Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education Discussion Document (discussion document)
This same document with responses by GE workgroup chair H. Marcuse (Linguistics with HM comment)
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DATE: Nov. 19, 2003

TO: General Education Workgroup
FROM: Carol Genetti, Chair Department of Linguistics
RE: Linguistics Department's response to proposed revision to GE program

The faculty of the Department of Linguistics discussed the October 30th proposed revision to the GE program at a faculty meeting on November 12th. Overall, the faculty found the revisions to be problematic and the wording of certain areas of the document to be confusing and unclear. The faculty did not view the new proposal favorably, and if it were put to a vote in its current form, the entire department faculty would vote against it. We hope that the following comments will be useful to the committee in considering how to rework the proposal.

  1. Statement of Goals of GE
  2. The current document does not provide any overall statement of the purpose of GE as viewed by the committee, instead providing the catalog copy and the Provost's statement from the GE brochure. Has the catalog statement been the basis for the proposed revisions, or has the GE committee been working with other conceptions of GE, such as providing students with a specific body of knowledge? Rather than citing catalog copy, the proposal would benefit from a clear statement of the committee's perspective on the goals of GE, and a statement of how the proposed changes are in line with that perspective.

    The GE document would also benefit from the committee's assessment of the problems with the structure of the current GE program and whether the suggested revisions address those problems. Many of the problems that I have heard discussed, such as the overall number of courses, lack of appropriate administration of the program, and courses that don't meet the structural criteria, can be addressed without changing the structure of GE. What is the rationale for changing the GE program independent of such concerns?

  3. Area D: Social Sciences
  4. The Linguistics faculty does not approve of the reduction of social science courses from 3 to 2; one year's worth of social science courses seems like a minimum that we should require of our students.

    The faculty also objects to the new focus on methodology. What is the rationale for focusing on the methodology as opposed to the content of social science disciplines? Of course, one cannot talk about content and major findings without also incorporating some discussion of methodology, but we wonder why the shift in focus from content to method is appropriate at the GE level. We also wonder who determines which methodologies will be considered appropriate for GE. Is the emphasis to be primarily on quantitative methodologies, or would ethnology, for example, also count? In our opinion this part of the revision requires rethinking and/or further clarification.

  5. Area E: Civilization and Thought
  6. The workgroup document refers to a "renaming" of Area E from Civilization and Thought to Historical Studies. This is not simply a renaming but a significant reconceptualization of the requirement. "Civilization and thought" is a much broader area, while "historical studies" strikes us as too narrow and too specific to a particular discipline. What is the rationale for making historical perspective and methodology central to GE? Again, the committee should make this clear.

    Another point we would like to make is that it is often difficult to fully understand historical development without significant background in the given area. This is true, for example, of the development of language; students must have significant background in linguistics before they can fully understand how languages change. We suspect that this also might be the case for other disciplines. Thus historical studies in many disciplines may not be general and basic enough to be appropriate for GE. Are we then left with history courses being the primary courses in this area?

    Finally, we again consider the emphasis on methodology as opposed to content to be inappropriate as well as unclear. It brings up the question of what constitutes historical methodology. (We wonder whether there would even be agreement on this question if we brought it up in a roomful of historians.) If this revision to the GE program is put forward on the final proposal (although we hope it will not be), the document should provide a specific comment on expectations of what historical methodology is, and how a given course will be evaluated with regards to this criterion.

  7. Areas F and G
  8. We would like to see a statement on the rationale of combining these two areas.

    Also, part of the rationale given for reducing the number of requirements here is equivalency with IGETC. However, it is not clear that such equivalency is desirable or appropriate. The idea of reducing our requirements so that they are the same as those required of transfer students from community colleges seems a devaluing of our own idea of what a liberal arts education represents. It does not seem problematic to us that students entirely educated at UC have higher GE requirements than those coming in from community colleges; it is a different educational experience and it is natural that more rigorous requirements be part of it.

  9. Inter- and Multi-disciplinary Studies
  10. The faculty likes this proposal, but thinks in practice it will be difficult to determine what percentage of a course is in one field or another. Some topics are so interdisciplinary that one can't pull the content apart into clearly delimited areas and argue that one part is A and the other is B. We recommend clarification of this issue.

  11. Ethnicity requirement
  12. The faculty is strongly of the opinion that the inclusion of gender issues into GE is appropriate, and that the time has come for this to be undertaken. However, we disapprove of combining the gender issues with ethnicity, as these are independent domains. We would like to recommend that gender and sexuality should be included as a separate GE, and that courses satisfying this not be restricted to the US context. Much of the research on gender and sexuality is comparative, crossing national boundaries, and it seems fully appropriate for GE students to look at such issues in this comparative light.

    We particularly object to the revisions of the wording of this requirement as proposed in the October 24th document entitled "Intersectionalities". It appears from the wording that all classes in this GE would have to focus on analyzing the experiences of the various historically oppressed groups in terms of the heterosexual majority (not the white majority?). It is not clear at all why a course on Native Americans, for example, needs to include a comparison to heterosexuals, and to analyze queer identities in relation to this group (as specified in the last sentence). If all courses in this GE category must focus on issues of sexuality, transgender and androgynous identities, then this requirement becomes much too narrow. (For example, a course on African American Vernacular English would have to be excluded from this category.)

    Our recommendation is that we require that students take one ethnicity course and one gender and sexuality course. We see this as preferable to requiring students to take one course, and forcing all courses to cover both areas.

    It was pointed out at our meeting that Berkeley has a requirement entitled "American Cultures", which some faculty members preferred as it does not exclude European Americans and the study of whiteness and white privilege.

    The faculty also objects to the current requirement that ethnicity courses necessarily focus on oppression. A course highlighting the richness of the cultural heritage of a given ethnic group may do as much (or more) to raise cross-cultural understanding and appreciation as a course that focuses on the oppression of the same group.

  13. Use of non-listed courses to satisfy GE requirements
  14. The faculty opposes this suggestion for several reasons. First, it goes in principle against the concept of GE as representing a shared academic experience. Second, the courses that would be substituted would likely be insufficiently general to constitute "GE". Third, it would require extensive administrative work (processing of petitions, etc.), unless this option was limited to a small group of students (e.g. honors students).

  15. Summary

The Linguistics faculty considers most of the proposed revisions of the proposal to be problematic. We would like to see the inclusion of Area I and also the addition of a requirement for one course in gender and sexuality, possibly balanced by reductions elsewhere. If this is not feasible, then we would advocate keeping the current GE program in place while taking steps to significantly improve its implementation.

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