Boxed responses added by Work Group chair Harold Marcuse on 4/24/04. At worst, they represent only his perception of the Work Group's positions, although after a year of discussions he hopes (I hope) that I am not misrepresenting our deliberations and opinions. As always, comments are welcome.

Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education Discussion Document (link)
Original Linguistics dept. response without comments (link)
back to UCSB GE homepage

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
    I hate to disappoint you, but the work group was charged only with figuring out how to implement the GE Task Force's proposal (charge memo). Of course we needed to discuss our own position on the purpose of GE, and we quickly determined that the wide range of our own positions mirrored the diversity among the faculty as a whole. Thus the 10/30/03 discussion document quoted only the existing rationale as published in the UCSB general catalog (catalog text; disc. doc.) However, I can say there was not strong support among us that GE should provide students with a "specific body of knowledge" (some members did express guarded support for this postion, however). On the contrary, most of us realized that it would be impossible to attain agreement on a body of specific content knowledge. If anything, we might agree upon a set of academic/intellectual skills all students should be exposed to, as well as certain broad content areas. Our implementation recommendations reflect this.
    The discussion document does NOT propose significant structural changes: the core areas C-G remain unchanged. The implementation suggestions propose updating and clarifying definitions, slight shifts in the balance among core areas, and administrative improvements that would ensure that the system does not lose its intellectual coherence, as has unintentionally happened since the 1993 revision.
  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
    We note that the current list of courses satisfying Area D contains several high-enrollment courses with little social science content, so that many students satisfy this requirement with scant exposure to the social sciences. We feel that a more stringent definition would place these courses in other, more appropriate areas and thereby raise the quality of social science education for many students, even if they are required to complete fewer courses.
    There is no "new focus on methodology." The proposed core area definitions simply make more transparent the basis according to which courses are placed in a given area. The present definitions for Areas D and E are so vague that basically ANY HFA or Social Science course can qualify for BOTH areas! CUAPP sees this VERY often in the confusion faculty have in selecting an area in which to propose their courses. So the answer is: yes, of course ethnology would count in Area D!
    (Please see also Workgroup member Dan Montello's comment midway down in the 2/21/03 minutes of our follow-up discussion about the 2/14 meeting with MLPS chairs. link)
  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. This is NOT intended as a reconceptualization. We note that the current wording of Area E's "objective" focuses on history: "To provide a perspective on civilization through the study of human history and thought." (Even if "thought" is not necessarily history, the word "civilization" implies a historical approach.) We are not making the historical perspective central to GE, it is already a core area. It is regrettable that the proposed name seems to highlight one department only, since we feel that ALL current area E courses would qualify under the new name. In the discussion document we asked about the Phil 20 and RelSt 80 series because: If, as we propose, the "Western Civilization" category (Area E-1) becomes a "Special Subject requirement," AND IF, as we suggest, a new "Interdisciplinary" core area is created, those departments (as well as Comp Lit) might consider whether their surveys might be more appropriate for that new area. IF no new "area I" is created, those surveys remain appropriate where they are now, or they might consider whether their approach would place them in "Literary and Textual Studies."
    I repeat: the work group does NOT see this as "a significant reconceptualization." Perhaps you would prefer the title "Historical and Cultural Studies"? However, many cultural studies courses would be more appropriate in Areas D, F or G, so it would be somewhat misleading to use the term in Area E's title.

    We agree that students need some grounding in both content and methods before they can truly understand a discipline. In the jargon of GE might be called a "depth requirement." In our current program, solely the Area E-1 specification that both required courses come from the same sequence reflects this. However, in practice, given the difficulty of creating continuity across courses in one sequence taught by many different faculty members, this objective is rarely realized even in E-1. We welcome suggestions on how to realize this goal under the UCSB's tradition of substantial faculty teaching autonomy and limited resources to devote to curriculum standardization.
    On the third and final point, the proposed definition was vetted by more than a roomful of faculty to be broad enough to encompass all of their approaches: "Disciplines whose knowledge claims rely on the analysis of a broad range of sources about past cultures with the aim of understanding those cultures in themselves, as they have changed over time, and in their relationships to other cultures." We welcome suggestions from faculty who would like to teach in this area and feel the definition would exclude them.
    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
    The primary reason for this suggestion is to create "space" in the GE curriculum for new requirements, such as the interdisciplinary and gender/sexuality courses (which, I note, you also favor).
    Also, as noted, our requirements in the HFA area are much higher even than comparison institutions that have a reputation for emphasizing these areas (see table on homepage). This has two undesireable consequences: it fosters the tendency of students in the sciences to choose the BS degree because their highly structured major requirements limit the number of GE courses they can take. (See four MLPS departments' remarks at the 2/14/03 meeting; link) Data provided in the discussion document (link) show that about 1/3 of our student body, arguably the students who would benefit most from exposure to areas F and G (BS and IGETC), are exempt from it.
    In principle, however, you are correct: we faculty may wish to uphold a higher standard for 4-year BA students, at the risk of increasing the number of students who opt for other paths to completing GE. This is a choice we should make explicitly, acknowledging its disadvantages.
  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
    Determining percentages will indeed be difficult, but it is not really necessary in practice. We feel we have addressed this issue: In the discussion document we suggest including BOTH inter- and multi-disciplinary courses, and we refer to a secondary document that discusses this issue at length (disc. doc.; INT document).
  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.

    We agree that ethnicity does not seem to fit with gender and sexuality. However, in practice (in actual courses) it is often included (are issues of sexual orientation the same for African-American, Asian or white males or females?). (You yourself ask whether the requirement shouldn't specify "white" majority!) The use of the word "and" in the introductory paragraph of the intersectionalities document (link) may imply that such courses must cover all 5 of the large topical areas mentioned in that sentence (thus including the relationship to the heterosexual majority). This can be easily remedied by replacing it with "or." Also, the next sentence clearly implies that these courses would not have to focus on relations to a heterosexual majority. Certainly no one course would be expected to cover all aspects.
    Some of your faculty would prefer to include "European Americans and the study of whiteness." My understanding is that the proponents of this requirement do indeed wish not to include these groups, because they are sufficiently covered in the vast majority of courses that fulfill GE requirements. We need to ensure that students don't miss the study of marginalized groups, not require them to study what they are learning anyway.
    Finally, such courses would certainly not have to focus on oppression. Only the selection of groups to be studied would have to do with power relations.

    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
    1. Given the reality of an extraordinary range of majors, degrees, and paths to graduation among the UCSB student body (even only L&S, to which this GE applies), not to mention the range of ability among students and the diversity of faculty teaching approaches even within the same course, the GE workgroup feels that the goal of a narrow "shared academic experience" is illusory at this institution. The only practicable shared experience we see is one that requires significant exposure to the broad range of approaches and subjects offered by UCSB faculty. We feel that the suggested GE curriculum would achieve this objective. See also the conclusion to the Film Studies response (link--then use your "back" button).
    2. Many courses currently approved for GE are non-general. Many of us, certainly all of the faculty who proposed and teach those GE courses, reject the notion that only general/survey courses can constitue GE.
    3. We have heard substantial support among faculty and administrators for a distribution-type GE system that would eliminate such problems. We plan to explore this option in the future.
  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.

prepared for web by H. Marcuse, 4/24/04; comments updated 5/4/04
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