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

TO: Harold Marcuse, Chair, General Education Workgroup
FROM: Janet Walker, Chair, Department of Film Studies
RE: Proposed Revision of General Education Program

The faculty of the Department of Film Studies has discussed the Proposed Revision of the General Education Workgroup at several faculty meetings, most recently at a meeting of December 5, 2003. We appreciate the Workgroup’s courage, energy, and sheer time spent in taking up the charge to proceed from the June 2001 and May 2002 GE task force recommendations to a plan that can be adopted.

However, we do not support the current proposal. As various Humanities and Fine Arts chairs have pointed out during conversations about the proposal, the document lacks a clear assessment of the problems of the current GE program and lacks as well a clear statement of the GE philosophy behind the proposed changes. We would like to make the further point that, clarity aside, we simply do not agree with the implicit and explicit assumptions that are legible, nor with most of the proposed changes.

  1. General Subject Area (Core) Requirements/Special Subject Area Requirements
    The intention of the GE Workgroup in creating the new General Subject Area and Special Subject Area requirements must be to enhance curricular diversity, and we applaud this priority. However, as designed, the proposed revisions to the General Subject Area and Special Subject Area requirements seem to retreat from rather than to embrace current thinking about disciplinary boundaries and the potential for intercultural understanding. To relegate Inter- and Multidisciplinary Studies and the Ethnicity or Queer, Gender and Ethnicity Studies Requirement to their own categories (be these within the General or Special Subject Requirements) is literally to marginalize the types of issues and courses that these titles might encompass. Are we – and, perhaps more importantly, our students -- to assume that the methodologies of science, sociology, and history are discrete and unaffected by the cultural, ideological, narratological, and historiographic issues raised by critical theories over the last two decades? Given the risk of marginalization, it is a plus that the Ethnicity and the QGE requirements are in the Special Subject Area. This placement holds out the possibility that a Core course may possess content that satisfies the Ethnicity or the QGE eligibility requirements by considering issues of ethnicity, and/or gender and/or queer subjectivity.
  2. The logic by which the General Subject (Core) Areas are currently constituted seems to vary greatly. Some of the Areas appear to cohere based on a combination of subject matter and methodology, whereas as others are constituted on the basis of subject matter alone. For example, Core Area G, literature, contains courses that take literary works as the central subject matter, regardless of whether what one is actually doing as one approaches these literary texts is ultimately a critical, a cultural studies, or an historical project. The revamping of Area E by the GE Workgroup only exacerbates rather than rethinking this problem. Reconstituting Area E, Civilization and Thought, as Historical Studies – and excising comparative literature courses from the list under that rubric -- furthers the mistaken assumption at the heart of the Core logic that methodologies – in this case those of the study of history -- are pure and unadulterated by questions of ideology, narrative, politics, psychology, and so on.


  1. It appears that the GE Workgroup is not only restructuring the GE program, but also, simultaneously, making implicit if not explicit decisions about which courses would fit into which General or Special Subject Areas. For example, the discussion document indicates that "some of the large non-history sequence courses approved to fulfill the current area E-1 would be moved from that area." The document goes on to mention Art History 6 and Comparative Literature 30 as courses that "are also approved for" areas F and G. That these specific points of decision would come up now, while the restructuring process is ongoing is to some extent inevitable; one can’t deal only in abstractions. However, it would seem undesirable to have any such decisions made outside of the due process that will eventually be implemented once the new GE Program is adopted. Establishing and following proper procedures for the definition of course categories is crucial to the success of the new plan since departmental and graduate student support depend on student enrollments and enrollments may change when a course is moved to a different category where alternatives for students may be greater or lesser.
  2. The memo of November 21, 2003 regarding General Education Criteria from Denise Segura, Chair of Undergraduate Council, and Harold Marcuse, Committee on Undergraduate Academic Programs and Policy, sets forth new GE course criteria. Given that the new GE program is not yet in place, it seems premature to be implementing new criteria based on a plan that is still undergoing campus review. It is one thing to prune from the GE handbook courses that are no longer offered. But it is quite another to impose a specific, and in our opinion overly constricted, view of to whom, with what prerequisites, and how often a course must be offered to fit the GE rubric. For example, the color-coded sheets circulated to departments propose to drop from the GE courses that are offered fewer than three times every five years. This stipulation seems out of touch with faculty workload patterns. It is common for faculty to have courses that they teach regularly, and in rotation. One might teach a given course every other year, except when sabbatical leave or course release interferes. Such a course might not be offered the requisite three times every five years. But it might still be a valuable and available course for the general education of students.

Film Studies

Film, television, and new media may be construed as artforms, if only for the purpose of locating Film Studies courses in Area F. But our discipline and certainly our curriculum possess intrinsic features that problematize the current definition of the General Subject Areas. How is our film history sequence any less eligible for the new Historical Studies rubric than any other cultural history course? We know the framers of the discussion identify "non-history" courses as inappropriate to fulfill Area E requirements. But which courses would this target? Would History 87: Japanese History through Art and Literature or History 182E: Korean Art and Archaeology still be fine for Area E since they are offered by the Department of History? Or would these courses be purged for their cultural tinge? And wouldn’t Film Studies 161: Third-World Cinema be just as eligible for Area D as Black Studies 50: Blacks in Media? Our discipline, along with others in and out of our Humanities and Fine Arts Division by their very nature exemplify the value of cross-methodological as well as cross- and inter-disciplinary approaches to science, politics, society, and culture.


  1. Refrain from making "numerical adjustments" (cuts) in the core areas. Students need as broad and deep an education as possible. It is appropriate that UC requirements exceed IGETC requirements. Lowering the number of GE requirements may have the effect of passing the responsibility for general education to the departments in the form of requirements for preparation for the major.
    Or, if it is felt there should be fewer GE courses, strive for a plan that encourages students in something they already practice: taking one course to fulfill simultaneously a General Subject Area and a Special Subject Area requirement. Do this by making General Subject Area courses writerly and concerned with ethnicity and world cultures.
  2. Refrain from adding the new "Inter- and Multidisciplinary Studies" core area. It is true, as stated in the Proposed Revision, that our campus prides itself on interdisciplinarity, and we agree that this is an appropriate source of pride. However, we believe that it would inhibit the development of interdisciplinary courses to relegate them to a category of their own, as if the GE courses in the other core areas are not or should not be interdisciplinary. Moreover, according to the Workgroup document, an Inter- and Multidisciplinary Studies course must "devote significant attention to topics, concepts, theories, and/or methods" from at least two disciplines or core areas. This methodologically-based means of defining the terrain would exclude courses in which methodological issues are either underlying or simply not at the center of the course subject matter but where disciplinary boundaries are nevertheless crossed. For example, our national cinemas courses (Japanese, Latin American, Indian, British, etc.) don’t necessarily or always contain an overt methodological component. But yet the study of the given films may embed them within a wider cultural context that might include considerations of architecture, photography, advertising, print media, literature, and so on.
    Or, if a new "Inter- and Multidisciplinary Studies" category is to be kept, place it under Special Subject Area Requirements. That way, students will be motivated to take Core courses that are also Inter- and Multidisciplinary, because such courses will satisfy a General Subject (Core) Area and a Special Subject Area requirement at the same time. This will likely encourage the development of interdisciplinary aspects of core courses.
  3. "World Cultures" is definitely preferable to "Non-Western Culture" for the reason stated in the Proposed Revision, that it is objectionable to define "a category by the absence of something." However, it still seems to us problematic to divide the world into "us" and "everybody else," even if that other entity is World Cultures.
  4. Continue wide consultation on the question of how to avoid constituting a catch-all category of otherness while still encouraging students to study gender and sexualities in the context of their ethnic diversity.

Conclusion: Core versus Distribution Model

The Proposed Revision aims to develop a "core" as opposed to a "distribution" model for general education. We acknowledge that the core model, in which a relatively small group of closely controlled courses is offered to the entire student body so that a common educational culture is established, can work in settings where there are resources to support small enrollment, intensive courses. However, we don’t think the core model is the best choice for our campus. Here our great strength is that we have many excellent professors teaching a relatively large number of courses each year, some of which need to be high enrollment in order to serve our sizeable student body. To bring this talent and the resulting new areas of research to general education, we will need a larger pool of approved GE courses. We thus support the establishment of a "distribution model" for general education. The distribution model enhances students’ options for advanced study in a discipline other than the student’s major, and this, we believe, is a positive thing.

The core model also poses the problem of which courses constitute that core and the problem of whether or not to allow "non-listed" courses to satisfy requirements by petition. The intransigence of these problems, and the complexity of their possible solutions, signal the conceptual and practical inadequacy of the core GE model.

On Dec. 12, 2003 there was an exchange of e-mail between GE workgroup chair Harold Marcuse and Film Studies chair Janet Walker:

Walker question:
The fundamental area of disagreement is that we don't support the core model for GE that was recommended by the Task Force. I must admit I am confused about one thing here. Didn't the Senate vote down the GE Task Force Recommendation? If so, then couldn't the Workgroup attempt an alternative plan?

In any case, I still do think the Workgroup document requires a brief statement of philosophy. In the first paragraph of the document you state that your committee reviewed and discussed the Task Force reports and that you achieved "near consensus." But you don't say whether the consensus was for or against the various Task Force findings. We would have appreciated an explicit statement that your committe had decided to advance the core model proposal of the Task Force.

Marcuse response:
The Task Force recommendation was withdrawn from the balloting prior to being released for a vote, because a) it was not sufficiently precise to be considered an actual implementable proposal, and b) because certain items that had been crucial elements of compromises agreed to by the task force membership were missing from the final proposal. Be that as it may, at the start of our work we decided that we could not and should not attempt to redo the work of the task force. The task force never explicitly considered abandoning the core model of GE. (Although in the previous, 1993-94 revision, which opened up "the list" of courses, this had already implicitly happened.) The feedback we are receiving indicates that there is broad support for an explicit breadth/distribution model, but also trenchant support for a core model. Perhaps, based on the feedback we have received, we can attempt to formulate a philosophy of GE that reflects this. (By the way, this same split runs through the GE work group.) We stated that we achieved consensus or near consensus on "most issues," and that on the others we are presenting a range of options (and questions) that deal with various problems left open in the Task Force report. It is on these that the clear suggestions you offer are most welcome.

Walker response to Marcuse:
I've heard that the workgroup may be considering a combination core/distribution plan. That sounds like a good area to explore.

While I've got your attention, let me ask for two clarifications: First, on the one hand, HFA members feel that reducing the E,F,G requirements would marginalize the humanities and fine arts; on the other you state that *creating* a QGE or interdisciplinary requirement would marginalize and inhibit these areas. How do you reconcile those two statements?

Walker response to Marcuse:
If the QGE courses are in the special subject area (as they are), then there's a good possiblity that the new QGE req. will encourage the continuation or creation of core courses that meet this area requirement as well as a core requirement (doing double duty for students). That would be to the good for the core as far as we're concerned.

What we objected to was more *the implication* that core courses are not interdiciplinary, multicultural, about genders, sexualities, ethnicities etc. In fact they can very well be -- are inevitably? -- such. For example, whiteness is a racialized and/or ethnic concept, not a "normal" state of being. Perhaps the introductory philosophical paragraphs of the finished document can emphasize that the plan is *not* to have a core group of cores parading as value neutral but that are in fact white, heterosexual, and (supposedly) disciplinarily pure.

Also, while your position on "historical studies" (which were certainly never intended to be limited only to history dept. courses--we wonder, for instance, whether philosophy and religious studies would feel that their courses are included under that definition) is clearly stated, I'm wondering whether you support the renaming of F and G with the task force's proposed new descriptions, or whether you would like to retain the current centrality of "master works." Or whether you would like to propose new language? (This question of course goes beyond film studies to all HFA chairs.)

Walker response to Marcuse:
This is a question that I believe bears discussion beyond the workgroup. It's a tough problem. As I mentioned, just because film is viewed (by some) as an artform, that doesn't mean many of our courses aren't textually analytical in the way that literature courses may be.

I agree with your point that this question goes to all HFA chairs since our division has this "arts" and "humanities" split that our department has tried to bridge.

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