General Tensions


Reforming Curry’s CLAC requirement has been more complicated than Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian’s marriage. Then again, the process to rewrite the general education curriculum has lasted far longer.

The administration created the first General Education Taskforce three years ago. Its mission was to set the criteria for reforming the current liberal arts requirements for undergraduates. The second Gen Ed Taskforce, which began its work one year ago, recently completed its proposed revisions and has brought the plan to the full faculty for a vote.

Since that time, however, a number of professors have voiced strong opposition to the proposal, arguing that it allows students to forego too many traditional liberal arts disciplines.

The proposal under consideration gives students a variety of options to fulfill certain core requirements, but it also eliminates some of the current necessities. For example, students would have the option of taking just two courses—six credits total— from a category called “Humanities,” which includes courses in philosophy, literature, religion, history and politics, among others. Students are currently required to take one literature course, one politics or history course, and one philosophy or religion course.

Unlike the current voluntary first-year seminar course, all freshmen under the proposal would be required to take a “First Year Inquiry” course. FYI is described in the proposal as a four-credit course that requires students to create and maintain a digital portfolio of their work, in part for learning assessment purposes.

In addition, the proposal creates a new four-credit “Junior Inquiry and Integration” course, which “requires of students a more nuanced understanding of the interdisciplinary and connected nature of the liberal arts.” Students would also be required to take six credits under an “Inclusion,” or diversity, category. Students could fulfill the requirement through two courses, at the 2000 level or higher, that examine cultures, religions, genders and/or value systems.

No current Curry student would be directly affected by changes to the existing CLAC system.

Professor Patty Kean of the PAL department and chairwoman of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (UCC) said she is excited by the proposed changes. UCC reviews all proposed substantial changes to the undergraduate curriculum, including new course and degree offerings. If the committee approves changes—the committee passed the Gen Ed proposal 9-0—it brings the proposal to the full faculty for approval.

“It makes the Gen Ed curriculum more relevant for students,” said Kean. “I also think it will inspire self-discovery among students because it gives students more choices and causes them to reflect more on their learning.”

The full faculty began discussing and debating the proposal in early February. It formally resumed that debate on Wednesday, Feb. 29. The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 28.

According to the chairman of the second Gen Ed Taskforce, Professor John Hill of the Politics and History Department, the debate is far from over.

“It’s very hard to judge where the faculty as a whole are on this at this point,” said Hill. “We’ll know later in the semester.”

Hill did say there have been many positive comments, but many questions have been raised as well. “I’ve heard a lot of positive things, and I’ve also heard a lot of concerns,” he said.

Andrew Horn, a professor in the English department, is one of the concerned faculty members, particularly in no longer requiring all students to take a literature course. “Our mission as tertiary educators is not just to produce nurses and police officers and broadcasters and corporate managers….It is to produce citizens,” he said via email.

Horn then commented on the faculty’s own college degrees. “It would be interesting to know if there are any members of the current Curry faculty or administration who were allowed to do no literature studies at all in their undergraduate degree. If not, should we be offering our own students a more impoverished degree than we ourselves benefited so richly from?”

Numerous faculty members said there was a lot of pressure, stress and tension at the last faculty meeting. Chief Academic Officer David Potash said he wasn’t surprised.

“When you have discussions that are really important and in a group of 130-140 people, people get really intense,” he said. “It’s appropriate to be intense. I’d be shocked if there wasn’t passion and intensity.

“When you have those intense discussions, some folks think it can be uncomfortable, but I think it’s really, really healthy.”

Natalie Petit, a senior criminal justice major and president of the Student Government Association, was among a group of students who received a presentation about the proposal from the Gen Ed Taskforce. (Although all faculty and staff can access the proposal through Blackboard, Hill said students cannot.) Even though the proposed changes won’t effect her, Petit is in favor of the move.

“I think the Gen Ed [proposal] is good because with our forever-changing society, we as an institution need to change our way of teaching and learning,” said Petit, adding that she would vote to pass the proposal if she was a Curry professor.

Kean said she understands some professors’ unhappiness with the proposal. “It forces faculty members to redesign their courses,” said Kean. “I do think that some of the professors may feel threatened because this is shifting things radically.”

But she has a clear view on what should happen with faculty members who are unwilling to change their courses.

“I think they should stop teaching,” said Kean. “I think they should retire or get some professional development.

“For my colleagues that don’t want to do technology or change their syllabi and are standing on years being here, maybe it’s time to retire and do something different.”

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