GE Work Group meeting #10, Apr. 11, 2003:
Area X and Implementation

draft agenda by Harold Marcuse, April 11, 2003, prepared for web 4/12/03 by hm

Implementation issues

Text for new core Area "X":

Proposed descriptions for other core areas (list of depts. incomplete, for illustration purposes only):

  1. Art Studies: drama, dance, studio art, art history, music, film studies
    Disciplines that engage with the practice, history, criticism, theory and cultural significance of the fine and performing arts, popular arts and visual culture.
  2. Literary and Textual Studies: literature, philosophy, political theory, classics, religious studies
  3. Disciplines whose knowledge claims are based on the analysis of writings and whose methods include careful consideration of ways of reading texts.
  4. Historical Studies: history, religious studies, art history, archaeology, classics
    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.
  5. Social Sciences: sociology, economics, social psychology, communication, anthropology, political science
    Disciplines whose knowledge claims are based upon the systematic study of human behavior, including analysis of how people interact in various contexts as well as examination of the organizational, institutional, and cultural conventions produced by collective groups and/or societies.
  6. Science and Mathematics: astrophysics, biology, chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, ecology, environmental studies, evolution, geology, geography, marine sciences, mathematics, physics, biopsychology, statistics
    Disciplines whose knowledge claims are based on observation, experimentation, and deductive and mathematical reasoning with the aim of understanding and characterizing the origin, content, and evolution of the universe and the forces that continue to shape it.

Proposals and suggested wording

Chancellor Yang and undergraduates (memo 10/22/98): additional 4 units to GE pertaining to "ethnic, gender and queer studies."

Area X: "Frontiers of Inquiry," 2 courses. In contrast to the other core areas, which offer overviews of broad areas of knowledge or illustrate a wide range of approaches used in a discipline, this area would contain courses that explore topics in new ways. They would either have an interdisciplinary approach to subject matter usually examined within a single discipline, or investigate concepts or subjects that are relatively new areas that are not yet established subjects in a given field. [this 2nd half of the sentence, after the "or" is meant to accomodate the types of courses desired by undergraduates, above, in case they are not interdisciplinary.]
These 2 additional courses would balance a reduction by one each in Areas D, E, and F+G.
{Note after the meeting: while the pre-or statement had substantial support, many difficulties with the post-or description were pointed out. Additionally, the hurdles to be overcome in order to create a viable a 2-course core area are substantial. One course would be easier, with 1500 FTE per year for 3 years and ultimately a steady-state of about 5000 FTE annually.}

An interdisciplinary course integrates knowledge from at least two fields of study or disciplines; the integration can be historical, regional, thematic, or problem-focused.

(1) The current core area divisions reflect relatively institutionalized divisions of knowledge; as such, they may seem logical, but are best explained as historical outcomes in the development of the modern university. One could imagine courses that either (a) don't seem to fit any of the areas too well, or (b) seem to fit more than one area. Both of these possibilities are quite reasonable given that we do not (at least should not!) claim that our current core area divisions subsume, and cleanly parse out, all possible knowledge.

(2) Though Harold has a very interesting idea for Area X that may include both possibilities (a) and (b) above, I'd suggest a different strategy. Problem (a) seems to me to suggest that current core area definitions may need to be modified so as to be open to new innovations within specific disciplinary, even neo-disciplinary, trajectories. Most "new" and "crossdisciplinary" courses in the final analysis draw upon, but extend/rethink, a small set of disciplinary concepts and methodologies, and as such we should strive to accommodate them within what may look like a rather dinosaurish set of existing core area categories.

(3) If we can handle problem (a) -- the "innovative non-interdisciplinary" courses Harold cites -- with the above, then I'd propose that core area X be wholly devoted to the (b) courses, and be called "Interdisciplinary Studies." The area would be operationally defined with reference to existing core areas, e.g. "Interdisciplinary Studies draws upon and integrates concepts, methods, and/or applications characterizing at least two of the Subject Areas C through G [assuming we still have an area G {note by Dan: one could use departments rather than core areas to define multi-disciplinary.}]." As to criteria for inclusion of a course in area X, please see my GE Connections Requirement discussion document: one method (see Requirement Details, points 3 and 4) would involve demonstrating that it definitely falls under one of the existing core areas but also demonstrates substantive engagement with at least one other core area, whereas another method (point 5) would involve demonstrating a specified measure of adherence to certain broad measures of interdisciplinarity, such as Nissani's four criteria (the number of disciplines, distance between them, novelty, and integration).

(4) This does not take care of other concerns, e.g. the second ethnicity requirement. I still believe that the special requirements are strong, important components of the GE curriculum, as they represent carrots that can motivate desired changes across the entire GE curriculum. Things like the writing requirement, quantitative relationships, and ethnicity (or a more globalized version thereof) are the kinds of elements we want to have in many of our courses, not just a ghettoized few. That's why I originally proposed an interdisciplinarity requirement as a special requirement, because I wanted to motivate development of interdisciplinary courses across the curriculum. I'm hoping that we retain the special requirements for this very reason: they're a strong point of the GE curriculum, not an "add-on" as they were unfortunately named early on.

I'm interested in others' thoughts on Area X as well; unfortunately I'll be out of town tomorrow, but look forward to reading minutes. Once we reach agreement on some sort of definition, I'd be happy to join others in looking at existing courses in our catalog to see which may meet this definition, and whether this resultant set of courses constitutes what we envision in Area X, whether they may lead to important resource impacts if (BA?) students are required to take 2 Area X courses, etc.