Academic Senate
Santa Barbara Division

To: Denise Segura, Chair, Undergraduate Council
From: Harold Marcuse, co-chair, General Education Workgroup
Date: April 28, 2003 (draft)
Re: Interim Report

Dear Denise,

Now that the second quarter of the GE workgroup's reconsideration of the GE task force reports has begun, I think it is time to sum up our deliberations and decisions to date. When the workgroup was constituted in January, we were hopeful that we could achieve some results by the end of this academic year. We have met as a group 12 times, and held three additional meetings with deans and department chairs from each of the L&S divisions. We were able to achieve consensus on some issues, while several others will require further study and discussion before they can be put before the faculty for a vote.

Let me digress briefly at the outset. Some issues we are confronting are not and will never be resolved consensually. In each case there is a perhaps small, but always adamant group that opposes each possible solution to some of the issues. I would like to describe a mechanism that I think can and will resolve such issues in practice, even if it does not provide an explicit written guarantee that will satisfy the concerned constituency. I will introduce this mechanism with an example.

One fundamental unresolved difference of opinion has to do with the nature and purpose of General Education. There are two poles to what is actually a spectrum of opinion. At the one end, some of us feel that GE should strive to offer students an overview of an entire discipline, including exposure to a wide range of its approaches and subject matter. These members tend to focus more on established disciplines, and to favor survey courses emphasizing breadth. At the other end, some of us feel that GE should attempt to make students competent in one or a limited number of approaches or subject areas in any given discipline. These members emphasize the impossibility of covering, in a limited number of courses, the huge array of disciplines and subject areas offered at our institution. They do not like to prioritize only a few selected approaches or topics. They tend to favor more focused, in-depth courses. In GE parlance these approaches are reflected by the what might be called the "common core" and "distribution requirement" models. In the former, all students are required to absolve a small set of specially designed courses. In the latter, students may choose any course in a range of disciplines.

These preferences and models arise from differences in pedagogical approach and learning style, perhaps also of world view. They may also reflect differences in the nature of different disciplines, since what is appropriate for art or philosophy might well be less appropriate for physics or psychology. In light of the fact that neither group could convince the other of the universal superiority of one approach, it would be inadvisable to mandate one or the other. Additionally, budgetary, political and administrative considerations at UCSB make the creation of broad new courses specifically designed for GE utterly unrealistic, so we must work with what departments are currently offering, and what they are willing to offer.

Given the traditional autonomy of faculty and departmental course offerings at UCSB, a kind of supply mechanism currently shapes our GE course offerings. In practice, those departments and professors who feel that GE courses should emphasize breadth offer them for GE, while other departments and instructors favoring a more focused approach offer that type of course in the GE program. Thus the relative range and weight of each approach depends on the number and dedication of departments and faculty willing to offer them. If, for a given requirement, 4000 slots are offered annually in survey-type courses, and only 500 in more focused courses, then the vast majority of students will absolve that GE requirement in survey-type courses. We do not have to mandate that all students have to take survey-type courses for that requirement, since some specialists in that field feel that this is not appropriate for all students, and are willing to offer courses to them. Of course, we must maintain oversight that both types of courses are fulfilling the spirit of the requirement.

This principle could be explained to the voting faculty explicitly in order to resolve some of the inflexibility we have encountered in attempting to introduce changes to the current GE curriculum, for instance with regard to Western civilization and the US Ethnicity requirements. The major problem that I see with this approach is that it can contribute to proliferation of courses on the GE list, since some professors will want to add their courses in order to increase enrollments, instead of because of dedication to or understanding of GE. All courses on the GE list should meet a high standard of dedication to the principles of GE.

This brings us to our first recommendation:

  1. In order to ensure the coherence and quality of our GE program, and its transparency for students, the list of GE courses should not be allowed to proliferate unduly. To this end we have formulated some formal criteria that the evaluating committee (CUAPP) can apply in addition to the usual content and method criteria when evaluating the suitability of a given course for the GE curriculum. We have requested listings of the courses affected by each of these changes. We expect that data to be available by May 6.
    1. Since General Education is intended for students who are not majors (or not yet majors), all GE courses must be open to non-majors on the first registration pass.
    2. Since General Education is intended for students without specialized knowledge in a field, GE courses may not have prerequisites, EXCEPT another GE-approved course.
      Also, upper division courses that explicitly require upper division standing are acceptable as well.
    3. In order to ensure that students have a reasonable chance of taking courses published on the GE list during their time at UCSB, GE courses should be taught regularly over the middle term. If a GE course is not taught at least 3 times during a rolling 5-year period, it will be hibernated and ultimately removed from the GE-approved list. CUAPP has discussed this in detail, and suggests that the intention to teach the course at least every other year must be declared upon application [or: intention to teach EVERY year?], with evaluation after every four years. The exact mechanics of removal from the list need to be worked out in consultation with the registrar's office and the advising staff.
    4. All courses on the GE list will be reviewed every 4 years, on a rolling basis. Staff support will be needed to collect from departments a "profile" of each of its GE courses during the past 4 years, including the most recent syllabus or syllabi (for courses taught by multiple instructors), enrollment and TA data, and a list of instructors, with employment status and rank (GE courses should in general be taught by regular faculty).
    5. A syllabus for the course will be posted on a special GE website. The initial syllabus will be the one submitted for the course with the application for GE approval. The syllabus will be updated at least at the fourth year review. We request that staff time be funded to accomplish this task. An electronic submission process for GE courses, like the one being implemented for course approvals, would expedite this process.
    6. A final consideration is a tool that CUAPP can use to increase the GE orientation of the courses on the GE list. This consideration stems from the GE task force's recommendation that, whenever possible and appropriate, core courses should include discipline-appropriate writing. However, we have modified it in recognition of the difficulties this requirement would pose in implementation generally, and for certain departments without experience in requiring writing. CUAPP should maintain a profile of the GE offerings for each department, and ensure that at least some of every department's GE offerings also fulfill the writing or quantitative reasoning requirements.
  2. While examining the quality of courses that satisfy GE requirements, we discussed the use of high school advanced placement (AP) courses to fulfill GE requirements. Given the age of the student populations of those courses (which can be taken as early as the sophomore year in high school), and the probable dearth of research experience of the instructors, we feel the practice of granting GE credit for AP courses should be curtailed. We recommend the following changes to policy:
    1. First, only those AP courses that are equivalent to a specific UCSB course that is approved for a GE area may satisfy GE. GE core areas A and B would be exempted from this requirement. In practice, this would only affect four courses in area D, and one course each in areas C and E-2.
      Moving in the opposite direction, certain other courses not currently acceptable for GE might count towards the writing-intensive special requirement. An example of this would be the International Baccalaureate certificate, which includes a year-long research paper project. This would have the benefit of supporting the inclusion of writing-intensive courses in high schools.
    2. Second, a minimum score of 4 (not the present 3) would be necessary for a course to satisfy a GE requirement. Students scoring 3 on an AP exam would still earn unit credit towards graduation. We note that differential credit is already granted in English and foreign languages.
      We note further that UC Berkeley now excludes all AP courses from fulfilling its GE requirements, and UCLA is considering the same policy. Based on feedback from departments that have had positive experiences with AP students, we felt that such a blanket policy would be inappropriate. It might create enrollment bottlenecks, and it would limit the flexibility of talented students to progress rapidly through our degree requirements.
  3. The next set of recommendations concerns the structure of the core categories of GE.
    1. First, we reaffirmed the GE task force's new definitions of the core areas, with the possible exception of "Historical Studies," which replaces Area E. That issue will be discussed below. We also recommend adding the term "Technology" back into the "Science & Mathematics" title for Area C.
    2. After consulting with the dean, chairs and advisors from the division of Mathematics, Life and Physical Sciences, we found that the reasons for the task force's recommendation to reduce the Area C/Science and Mathematics requirement from 3 courses to 2 no longer apply. Thus we recommend keeping this requirement at 3 courses.
    3. After consulting with department chairs and advisors from the departments whose students take the B.S., B.M. and B.F.A. degrees, we decided that it would not be appropriate to have the same GE program for those degrees as for the B.A. This decision eases the pressure to reduce the total number of courses required for GE, although in the interest of simplicity and student flexibility, it might still be expedient to reduce the overall number of courses required to satisfy the GE program for B.A. students.
      We have not yet discussed what modifications to the GE program for the B.A. would be necessary for these other degrees.
    4. The situation with areas D and E is more complex. We did not directly address the issue of reducing the requirement in each from 3 to 2 if there is no need to accommodate the highly structured schedules of the non-B.A. students. More data would be needed to assess the precise effects, but given the large number of courses currently approved for area D that have relatively little specifically social science methodology, setting a higher standard for social science methodology in the list of approved courses might well result in students receiving more exposure to the social sciences with fewer courses.
      (Currently area D can be satisfied by a plethora of highly popular AP courses, and massively enrolled non-social-science courses such as the US history sequence 17A-B-C, which many students must take to fulfill the non-GE American History and Institutions requirement.)
    5. If area E is reconceived more narrowly as "historical studies," a reduction from 3 to 2 may well be appropriate, since some of the large non-history sequence courses in area E-1 would probably be removed from that area. (Thus, given the supply principle stated above, more students would have to take history courses, even though fewer of them are required, because there are no non-history courses that fulfill that requirement.)
    6. With 2 courses each in areas F and G, UCSB is on the high end of comparison schools [and IGETC, which has 3x15=45 course weeks in "arts and humanities," where we have (3+2+2)x10=70 course weeks, since the IGETC category includes our area E as well].
      IF the campus wishes to reduce the total number of GE requirements (with an eye toward later inclusion of non-B.A. degrees, perhaps, or in order to "make room" for a new core area), some reduction here might be considered as well. One option would be to create an "Arts and Literature" area with 3 required courses. This area could be subdivided, with at least one course required in each area.
      I would like to point out that a large number of students on campus already take 3 or fewer courses in this area. Ca. 17% of all students complete GE with IGETC, while *% [Al, do you know the figure?] graduate with the B.S. degree, which requires only one course each from areas F and G.
  4. At this point we reached a fork in the metaphorical road to GE revision. UCSB prides itself on its emphasis on interdisciplinarity, and the GE committee has been faced with an increasing number of courses that do not fit neatly into any of the existing GE core areas, although they may otherwise be ideally suitable for GE. In our discussions around campus we found considerable support for a new core area that would offer courses explicitly interdisciplinary in nature. We discussed several models for defining and gauging interdisciplinarity, and have a working description for such a core area. However, before a new core area can be created, we would have to consult with the different constituencies to see whether requirements in existing core areas can be reduced so as not to increase the total number of required courses, and to ensure that sufficient FTE will be made available so that a new area is viable as a requirement of all incoming students (about 5000 slots per year). We plan on conducting these consultations during the present quarter.
  5. We have also discussed at length and consulted with various constituencies about the GE special subject area requirement in ethnicity. Several problems had arisen: new faculty have been proposing courses that dealt with ethnicity in a more theoretical or comparative (non-US) context, and students would like to see issues of gender and sexuality explicitly included in the GE curriculum as well. Additionally, some students feel that one course is too little, and two courses should be required.
    1. We found that among the faculty currently offering those courses, there is little or no support for broadening the definition of the ethnicity requirement to allow comparative courses, as proposed by the task force—if that requirement remains at one course. We did not ask whether a broadening would be acceptable if the requirement were increased to two courses, but can do that at a follow-up meeting.
      If the definition remains as is, we recommend renaming the requirement "US ethnic groups" to avoid confusion about the nature of this requirement.
    2. We discussed various ways of including ethnicity as a new core area, and rejected them because the study of those ethnic groups cuts across the disciplines. It would be very difficult to get sufficient FTE for a core area with two required courses. Also, in the dynamics of GE, special requirements provide an incentive for faculty across the disciplines to offer courses with that focus. A new core area would lessen that incentive, and might pose problems with maintaining sufficient FTE, since courses now fulfilling that requirement might choose to remain in other core areas.
    3. We saw three possibilities for including recently proposed courses on ethnicity in theoretical or comparative (non-US) contexts, as well as courses on gender and sexuality.
      1. One would be to include such courses within a new core area with an interdisciplinary focus, if those courses took an interdisciplinary approach. However, that would preclude naming their content area explicitly, which is part of the reason for the requirement (to affirm the value we as an institution place on knowledge of these areas).
      2. Another possibility would be to have a second, additional ethnicity requirement that focused solely or primarily on these additional issues. However, it would be almost impossible to offer sufficient FTE to make this a viable requirement.
      3. If the current ethnicity requirement were increased in number to two, and broadened in definition to include these areas, the sheer number of current ethnicity courses would ensure that virtually all students would take at least one of them, and probably two, while these new courses could be validated in the curriculum and given room to grow.
        Of course, students might, by chance or intent, take two of the expanded definition courses and thus avoid in-depth learning about US ethnic groups. The faculty and student constituencies should be consulted about how they feel about this issue.
        I would like to note that some of my research examines the effects of classroom teaching about ethnic groups on students' perceptions of and attitudes towards those groups. My non-representative, qualitative studies show that required curricula after age 14 tend to reinforce rather than debunk preexisting strong negative stereotypes.
  6. We also discussed the GE special subject area requirement in non-Western culture (NWC). The task force report eliminated it entirely, without the realization or approval of its full membership. The proposal that it had discussed was to integrate NWC into the core by recommending that all core courses attend to NWC "where appropriate" (June 2001 report, section 4.2 link). That, however, changes the nature of the requirement, which aims at in-depth study of a different culture. It would also mean that teaching would be shifted away from faculty with real expertise on those cultures, to instructors whose research emphasis is elsewhere. That would reduce the quality of instruction on this subject matter. We thus recommend leaving that requirement as is, but perhaps with a new name (which we have yet to find), so that we do not reify the problematic term "Western" in our GE curriculum.
    Denise, Dan, we need to work this "symmetry problem" out--no Western civ. requirement, but yes a non-European/US. See end of next item, #7.
  7. The GE work group also discussed the GE task force's recommendation that the core "Western civilization" area E-1 be transformed into a special requirement. With two adamant exceptions, the overwhelming majority of the task force voted to remove this requirement. It was later added back in as a compromise without proper deliberation during the task force's final year. The original rationale for the Western Civilization core area E-1 was that students need in-depth, college-level grounding in the culture in which they live (see the 1985 General Education Committee Chairman's Report, pp.1f, link). This requirement was added back in to the second (2002) task force report in order to create symmetry with the "non-Western" requirement (link). However, by design special requirements are created to ensure some exposure to otherwise neglected topics. Since the vast majority of courses at this institution are taught by instructors firmly rooted in "Western" traditions (indeed most aspects of the institution itself reflect them, as the 1985 GE chair pointed out), it makes little sense to include such a special requirement.
    The work group recommends abandoning this requirement altogether. [Do we? note 10/26/03: no, the 5/9/03 straw vote wanted symmetry with NWC]
    Should we host a forum on this issue?
  8. The last of the special subject requirements we studied was the writing requirement of six courses. The task force proposed integrating intensive writing into the core. Given the nature of course creation, design and funding at this institution, our divisional discussions have led us to think that this goal is not currently realizable. (Our recommendation in 1f above is designed to move in this direction, so that this might be reconsidered at a future date.) Instead, we recommend keeping the current six-course requirement, but modifying the definition of suitable writing assignments to allow instructors across the disciplines more flexibility while maintaining rigor. We have three recommendations.
    1. We reaffirm the task force's recommendation that types of writing appropriate to more disciplines be accepted as fulfilling this requirement. This might require discipline-specific definitions of writing-intensive.
    2. We recommend that the emphasis be placed less on the number of written words or assignments required (although standards should still be explicitly stated), but on the amount of explicit preparation for and feedback given on the writing assignments.
    3. Research shows that the quality of writing-intensive requirements is directly related to the size of the courses or sections in which that writing is taught. We recommend that courses fulfilling the writing requirement that enroll more than 40 students be furnished with teaching assistants or (undergraduate) writing tutors who can assist in providing individual feedback on writing assignments. Clearly some resource allocation will be necessary. [Sue, did I get this right?]
  9. We have yet to discuss in detail the task force's recommendations regarding implementation. There are two main issues:
    1. Most importantly, the position of a faculty director of GE who would coordinate and monitor GE offerings.
    2. Another important aspect of implementation is the issue of a petition process. The GE committee's past practice of allowing exceptions for individual students only if the course in question was suitable to be placed on the GE list was one of the main causes of proliferation of courses on the list. In light of the criteria laid out in 1, above, a petition process with appropriate standards to ensure the quality and manageability of the GE program will be necessary.
  10. Finally, as a means of raising the visibility of GE among the faculty, and rewarding faculty who take the time and effort to offer GE courses, we recommend the inclusion of a faculty member's participation in GE on the bio-bibliography, with appropriate consideration during advancement and promotion. We have yet to contact CAP about this.
  11. Anything else?

Harold Marcuse

prepared for web by H. Marcuse on Oct. 27, 2003
back to top, UCSB GE Workgroup homepage, Apr. 25 prev. meeting, May 9 "straw vote" meeting