November 13, 2000
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
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
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
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
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
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.)