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  November 13, 2000

Frequently Asked Questions about the
Proposed General Education Requirements
Go here for the Special Insert

Why should we change our current general education requirements? Isn't everything working well - or as well as can be expected?
After a study of our present system, evaluation of alumni and enrollment data and an assessment of general education models at other universities, the Task Force concluded that there is room for significant improvement, not just tweaking, of our current system. The skill courses have not been universally developed; the size of the general education curriculum makes it unwieldy for too many of our students; and, although the curriculum is supposed to be University-wide, most schools and colleges have tailored it to their own programmatic requirements. Moreover, for all intents and purposes, the current general education is roughly a quarter of a century old. Most departmental major curricula are reviewed far more frequently. Furthermore, the general education program has lacked management. The Senate Courses & Curricula Committee oversees the addition of new courses, but the kind of ongoing attention that any curriculum requires is beyond the scope of what it can reasonably do, given its other obligations.

Doesn't this proposal backtrack on the University's commitment to diversity?
On the contrary, the Task Force believes that the commitment is strengthened. The proposal requires that all courses in the Cultural Memory, Diversity & Society content area include a diversity focus and expects that courses in the other content areas will address diversity issues whenever appropriate. In addition, the proposal recognizes the need to provide faculty and graduate student training in the teaching of diversity. Current requirements simply encourage the development of diversity in the curriculum.

Why are all general education courses supposed to be interdisciplinary?
The proposed content areas encourage the development of interdisciplina ry and multidisciplinary courses, but they do not require that all general education courses be interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary . In fact, the Task Force believes that many currently extant discipline-based courses will be appropriate candidates for general education. But we also hope that the content areas open up curricular opportunities that don't presently exist and we are encouraged that many interdisciplinary programs on campus have indicated an interest in participating in the new general education program.

Why shouldn't courses satisfying general education also serve other curricular purposes, like prerequisites?
The proposed general education curriculum includes a bounded set of courses, developed with general education as their primary objective, that offer broad, rigorous treatments of fundamental knowledge and methods of inquiry. While some courses that are introductory to a major might satisfy these criteria, it is equally unlikely that some other courses that are the first in a prerequisite series will, meet these criteria. In any case, should introductory courses in some disciplines fit within the general education curriculum, students will be able to use them to meet the general education requirements. However, students will not be allowed to use these courses to simultaneously satisfy general education requirements and major or programmatic requirements.

Won't graduate programs suffer under this proposal?
The size of graduate programs should be determined by their quality and the demand for their students, not by the department's role in general education. In fact, Chancellor Petersen has said in a number of forums that, regardless of a reexamination of general education, he believes that we need to address this reality. That said, it is possible that the need for teaching assistants in some courses will increase and in others will decrease, as departments work through their contributions to general education. This will occur over time, as new courses are developed and as students and their advisors begin to develop new enrollment patterns. It is unlikely, however, that the size of graduate programs will change solely and exclusively because of general education enrollments.

How can we possibly introduce a new general education curriculum and still serve our current students? If we change everything, won't we be offering two curricula simultaneously?
It is important to note that the proposal doesn't require a wholesale replacement of current general education courses with an entirely new set. But where the two curriculums don't overlap, it might be possible for current students to use the courses in the new general education content areas to satisfy their current requirements under the old general education program. Courses that are approved under the new curriculum can be temporarily assigned to the old requirements for current students.

What is the appropriate role of the various schools and colleges in the proposed general education curriculum?
The liberal arts and sciences have been the traditional home for general education at most universities and it is reasonable to expect that UConn's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences will continue to play a major role in general education under the proposed curriculum. The question is whether faculty members share in the responsibility of educating our undergraduates, regardless of their school or college. The proposed curriculum argues that they do, first, by mandating that the development of writing and computer technology skills be carried out across the curriculum and, second, by creating an opportunity to participate, where appropriate, with courses in the content areas.

How do my discipline, my course, and my department fit in this proposal?
The three content areas are defined to draw broadly from the expertise and knowledge offered by the University's faculty. While some disciplines might fit more easily into one or another of the content areas, no discipline is a priori excluded from any. Although new courses will undoubtedly be developed for each of the three content areas, it is also likely that courses currently on the books meet the criteria.

Isn't this proposal entirely out of line with the general education programs of our peers?
There is no universally applicable general education curriculum. Rather, each is a product of local conditions, such as the interests and abilities of the University's faculty and the kinds of students that it attracts, and broader societal issues, such as a concern about the role of technology or attention to globalization. By streamlining the number of requirements and credits required, the proposed general education program responds to the wide variation in major and program requirements at the University of Connecticut. (But the proportion of the undergraduate curriculum devoted to general education is roughly in line with that found in other research universities.) By developing thematic content areas, the proposed general education program ensures that students have a breadth of intellectual experiences, while recognizing that faculty members from across the University can contribute. (While the names of the proposed content areas are specific to UConn, many other research universities similarly use thematic labels - such as "Environment" at the University of Minnesota or "Individuals & Institutions" at the University of Arizona.) And, by emphasizing competency rather than seat time in writing, mathematics, second language and the like, the proposed general education program raises UConn's expectations about student achievement. (Most universities are similarly attempting to focus on outcomes.)