Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education
Discussion Document (link)
This document with responses by the Work Group chair (link)
back to UCSB GE homepage
November 25, 2003
TO : Harold Marcuse, Chair, General Education Workgroup
FR : Cynthia Skenazi, Chair, Department of French and Italian
RE : Proposed revision of General Education program
The plan for revision emerges from an important recognition that the sheer number of courses and the lack of consistency among them (in terms of how they meet GE requirements and the frequency with which they are taught) make for a questionable program. The Department of French and Italian examined carefully the proposed changes and came to the conclusion that they will affect the Humanities in general, and our Department in particular in a negative way. The suggested reorganization disregards the crucial function of departments of literature, and the intellectual agenda of the campus. It will also affect in a negative manner the interaction of existing academic units, and will not in any way spread a genuine General Education focus across the university as a whole. A consideration of the most important changes sustains this analysis.
With the loss involved in the narrowing of a core area to a single discipline that is also a department on campus, there would be no space for classes that address cultural and intellectual developments and trends that cut across history and other disciplines. Moreover, the reduction of the number of courses in the category from 3 to 2 would seem to put an end to the requirement that students take a two-course sequence. The sequence requirement assures that students gain some sense of cultural-historical breadth and continuity ; its elimination would only contribute to further intellectual compartmentalization. One does not understand the rationale of this proposed change. How will the course reduction in the Humanities and Social Sciences enhance students’ exposure to these area ? It is worth pointing out that UCSB liberal arts program has had a major impact on the rising visibility of our institution. The GE proposal, with its support of the increasing specialization and compartmentalization of knowledge represents a real blow to the value of a genuine liberal arts program.
Furthermore, does the new title "Historical Studies" mean that as long as we study a topic in a historical fashion, we have learned about its value and teaching as part of a civilization or a culture? We would like to point out that a university should not just disseminate and transmit a simple "historicization" of a topic, but raise questions about namely values, methods, and achievements of human endeavor.
The new sequence of courses we created on "Tales of Love" will no longer be included in the new area "Historical Studies". This sequence exposes our graduate students to a new aspect of teaching: large GE classes, discussion sections, improvement of writing skills, study of literature through the history of Western Civilization. Although this sequence is not yet a major source of student enrollment for us, it would nullify our patient efforts at bringing literature in a three-quarter sequence that would give students a rich understanding of the humanistic endeavor as a whole. This would seriously impact our undergraduate and graduate program.
The lumping together of Literature and Fine Arts into one area is a matter of administrative structure, not of intellectual validity. The workgroup has not offered any intellectual rationalization of the role of these two areas in the general education of students. They seem to think that the reduction of courses will keep us parallel with Social Sciences, which is also reducing its requirements by one course. We strongly disagree with this proposed change. The reduction of courses is questionable because it is based upon a questionable premise, namely that the fact that the number of UCSB’s requirements is higher (how much higher has not been disclosed) than those of comparable institutions. This appears to us as a strength of our liberal arts program. With the merging of literature with the arts, the French and Italian literature courses that formerly met the GE requirements for literature would now be in competition with the other "arts" for student enrollment. This would seriously decrease the number of students enrolling in the literature and comparatist courses our faculty is able to offer. The valuable and enriching exposure to literary texts would be lost as well.
The proposed change is inconsistent with the fact that many departments have already been shifting in that direction. Many of the courses taught in our department are already very interdisciplinary. Furthermore, interdisciplinarity is neither a core area or a convenient label for the many courses that do not fit into any of the existing core area, as the GE workgroup document inconvincingly puts it. Interdisciplinarity is, rather, a description of intellectual projects that occur between disciplines and that involve careful mediations. To create a substantive area of interdisciplinarity creates a delimited domain out of an approach to learning that cannot be confined in this way. It misrepresents the extent of the interdisciplinary work being done across and within the disciplines on campus.
The proposed change involves many complicated ideological issues. Consensus will probably never be found on them. Furthermore, what is the rationale of this proposed change since there is already an Ethnicity requirement?
Our conclusion is that the new GE proposal disregards the vital function of our Division and of departments of literature. It will affect the intellectual agenda of the campus, and consequently, the allocation of resources. We strongly believe that departments of literature will suffer the most under a new structure that does not respect their mandate while promoting a compartmentalization of the university curriculum. These outcomes raise serious intellectual and political concerns, and should be addressed thoroughly before any substantial changes are finalized.