The General Education Curriculum Improvement Committee presented three proposals to the public last week, shifting the curriculum’s emphasis to skills learning, improvements to first year seminars and greater consistency throughout a student’s four years.
The committee, part of the provost's office and composed of faculty and students, was made to review the current general education curriculum and propose alternatives. The first curriculum structure presented was the distributive model, in which students would fulfill skills requirements rather than field of study requirements. Skills could include symbolic reasoning, creative expression, experimental design and more, with courses potentially fulfilling multiple skills requirements in one unit.
This model would also include a required sophomore seminar with a common syllabus focused on justice, ethics and human purpose.
The second curriculum presented was the scaffolded model, which provided a more structured approach in which first-year students would be required to take a common syllabus course on identity, diversity and community in addition to a first-year seminar in both semesters. This model would also require a science class with a lab and a second language course completed before the end of a student’s sophomore year.
In this model, students must complete four units from current field of study requirements in year two, including one writing intensive course and one spatial analysis course. Year three would require an off-campus experience, including study abroad or an internship.
In the third model presented, the thematic model, students would choose from several themes offered by UR in their first year, and then take five courses in different disciplines throughout their four years related to that theme. In their senior year, students work on a capstone project for their theme.
All three proposals would require some form of a capstone for students to complete in their final year or semester. And all plans would see changes to first-year seminars, requiring one writing intensive seminar and one quantitative seminar, rather than two writing-focused courses.
Timothy Hamilton, an economics professor, presented these different curricula options on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of last week. Professors raised concerns afterwards about the lack of flexibility in the models and a need for mandatory courses on culture and identity, among other questions.
Jack Singal, a physics professor, said the thematic model hadn’t fulfilled a broad liberal arts education, and said that the scaffolded model could disrupt many majors that rely on sequential courses taken in a specific order.
“Many students come in thinking they want to do physics or math, or computer science or chemistry,” Singal said. “So then it’s important that they take multiple classes from those majors in order to figure out which one they want or if they want to do a double major.”
Few students attended the public forums, though the same presentation was made to the Westhampton College Government Association at its meeting on Jan. 29, and the same presentation will be made to the Richmond College Student Government Association on Feb. 5.
The WCGA did not yet discuss all the proposals in-depth because of the need to focus on recent racist attacks on campus, WCGA President Lindsey Paul said. The body’s concern was mostly related to the lack of schedule flexibility in some of the plans, she said.
“We’re all really excited to see some sort of change happen,” Paul said. “We’re hoping that, whatever new curriculum takes place, there will be some sort of discussion about race or cultural competency worked into that.”
At Friday’s public forum, Dean of Westhampton College Mia Reinoso Genoni said that waiting until sophomore year in the distributive model to have a course related to race and identity would be too long a wait.
“We’re here to make sure that no one graduates without knowing how to have that conversation,” Genoni said.
Student government pushed last spring for this committee to have student voices, Paul said, and there are two student members. Alec Greven, a junior, and Jennifer Munnings, a senior, helped contribute to the plans, though they are not voting members.
Greven helped conceive the skills-based approach in the distributive model and proposed the idea for a common sophomore year seminar in that plan.
“We’re trying to get the word out to students,” he said. “The goal is I’ll present to the two student governments, and the student governments will also go out and get student feedback as well.”
The fastest timeline for implementation of one of these curricula would involve a vote by the faculty senate at the end of this spring semester, Hamilton said, and the plan would take another year to implement. “This is one of those things you don’t want to rush,” he said.
The process for this committee started in the spring of 2018, but change may be coming to the general education curriculum, if slowly.
Contact news contributor Conner Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.