Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education Discussion Document (link)
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February 11, 2004

TO: Harold Marcuse, Chair, GE Workgroup
FR: Carl Gutiérrez-Jones, Chair, English
RE: Proposed Revision of GE Program

The faculty of the Department of English discussed the proposed changes to the GE program at a meeting on February 4, 2004. The English department is aware of the considerable effort that has been contributed by the GE Work Group, and by the GE Task Force before it, and we greatly value this labor. Having said this, we must also convey our very strong opposition to the proposed revision. I include below a summary of the responses from English.

  1. Overall, the faculty found the rationales offered for the various changes markedly inadequate. The department’s responses tended to focus on certain recommendations by the GE Work Group:
    1. The department is deeply troubled by the collapse of the arts (Area F) with literature (Area G). The proposal would allow the affected students to graduate with only one course in literature (if they chose to take two GE courses in the arts), and we find this wholly inappropriate. We understand that a certain "streamlining" effort has led to this hybrid recommendation, but the implicit assumption here – that the arts and literature are essentially equivalent for the purposes of general education – is deeply troubling. On many campuses, the arts and humanities are housed in different academic divisions; it is something of an institutional accident that our campus has combined these areas. The fact is that the educational experiences in the arts and in literature are dramatically different. We, therefore, stand strongly opposed to this unjustified collapse of distinct educational experiences.
    2. It makes no sense to us that the Area C requirement (Science, Math and Technology) should remain at three courses while other area requirements are being reduced in the name of streamlining. One needs to look at the requirements in relative terms; by leaving the Area C requirement at three courses and simultaneously reducing other areas, the GE Work Group is actually proposing to make Area C a greater proportion of a student’s GE experience than it is in the current program. There is no rationale justifying this shifting of emphasis.
    3. The department is deeply concerned about the revision of Area E into "Historical Studies," particularly because of the apparently limited way in which the "historical" seems to be defined by the proposal. In the first instance, we do not understand how "Civilization and Thought" ends up reduced to a "Historical" focus. Excluded here are modes of thought that also provide important access to ideas regarding civilizations. We do not believe that these exclusions have been justified. At the same time, we are concerned about the relative increase in terms of the emphasis on traditionally-conceived historical inquiry. Again, this has not been justified.
    4. The faculty also found the proposed Area I (Interdisciplinary Studies) problematic. These concerns took two forms: first, the faculty did not understand why this was not proposed as a special subject requirement. Interdisciplinarity has significantly affected all of the academic areas, and thus would be best emphasized in the same way that the other special subject requirements are. Second, the faculty suggested that GE students early in their university careers would be at a disadvantage in an Area I course because they would not have had enough experience yet with distinct disciplines in themselves.
    5. Opposition was also expressed by the faculty regarding the proposed configuration of the Ethnicity and Queer/Gender/Ethnicity requirement. Having a significant contingent of faculty focusing on race and ethnicity, and having run multiple searches in the field recently, we believe that it is inappropriate to maintain an ethnicity requirement that excludes transnational analyses of race and ethnicity, an exclusion that effectively establishes an intellectual border patrol (here the faculty members were referring to the proposed continuation of the existing ethnicity requirement). Several of the faculty noted that understandings of ethnicity and race in the U.S. benefit when classes have the liberty of simultaneously exploring crucially related developments outside the U.S. Topics like slavery and immigration are not solely U.S. phenomena, and the faculty believe that the GE program should openly explore their transnational dimensions while respecting a shared focus on U.S. experience. The newly proposed Q/G/E appears to be an attempt to address the blind spots of the existing ethnicity requirement, but the full rationale behind the recommendation is unclear. Although we can see advantages in formalizing interest regarding queer studies and gender studies, we were confused as to why queer studies supplanted sexuality studies generally. Overall, English does not support the proposed Ethnicity and Q/G/E recommendations, although we do believe that a differently constructed focus on ethnicity, gender and sexuality would be quite valuable.
  2. Underlying both the proposal and the recent effort to cull the GE course list, there is an assumption that the GE program should move from a distributive model to a core model (with fewer GE courses more specifically tailored to GE students). We note that many of the highest GE enrollment courses in English are open to majors-only on the first registration pass. Our experience is that GE students thrive in these integrated environments because they benefit from the quality of discussion contributed by the majors, and because the courses overall embrace interdisciplinary learning and the specific insights provided by the non-majors. English as a field has been defined by its movement toward interdisciplinarity for several decades, and our GE students find valuable ways to connect this methodological inclination with their interests. The student evaluations of these courses offer considerable evidence of the success gained with this integrative approach. In sum, there is a strong, consensus opinion in English that the distributive model is the superior pedagogical option.
  3. The proposal asks readers to bracket resource issues ("…we strongly feel that our GE program should be based on didactic and pedagogic considerations, not on resource management issues"). The GE task Force began its work at a very different financial moment, and the group was encouraged not to think of resource limitations. We are all aware of how matters have changed in California, but it is not clear to the department that an adequate accommodation of our new fiscal realities has been embraced by the Work Group. At a time when we are wondering if we can keep our shop running at all, the Work Group is proposing changes that would have truly dramatic enrollment consequences. We take as a case in point, the recent suggestion by the Work Group and Undergraduate Council that English make all of its GE courses open to non-majors on the first registration pass. Many of the courses in question are open to majors-only on the first pass because they are required for our major. Given that we must accommodate high demand for our required courses (with more than 800 majors), we could not afford to open these classes to non-majors on the first pass. If we were to open our most popular GE courses on the first registration pass, we would seriously harm the time-to-degree for the majors. GE enrollments are not spread evenly across departments. Because of this variation, the proposed change from a distributive model to a core model will be felt, in terms of resources, very differently across the campus. These changes also raise difficult resource questions regarding how the ecology of GE will be impacted across the college as a whole. In sum, we believe that the GE Work Group must wrestle far more persuasively with the resources issues that it currently appears to set aside.
  4. As valuable as the efforts have been by the Task Force and the Work Group, it seems that there is a disconnect between the faculty at large and the committees formed to rethink GE, and in saying this, we are in no way interested in assigning fault. Tremendous effort has been expended by many faculty, staff and students with excellent intentions, and yet it seems difficult to see how this will result in the kind of institutional change that was the central goal of the undertaking. In response, we have this to suggest: consider partially decentralizing the work of GE administration. As it stands, most faculty propose GE courses and some mystical body gives the yea or nay for reasons that can at times seem peculiarly rigid, or even arbitrary. Were some of the key decision-making regarding GE decentralized, departments, and faculty in general, might well become more invested in the program as a whole. In particular, consider letting individual departments determine which of their offerings should fulfill GE requirements. A central committee (presumably CUAPP) could maintain oversight, based on periodic reports from the departments.

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