Departmental response to the Oct. 30, 2003 UCSB General Education Discussion Document (link)
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January 12, 2004

TO: GE Workgroup
FROM: C. Anthony Anderson, Chair, Department of Philosophy
RE: GE Workgroup Discussion Document of Oct. 30, 2003

The Philosophy Department has three main questions about the proposed changes. All of these are motivated by didactic and pedagogical considerations. In this connection it would be very helpful if the GE Workgroup would provide a fairly concise statement of their reasons for the various proposed changes. It is not reasonable to ask us to consult all the various minutes and documents on your website in order to cull the rationale for the proposals.

  1. Why should the name, and consequently the aim, of Requirement E be changed? "Civilization and Thought" does not seem to be intrinsically biased toward Western Culture and Thought. The proposal to change the name to "Historical Studies" seems to ignore certain important areas of thought previously included in the core university curriculum, for example, philosophical thought and, in particular, ethical thought and thought about values. One thing that seems to be involved in the Workgroup’s point of view is that such courses should emphasize methodology. But historical methodology is not the only kind that is important – there is also the methodology of critical and logical analysis, utilized by Philosophy and other areas of thought for some 2000 years. And history does not contain all the relevant "methods of solving problems" mentioned in the official statement of the goals of the GE requirement. Again we would mention critical and logical analysis. If this it is believed that these items are no longer pedagogically important, then detailed and persuasive justification for this should be provided by the Workgroup.
  2. What are the reasons that speak in favor of the proposed new QGE requirement? The only considerations that we know of that have been offered by representatives of the Workgroup are (i) that the students want such a requirement, and (ii) that Chancellor Yang wants such a requirement. But the Workgroup’s website itself makes it clear that the general sentiment among students about such a requirement is simply not known. (Certainly students who wanted to take such courses should be able to, but the question is why it should be a requirement.)
    And even if it were known, it doesn’t seem that such a desire would itself be a good reason to institute the requirement. Chancellor Yang’s support of the idea is presumably itself to be based on pedagogical and didactic considerations. It may be that the didactic goals motivating the proposal are essentially normative – to encourage students to have desirable attitudes toward marginalized groups.
  3. We do not object to the inclusion of such normative objectives in framing the GE Requirement, but we would strongly urge that the development of critical thinking about matters of value and ethics should itself be part of such an agenda. Exposing students to value orientations that they may not have encountered before is of little educational value if they are not able to think critically about what they have learned. Furthermore, there are many other normative matters besides the evils of racism, sexism, and homophobia that deserve critical scrutiny. The development of critical thinking is one of the explicitly stated goals of the general education requirement. The Philosophy Department is somewhat dismayed that thinking about matters of morality, ethics, and value is not explicitly addressed in the proposed revisions. The view that all matters of ethics and values are relative is itself only one of the philosophical points of view to which the student should be critically exposed.

  4. What are the reasons for the proposed reductions?
    "Streamlining" certainly involves the removal of courses from the GE list that have not been taught in many years, but why is the reduction of requirements itself seen as desirable? That one must make room for the QGE requirement is not a persuasive reason unless that change is itself fully justified. One can and should improve the quality of the courses in the GE requirement, but "fewer" is not by entailed by "better". It is pointed out in the working document that peer campuses generally have fewer GE requirements. Why does this consideration suggest that we reduce our requirements? The working document mentions "equity" as one of the ideas behind the proposed reductions. Is the idea that we are being unfair to our students by making them take more GE courses than students on peer campuses? Or is the thought that some of our students take fewer GE courses than others by exploiting loopholes? Does the committee believe that these equity considerations outweigh pedagogical goals? Perhaps the other campuses are shortchanging their students. Without some independent pedagogical justification it is unclear why we should follow suit. And if there are loopholes, equity would only require that the loopholes be closed, not that the total number of requirements be reduced. How would that help to achieve fairness?

It is also not evident why reductions in requirements contribute to clarity (another idea mentioned in the working paper in connection with the proposed reductions), although culling untaught courses from the GE list could well dispel some confusion. A reduction in requirements would certainly contribute to flexibility (the third idea expressed as motivating the reductions). But this is just a way of stating that if students take fewer required courses, then they are free to choose more courses. While this is true, it is hard to see it by itself as a reason for a reduction.

The document mentions that the time to degree might be shortened if the number of requirements is reduced. Again, this is true, but it hardly competes with the pedagogical considerations in favor of the GE requirements.

In summary: (1) We do not see the rationale for renaming and changing Requirement E so that it is focuses only on history and its methodology to the exclusion of other important kinds of thought, e.g. philosophical thought, especially logical and careful analytical thought about values. (2) We do not see a clear justification for the proposed QGE requirement. (3) We do not see that the proposed reductions have been well motivated by pedagogical and didactic considerations.

As to the relations between the various proposals, the leading idea of the Workgroup may be that having historical studies and QGE requirements together are sufficiently important together so as to require the dropping of topics covered in Civilization and Thought – and thus the reduction of requirements. The Philosophy Department cannot agree, at least not without further justification. In particular, we do not believe that forcing the students to learn something about the QGE subjects is more important than forcing them to learn techniques of critical and logical analysis. We conclude that if the QGE requirement is to be instituted, then the Civilization and Thought requirement should not be reduced so as to contain only historical studies.

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