UCC holds general education review

History professor Stefan Papaioannou talked about the general education model. (Kathleen Moore/THE GATEPOST)

The University Curriculum Committee (UCC) held a public meeting Nov. 15 to review the current general education model. 

The meeting was structured as an informational forum with the sole purpose of receiving feedback from community members.

Jesse Marcum, chair of the UCC and chemistry and food science professor, opened the meeting with a brief overview of the history of the general education model. The current domain model came into effect beginning the 2013-14 academic year.

Faculty attending the meeting advocated for a stand-alone diversity course as a requirement in the general education model, as it is absent from the current domain model requirements.

The previous general education model required students take a stand-alone diversity course, as well as a stand-alone non-western studies course.

English professor Patricia Lynne was one of the first faculty members to address this issue. “We have seen incidences on campus that show us there is a real need for a genuine diversity requirement.”

Chair of the English department Desmond McCarthy also expressed concern about the lack of a stand-alone diversity requirement in general education. 

“We took two of our most valuable goals from the last model that said something about our values as an institution … and we smushed them in with a bunch of other things and then we made diversity a kind of overlay for everything. 

“If you put something everywhere, it really resides nowhere,” he added.

English professor Bartholomew Brinkman said he also believes there should be a required general education course on diversity.

He said, “Just thinking about diversity just wasn’t cutting it – there needs to be a course.”

Sociology professor Lina Rincón suggested that a general education diversity requirement should be “not only led by one particular department,” but rather “an actual class that different faculty of different departments can teach, that can be interdisciplinary.

I think it should be an integral part of the education of our students here,” she added.

A specific aspect of the current model, which was critiqued by community members, was Domain III-C: Global Competency, Ethical Reasoning, and/or Human Diversity.

Chair of the geography department Judith Otto said, “The goal [of domain] III-C has become a hodgepodge without a lot of external consistency to it. … It combines global competency, ethical reasoning, and/or human diversity in ways I think are difficult to conceptualize for a curriculum and especially for students to relate to.”

In addition to a required diversity class, multiple faculty members suggested that a United States Constitution course also be reinstated in the domain model.

The previous general education model required “all students must take one course that includes study of both U.S. and Massachusetts constitutions,” according to previous University catalogs.

Otto, one of the faculty members to suggest this requirement said, “I support we instate a Constitution requirement in light of what’s been going on in this country – I think it’s critical.”

Speaking about the lack of understanding students have for general education, history professor Joseph Adelman said he’s found it hard to explain the total mission of general education to students in a way other than wanting students to take a variety of classes.

“I want gen ed to have some mission. … Having clarity of mission … is something that I think would benefit me as a faculty member … it would benefit the [students’ understanding],” said Adelman.

Otto also said she believes there needs to be a way to communicate the ways in which a general education is relevant to undergraduate students at Framingham State. 

She said, “I think the record is fairly clear that this is not something students take away from their experience here.”

McCarthy said, “I think we actually need a radical revision of what we currently have. If students don’t understand what general education is about or what the purpose is of a course they’re taking … then this is not succeeding.”

McCarthy also pointed out the current model is not only challenging to students, but to faculty as well.

“With the old model, the average faculty member understood it. It was clearer. It was more straightforward,” he said.

Some faculty members offered suggestions on entirely new general education structure. 

History professor Stefan Papaioannou said he believes the current general education model does not allow students to think through the various methodologies of the different academic disciplines at FSU. “They kind of create these vaguely defined skill sets and goals that are just grab bags that every department tried to fit into in their own way.”

Based on this belief, he recommended to the UCC that they move away from a “system in which we define these kinds of abstract [learning objectives]” and move toward a “disciplined-based general education system.

“I would suggest we move to a system in which students are asked to explore, when they’re in college, different ways of thinking,” said Papaioannou. 

Art and music professor Erika Schneider said, “We’re not sharing this mission anymore. We need to work together.”

She explained the current general education model creates divides between departments in which they are competing for general education courses.

Schneider added she believed that a general education model based on the different fields would support this idea of sharing the general education mission.

University emphasis on the importance of general education was also discussed. 

Papaioannou said, “I think that the message can be made clearer.”

He added, “Whatever our gen ed model becomes … in order to allow faculty to help students see the value of it, the university as a whole has to emphasize the value of general education. … I think there needs to be much better across-the-institution overt support for it where in advising, it’s not a matter of, ‘So, have you gotten your general education requirements out of the way?’”

During the meeting, Lynn Parker, english professor and chair of subcommittee D, clarified the meeting was only to receive feedback from the community members, rather than to allow an open conversation between community members and the UCC.

Subcommittee D is charged with reviewing the general education model this year. 

The current general education model that came into effect in 2013 has four major components: common core requirements, domain I, domain II, and domain III.

The common core requirement includes expository writing and college-level math.

Domain I contains three subdomains: creative arts, humanities, and a language course.

Domain II contains two subdomains: analysis, modeling, and problem solving; and natural sciences. 

Domain III contains three subdomains: perspectives of the past; perspectives on the contemporary world; and global competency, ethical reasoning, and/or human diversity.

[Editor’s note: Desmond McCarthy is an advisor of The Gatepost.]

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