Posted on the UCSB GE workgroup website (link) by H. Marcuse, 4/24/04
This is Harold Marcuse's 2/18/04 draft final GE workgroup report, which was distributed at the 2/19/04 Undergraduate Council meeting (2/19/04 UgC minutes). See also the 2/19/04 memo with specific recommendations for immediate action that Marcuse drew up after that meeting based on the discussion. That memo is slated for discussion in the Undergraduate Council on 4/29/04.


Academic Senate
Santa Barbara Division

To: Undergraduate Council
Denise Segura, Chair

From: General Education Workgroup
Harold Marcuse, chair

Date: Feb. 18, 2004 (draft) [discussed UgC 2/19/04; typos corrected 3/17/04]

Re: General Education Workgroup final report

The GE workgroup has completed its attempt to develop a viable implementation plan based on the GE Task Force's June 12, 2001 and May 6, 2002 final reports. Unfortunately we must report that, after intense discussion with many campus constituencies, we do not think that a GE program based on the Task Force's findings will find enough support to be approved in a campuswide ballot at this time. However, as a result of our deliberations, we do have some specific ideas about how UCSB's current GE program can be improved to alleviate some of the existing problems, and we would like to suggest several procedural alternatives as to how the Undergraduate Council might continue the venture of GE reform at UCSB. Before I summarize our work, let me outline some of the problems the GE Task Force attempted to address.

Background: the Task Force charge and reports.
In November 1999 Senate Chair Richard Watts convened this group with three objectives: 1) to review comparable institutions to "assure that the UCSB general education program meets standards appropriate to the status of the campus and the quality of its students," 2) to consider a community service requirement as proposed by the governor, and 3) to consider the chancellor's agreement to encourage additional ethnic studies courses within the GE program. After 18 months of work, in June 2001 the Task Force released its findings and recommendations.

Problems with the current GE program.
If I may paraphrase section 3 of that report: a majority of GE-approved courses are designed for majors, not students from other disciplines; faculty are increasingly frustrated by the categories in the current system, which do not allow for interdisciplinarity (among other things); "students and advisors find our GE program hard to understand" (I take this to mean that the intellectual rationale behind it is unclear); a large number of students fulfill GE requirements in "a relatively small number of huge enrollment courses" that are frequently taught by adjunct instructors; and that departments and GE administration suffer from a lack of resources to devote to GE. The report also found shortcomings in the writing-intensive requirement.

The Task Force's recommendations.
In addition to a number of specific items, the Task Force's main recommendation was to create a "revised core" model GE program, with redefined categories that roughly parallel our current general subject areas C-G. In order to create one GE program for all bachelor's degrees on campus, the Task Force recommended a reduction in the number of courses in several areas, whereby the remaining courses were to be specially designed and meet much more stringent criteria: "all core courses on the new GE list will require appropriate writing assignments, and for large classes with sections, teaching assistants will receive training in responding to student writing. The Core contains only those courses that have been devised and approved for General Education." (emphasis added) After another year of consultation and the release of a modified report in May 2002, a number of recommendations remained so contested that the proposal was withdrawn from the Faculty Legislature in December 2002. This GE work group was convened in January 2003 to create a more acceptable proposal.

Work group meetings and consultations.
The GE workgroup met 33 times during 2003: 7 times during Winter quarter, plus 3 meetings with the dean and chairs of the MLPS, Social Sciences and HFA divisions (Feb. 14, Mar. 3, Mar. 10); 9 times during Spring quarter, and 10 times during Fall 2003, plus follow-up meetings with the HFA dean and chairs (Nov. 3), the MLPS chairs (Dec. 1), the L&S Faculty Executive Committee (Dec. 8), and the acting dean and Social Sciences chairs and departmental advisors (Dec. 16). In order to facilitate discussion, we created a GE web site where our on-going discussions were posted, along with all of the available documents on the Task Force's deliberations, relevant documents about the 1985 and 1993 GE reforms, and links to many other resources about GE, such as the programs at our sibling campuses and comparison schools.

Interim Reports.
Our efforts to generate discussion began with the group-internal discussion of an "interim report" on April 25, which led to a straw vote on May 9 to assess the strength of the group membership's feelings on various options. Based on those results I drafted another "summary interim report" on May 25. Unfortunately, our deliberations during and since Spring 2003 have been hampered by the difficulty of convening the full workgroup membership at any given meeting, so we often went back and forth on various issues before reaching a decision. The primary consensual item was the implementation of formal criteria determining the suitability of courses for listing in the GE brochure. Our recommendation was reported to the Faculty Legislature at its May 29 meeting, and then turned over to CUAPP for implementation. At this time (Feb. 2004) the results of the first application of these criteria are being tabulated, and it looks like more than 1/3 of over 1500 listed courses will be removed with departmental approval.

Feedback from departments.
The alternating attendance phenomenon delayed until Oct. 30, 2003 the release of a "dicussion document" summarizing our analysis and implementation recommendations based on the Task Force report. There was misunderstanding as to whether we were releasing a final recommendation about a new GE program, or soliciting feedback in order to formulate such a program. The spectrum of opinion and confusion among the workgroup membership prefigured sentiment and confusion among the faculty at large. Ultimately, we received formal responses to the Oct. 30 discussion document from 8 departments (Linguistics, Music, French & Italian, Dramatic Art, Classics, Music, Film Studies, Philosophy, and English), and chair Marcuse was privy to discussions in History and Comparative Literature. After the Dec. 1 meeting three MLPS chairs wrote a memo, also distributed to their membership, expressing their concerns primarily with regard to GE requirements for the BS degree.

Lessons.
What have we learned from our deliberations and the feedback from the campus?

Priority of GE on campus.
First, that the issues are extremely complex, and that GE does not enjoy sufficient priority among the faculty at large that we are able to take the time to fully understand the interrelationships and problems with maintaining the current system. Most responses to the discussion document focus on narrower issues of concern to particular departments, without consideration of the realities of the GE program for other departments and divisions, for students across the divisions, or from an administrative standpoint. I will prepare a separate summary of the feedback we have received.

Economic security and change.
Second
, we find that the willingness to contemplate change in the existing program is directly proportional to the economic security of the departments. The departments that responded formally are all in the HFA division, and several of them stated explicitly that they felt the implementation suggestions would "marginalize" the humanities and arts with potentially severe resource implications. Our HFA consultants underscored that as the UC budget situation continues to deteriorate, those departments would rather keep the status quo than risk any changes in enrollment patterns. [On March 18, 2004 HFA chairs' convenor Davies King, chair of the dramatic arts department, e-mailed Marcuse with proposed rewording of this section, which he feels misrepresents the HFA position. They did not reach agreement on this. See the documentation of the exchange.]

Distribution vs. Core GE program.
Third
, although it was neither an explicit part of the Task Force reports, nor of the discussion document, it is clear that there is broad support across all divisions for the implementation of a "distribution requirement" type of GE program. In such a system there is no listing of specific core courses. Rather, for each subject area students may choose from any regular courses offered by a predetermined set of departments. While this type of GE program offers the advantage of giving students substantial autonomy in shaping their own education and thus increases student buy-in to courses in other disciplines, it also restricts the ability of the faculty as a whole to shape students' educational experience by requiring specific content in specially selected (or designed) core courses. We note that while the core-course model is considered the "gold standard" of GE programs, it is extremely costly to maintain, and is usually found at smaller institutions that place a greater emphasis on teaching than on research, and where curriculum development and faculty teaching assignments can be more strictly controlled.

While many members of the workgroup see the implementation of a distribution-type GE program as the solution to many of the existing problems, we also anticipate that there will be some trenchant resistance to abandoning the current core model with its listing of particular courses, which has been a feature of GE at UCSB for nearly a quarter-century. The inherent intellectual-pedagogical tension between the principles of faculty control vs. student autonomy would be exacerbated by the sometimes conflicting concern about the resource implications of changes in student enrollment patterns.

The future of GE reform at UCSB: program options.
We feel that we have fulfilled our charge to discuss among ourselves and consult with faculty and students to attempt to resolve the major issues in implementing the specific recommendations and broader vision of GE as put forth in the Task Force reports. At this point we think it would be necessary to poll the campus community explicitly about the implementation of a distribution model GE system. As to the near future of GE at UCSB we see the following three options:

  1. leave things the way they are and revisit them when the budget situation has improved;
  2. draw up an explicit distribution-model GE program and determine campus sentiment;
  3. devise a hybrid GE program that moves towards a distribution model, while retaining some valued elements of the current core model, and determine campus sentiment.

Procedural options.
Over our many months of work on GE the work group has amassed substantial expertise on many areas of concern, and we could continue to work towards the next step. However, we would like a renewed charge from the Undergraduate Council before we begin such work. As far as procedure goes, we would like to outline some options available to the Council:

  1. charge the existing GE workgroup to continue to explore the options it envisages;
  2. convene a new group to explore these options;
  3. ask the L&S Faculty Executive Committee to take charge of drafting, consulting, and implementing a new proposal;
  4. take a break for the time being, and revisit the issue when the campus climate is more favorable towards change.

Please let us know how you wish to proceed. As an appendix we attach information about some of the issues that relate to the implementation of a distribution model program.

Sincerely,
Harold Marcuse for the GE workgroup

Appendix: Considerations regarding a distribution-model GE program at UCSB

At the outset we wish to note that most of our comparison schools and sibling campuses, namely UC Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside and Santa Cruz, have distribution requirement programs (link to comparison table). UCSD's colleges each have their own GE programs, most of which are distribution-model. UCLA recently underwent a GE reform that implemented a core program for part of its student body, at huge financial and administrative cost. During the last revision of GE at UCSB in 1993, the campus overwhelmingly decided to move in the direction of a distribution program by opening the GE list potentially to any course offered on campus. An amendment that was introduced in order to limit the pool of courses to core-model courses was explicitly rejected.

Additionally, on a campus with a research-oriented faculty such as UCSB, a distribution model program is more suitable. While there is a limited set of introductory courses that remain relatively constant over time, the bulk of the courses we offer are upper-division courses that are abandoned and created as our research interests evolve. There are of course notable exceptions across the divisions, with HFA tending to abandon and create the most courses, and MLPS offering the most stability over time, with the Social Sciences taking an intermediate position.

Thus we have the inherently contradictory situation that HFA, the division that is most suited to a distribution-type system, is also the one that is most fearful of possible negative resource implications from its implementation. This contradiction is most apparent in the current Area E-1, in which several departments have invested heavily in offering a tightly controlled set of introductory courses, and thereby reap the benefits (in terms of student FTE) of the most purely core-model portion of our current system.


prepared for web by H. Marcuse, 4/24/04
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