Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education Discussion
December 1, 2003
Dear Harold and GE workgroup,
The Department of Dramatic Art met to discuss the discussion document and raised a number of issues you have already heard from other departments and a few you might not have heard. Here is a summary of the responses:
First and foremost, there was a sense that this document does not convey a sense of the intellectual justification for the changes it proposes. The document itself offers minutely detailed discussions of certain aspects of the proposed changes, and it references an extensive discussion and many comparison documents, but it does not organize the discussion in such a way that one who has not engaged in long study of the question would understand either the underlying reasons for the current system or its proposed replacement, nor does it make it clear why changes are called for. Granted, the current system is very complicated and not easily summarized. Indeed, it might not be easy to recover what was the initial rationalization of that system. But, given that the new system is still fundamentally a revision of the old system, some attempt ought to be made to recover what ideas led to the current structure so that the change to a new structure can be understood. The current form of the proposal--this discussion document--is not well constructed as an argument for change.
Second, members of my department saw the combining of areas F & G as clear evidence of an effort at this university to marginalize the humanities and fine arts, thus transforming this university into a tech school/vocational school. Considering that this campus has a notably strong faculty in HFA, they question this direction. Comparison with other institutions only proves that this trend is widespread, not that it is correct.
Third, members of this department questioned the emphasis on methodologies. Methodological approaches are featured not in our lower division courses but in our upper division courses, and even there, the nature of theater studies (i.e. the study of theater in the humanities) is such that virtually all courses are interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary. In other words, this way of conceiving of GE courses does not make sense in this department. We also question whether methodological approaches are what GE courses should feature in other departments. Students lack a breadth of knowledge, and that lack is far more basic than the unawareness of methodology. Also, methodologically based courses might not be as interesting to GE students as other sorts of course.
Fourth, the proposed revision, with its emphasis on lower division courses, would put strong pressure on this department to make major changes in its course offerings. Already, with the revised criteria, our current functioning within GE is under attack, and we are having to make hard decisions about whether to continue having many of our upper division courses function within the GE system, while also serving our majors, or to reserve them exclusively for majors and thus lose some of our enrollment base (perhaps 20%). The perception is that GE students function well in those courses and in some ways benefit the courses. But to open them at the first pass will complicate the scheduling of courses for our majors. The revised criteria are already a problem, but the new system will be even more of one.
Fifth, the new Interdisciplinary requirement just duplicates what is already happening in our curriculum. Theater history necessarily brings together literature, performance, visual arts, music, architecture, and dance, in historical and intellectual context, and often draws on such fields as anthropology (e.g. for study of ritual) and social studies (e.g. for consideration of ethnic and gender representations). The new requirement does not take into account that interdisciplinary study is already happening here. We don't like the idea of having to invent whole new courses to satisfy the criteria for the INT requirement.
Many people in this department seemed to favor abandoning this complex GE system for some sort of breadth or distribution requirements.
Having heard these responses from members of my department, I believe it would be futile to go forward with this proposal, as there is no ground of support.
We thank you for the hard work you the workgroup have done to advance this debate. I regret that I cannot be more optimistic about its imminent conclusion.
Marcuse allows himself a personal note about this particular response. In March 2004 Dramatic Arts chair Davies King, as convenor of the HFA chairs, suggested some modifications to my 2/18/04 "draft final work group report" to the Undergraduate Council (link). I documented those suggestions at the end of a narrative about the work group's consultations with the HFA division during 2003-04 (link to HFA-Workgroup 03-04 documentation).
Davies insinuates that the proposals the work group approved have no intellectual justification (he writes that I should note that "HFA departments were alone in trying to figure out what, if any, intellectual justification could be found in these proposals"), and that they are inherently confusing ("the confusion inherent in the proposals").
After receiving my polite if exasperated response, he wrote a response that reverses my position on the purpose of the discussion document: "I [King] believe you [Marcuse] thought it was one step away from a proposal for the Academic Senate, while others thought it was just meant to raise issues and get some sense of outside opinion. It was far too incomplete and too dependent on people doing a lot of outside reading on the issues for it to function as a quasi-proposal." [emphasis added]
In fact, the second sentence of the discussion document reads: "We would like to present the results of our deliberations to date to the campus community, in order to initiate a campuswide discussion of the entire proposed program, and especially of the less consensual items." How that implies being "one step away" from legislation I cannot imagine. The program itself was proposed in 2001 and 2002 by the GE Task Force. I also resent the claim, first voiced above in this document, that the discussion document requires"a lot" of outside reading or study. Familiarity with either of the 10-page GE Task Force reports on which it is based would suffice. And I made both of those reports literally only a click away. Especially when phrased condescendingly, such intellectual laziness annoys me.