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  September 13, 2004

Schedule Tight For General Education Tasks

The new general education requirements won't take effect until next year, but faculty members, departments, and schools and colleges need to address them now, according to Hedley Freake, a professor of nutritional sciences who has been nominated as the new chair of the General Education Oversight Committee (GEOC), pending ratification by the University Senate.

Deadlines are approaching fast: The dates to remember are Sept. 20, Oct. 15, and Nov. 10. And related departmental and school or college deadlines are even sooner.

What's driving these deadlines, says Freake, is the November copy deadline for the 2005-06 catalog, which has to describe the new general education system.

Any remaining general education courses must be submitted to the GEOC by Sept. 20 to allow time for review and approval for inclusion in the 2005-06 catalog. In addition, each major must develop a plan for how students will acquire the writing, information literacy, and computer skills - known as "competencies" - required for them to graduate in that major and submit the plan to the GEOC by Oct. 15. A brief description of each plan also needs to be prepared for the catalog by its Nov. 10 deadline.

The new general education requirements, available on the web at:, specify that students must be versed in four content areas and five competencies in order to graduate.

The content areas - arts and humanities, social sciences, science and technology, and diversity and multiculturalism - will be satisfied by taking courses from among those approved by the GEOC. All courses to be offered as part of general education in the future must be reviewed and approved by the committee, including both previously taught and new courses. Many general education courses were approved in the spring. A further 100 or so proposals are currently under review.

With just one week before the deadline for any additional course proposals to be submitted, Freake emphasizes the importance of paying close attention to the proposal guidelines on the GEOC website ( "There's not much time for the committee to go back to the faculty member if the proposal doesn't meet the guidelines," he says.

Freake says once a course has been approved, the department that submitted it is responsible for notifying the catalog editor in the Registrar's office of any changes to previous catalog copy.

If a course doesn't make the deadline for the print catalog, it may still be approved in time for the electronic catalog. Or it can be submitted to the GEOC for the following academic year.

One of the big differences between the old and the new general education systems, says Freake, is the oversight committee, whose work will continue even when the new system is up and running.

"This is a dynamic system," he says. "Not that it will change every year, but courses can be added at any point. The deadlines are dictated by catalog requirements. They are not intended to place limits on potential new courses."

The competencies - computer technology; writing; quantitative skills; second language proficiency; and information literacy - are described in the general education requirements in terms of both entry and exit expectations. Entry requirements are general and apply to all students, but for three of the competencies - writing skills, computer skills, and information literacy - exit requirements are specific to a student's major. Exit requirements for the other two - quantitative skills and second language proficiency - will apply to all students.

The second GEOC deadline this semester will be Oct. 15, when plans are due for how each of the roughly 100 majors will ensure that students acquire the relevant computer, information literacy, and writing skills. Detailed instructions are available on the web at But although the deadline isn't far away, the urgency is actually even greater, says Freake, as the plans for each major must also first pass muster with the department and school or college.

The GEOC has powers of approval for the plans related to writing skills. The information literacy and computer skills plans, on the other hand, will be reviewed by the GEOC, but - because they are discipline-specific - approval rests with the school or college.

Freake says the competency plans do not need to be highly detailed at this point. "The plans should give broad outlines of how and in which courses these skills are developed," he says. "Departments have until the courses are taught to figure out the details."

In addition to formulating competency plans, departments or majors need to describe the plans for the catalog, so that an entering student will know how he or she will be expected to meet the requirements for the major. Like all catalog copy, these descriptions must be approved at the school or college level and submitted to the catalog editor by the Nov. 10 deadline.

Freake says he recognizes that preparations for the new general education system involve a lot of work for individual faculty, departments, and schools and colleges. He believes it's worthwhile, however: "These tasks are part of a great enterprise on behalf of our undergraduate students," he says. "We're trying to give them the best undergraduate education we can."

The GEOC also has a demanding agenda ahead this year, he says. Once the immediate deadlines have been met, the committee will turn to the task of defining its role in oversight and evaluation, and will seek to address a host of transition issues.

The GEOC is a subcommittee of the Senate Curricula and Courses Committee. Freake is expected to take over as GEOC chair from Anne Hiskes, who resigned from the post to become associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Freake has represented the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources on the GEOC for the past two years.

For more information, contact the GEOC's new full-time administrative specialist, Margie Aston, at 860.486.2441 or via e-mail: