical component I think will help in that regard."

Citing the more comprehensive review of GERs planned for the near future, several senators and student representatives questioned the wisdom of making the changes now.

"Here's my concern: Should we tinker at this time—actually add a new component to that fourth area two years before there's a review when we can really look at the total picture?" said Albert Camarillo, the Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professor in Public Service. "So should we muddy the waters, if you will, at this time creating a new requirement? I would argue that maybe it makes more sense to postpone it and incorporate it into the larger review."

Geophysics Professor Rosemary Knight, chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy, said this option had been considered. "We debated whether to delay and wait for this large-scale review," she said. "But we are convinced that these changes are so important that we bring them here now."