GENERAL EDUCATION COMMITTEE: CHAIRMAN'S REPORT, 1985
text scanned and provided by Sarah Cline
proofread and prepared for web by Harold Marcuse, Feb. 2003
posted on UCSB GE work group website, May 2, 2003; minor corrections 11/15/03 and 5/12/04
The  UCSB Committee on General Education offers the following program for the consideration of the faculty. It constitutes a response to a widely-recognized need to strengthen and restructure general education requirements at the post-secondary level. Ernest L. Boyer and Arthur Levine, in their Quest for Common Learning: The Aims of General Education (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching) note the "quiet but growing swell of concern for general education across the country, " which, in aggregate, "appears to us to be nothing less than a national revival" (p. 5). It has resulted in major revisions in GE programs not only at the smaller liberal arts colleges, but at any of the large state universities and at such private universities as Harvard, Stanford and Chicago.
The revival is much needed. One consequence of the counter-culture movement of the late sixties and early seventies was the partial or total disintegration of general education programs, not only in the University of California but throughout the nation (and beyond). As a result, students could select from a supermarket of courses but were provided little guidance, if any, in developing a coherent curriculum. The present curriculum at UCSB permits students to satisfy area requirements by taking any course in Anthropology, Classics, Religious Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Spanish, English (except 106WP), History l (with 3 exceptions), etc. Conversely, it is possible to satisfy the present GE requirement without taking an upper-division course in English or American literature, or, for that matter, any literature whatever. The Social Sciences can likewise be skirted altogether.
Diversity is not to be scorned. As Boyer and Levine put it,
To the extent that our colleges and universities have expanded their enrollments, broadened their curricula, and responded to the diversity of the students they enroll, they, and the nation, can be justly proud. Students must be free to fulfill their own unique purposes and goals [through a] wide range of electives... (pp. 21-22).
But, the Report continues, there is more to be considered:
While affirming diversity, We also must acknowledge the claims of the larger society that give meaning to our lives. General education should be reaffirmed not as a sentimental tradition, but precisely because our future well-being, and perhaps even our survival, may depend on whether students understand the reality of interdependence. ... The mission of general education is to help students understand that they are not only autonomous individuals, but also members of a human community to which they are accountable (p. 22).
Or, as Dr. Lewis Thomas complained, while urging support for general education at a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science,
We are ignorant about how we work, about where we fit in, and most of all about the enormous, imponderable system of life in which we are embedded as working parts. (ibid.).
In constructing this new GE proposal, the General Education Committee, working jointly with the Letters and Science Executive Committee, has sought to create a program that addresses urgent needs
To achieve this last goal, the new program is divided into four General areas, each of them further divided into sub-areas. In area A, "Science and Technology," the student must take three courses from three separate subject areas with at least one course in the physical sciences and at least one in the biological sciences. In Area B, "Social Sciences," the exclusion of history courses, and the requirement of one course from each of three sub-areas, ensures that students will be introduced to major fields of social-scientific investigation. They can no longer take refuge in the Middle Ages.
Area C, "Civilization," combines two areas proposed in the Carnegie Report, "Shared Sense of Time," and "Shared Values and Beliefs" (pp. 42-45). As the report argues, "Our common heritage is a bridge that holds us all together in ways we hardly understand. It is, in Edmund Burke's words, "a pact between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn." Our culture shapes our assumptions, defines our options, and governs the very categories in which we judge and perceive. It is so encompassing that we scarcely notice it—as a fish is unaware of the ocean in which it swims. The great majority of courses and majors offered by a modern university consist of strands in the Western cultural fabric. The natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities are all deeply rooted in Western civilization; the university is itself a Western invention. In the belief that students must be made aware not only of their Western heritage but of other cultures as well, Area C requires both a two-quarter sequence providing a broad introduction to Western culture and a course dealing with one or more non-western cultures. [emphasis added 5/12/04] Area C also includes courses of a non-historical nature bearing on basic philosophical or religious conceptions of the human condition (such courses are offered, for example, by the Departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies, both of which also offer courses with a historical orientation).
Area D, "The Arts and Literature," corresponds roughly to the Carnegie Report area, "Shared Sense of Symbols" (which, unlike our Area D, includes not only literature and arts but mathematics as well). It is more-or-less equivalent to Area C ("Fine Arts") and D ("Humanities") in the present UCSB program. The requirements for this area are constructed to ensure that students will enroll in broadly representative courses in the arts (2 courses in English or American literature and in a non-English language literature, either in the original language or in English translation). In keeping with the goals of Areas C, we have endeavored to balance exposure to our own literary heritage with exposure to a heritage not our own--to encourage both cultural self-awareness and cultural diversity.
This proposal has been long in the making. Several years ago the GE Committee formulated a program, involving considerably more units than the present one, which failed to win the approval of the L&S Executive Committee. Afterwards, to avoid another such impasse, the reframing of the program was put in the hands of a large joint committee consisting of the entire L&S Executive Committee and the Senate GE Committee. This joint committee, having reached consensus on the four areas, appointed four subcommittees, one for each area, to work on details and polish the language. Each of the four subcommittees consisted of three persons--one from the joint L&S-GE committee and two representing appropriate disciplines.
The work of these subcommittees was then discussed and debated, during a series of long meetings in Winter-Spring 1981, by the joint GE-L&S Committee, enlarged to include all members of the four subcommittees. By the end of the Spring Quarter, 1981, this committee had arrived at a consensus of the general principles of the revised GE program. Another subcommittee worked on stylistic polishing over the summer (2 representatives each from GE and L&S, and a student representative). In Fall, 1981, the GE Committee, under its new chairman C. W. Hollister, polished the document further, approved it unanimously, and submitted it to the L&S Executive Committee which also approved it unanimously. The L&S committee then circulated the proposal, to all L&S departments requesting their comments. It then sent the proposal back to the GE Committee for further revision in the light of the departmental letters. The GE Committee revised accordingly, taking particular note of objections that recurred in several departmental letters. It is at this stage that the GE proposal now stands.
After having participated in at least the later stages of this prolonged process, I was nonplussed at the criticism of one senior faculty member that the proposal struck him as a "compromise document." It is indeed. Compared to it, the Carnegie proposal--framed by two scholars as a "model," and subjected to no outside criticism--is marvelously symmetrical (and, with respect to explicit requirements, comfortably vague). We, on the other hand, have had to operate under constraints resulting from a diversity of voices, interests, and practical considerations. Let me review three consequences of these constraints:
(1) There is obviously much to be said for the creation of broad new courses designed specifically for general education. But lacking the necessary budgetary and political capital, we concluded that to demand such courses from our academic departments (or to create a new GE department) would be hopelessly unrealistic.
(2) The GE proposal, in the form in which it was first reviewed by departments included considerable numbers of sample courses. As Professor Bert States explained in his covering letter,
"We emphasize the fact that the sample courses listed in the four areas are "strictly tentative; they have been selected from the General Catalog descriptions without further evaluation of their content and appropriateness. Quite possible many of these courses as presently taught will not satisfy the new criteria."
Most of the departmental responses urged the inclusion of additional specific additional specific "sample courses." Others objected (not-unreasonably) to the idea of listing courses that might not qualify while excluding others that might. We are faced with a chicken-egg conundrum: (1) in some areas, the "sample courses" were so numerous as to suggest, falsely, a complete and final list; (2) the GE Committee has neither the resources nor the heart to work with the many L&S departments to develop comprehensive course listings for a program which the faculty has not yet approved in principle. We have agonized over this problem. The solution we propose is to list departments (rather than "sample courses", in each sub-area, with the understanding that, if the faculty approves the new program in principle, the GE Committee, in close consultation with the departments, will develop lists of courses for each sub-area which will include all courses which meet the criteria stipulated in the program. It is possible that we have inadvertently overlooked some departments in our lists of contributors to the various sub-areas. We hope this will be no cause for alarm, since the lists are in no sense intended as final. In due course all departments will be encouraged to propose new or appropriate existing courses to the GE offerings.
(3) The GE and L&S Committees believe firmly in a tightening of writing requirements. We have grave reservations about a GE program such as the one currently in existence at UCSB, which permits students to spend four years at a major university without writing a term paper. The earlier version of our program required the writing of one or more term papers totaling 2500 words in all GE courses in Areas B (Social Sciences), C (Civilization), and D (Arts and Literature). A number of departments, while endorsing more rigorous instruction in writing, objected strongly to the requirement of 2500-word term papers in GE courses within their own discipline. This objection was shared by the majority of the social sciences departments, by Art History, Dramatic Art, and several language-literature departments. In response to these objections, the present proposal has reduced the writing requirement from eleven courses to six (any six, to be indicated by an asterisk), and from 2500 words to 1800. Some will criticize us for "backing down," but to impose an ideal of our own against widespread departmental opposition strikes us as both arrogant and quixotic.
Having compromised in these various ways, we remain firmly convinced that the new GE structure which we propose represents a major step forward. If adopted, it will ensure--as our present program does not--that all students will be exposed to such fundamental areas as the physical sciences, biological sciences, social sciences, and literature; that they will emerge from UCSB with some understanding of their own and other civilizations; that they will have had reasonable experience in the analytical and organizational skills required in the writing of coherent essays; and that they will have been directed into courses which departments regard as being particularly suitable for general education.
C. Warren Hollister, Chair
For the Committee on General Education