General Education requirements slow to change, says Provost

By on March 10, 2015

Students looking forward to new general education requirements will have to wait until at least Fall of 2017, says Provost Shirley Willihnganz.

“If we’re going to do this right, we don’t want to just willy nilly start changing stuff,” she said of the process. “You want it to be considered, you want it to be thoughtful, and when you’re done, you want an extraordinarily good general education program.”

According to Willihnganz, a thoughtful process requires multiple levels of research, committee work and implementation. She said that process is product when it comes to university work.

“We would need this year to study what other schools are doing, to look at what some options to are, to consult with national groups to see what kind of really great general education programs do,” she said.

This involves visiting other universities and reaching out to students for recommendations.

“We would then need probably a year to let the committee come up with some recommendations and let colleges all talk about those to see what they would like to implement,” said Willihnganz.

Repeating a common theme of university officials, Willihnganz stressed the need for interdisciplinary collaboration.

“And then, to be honest, you need some time for people to make the changes in all the courses, to get those up into the catalog, to make sure that everybody understands what the requirements are,” she said. “The truth is, general education is so big, and affects so many students and so many units of the university that you need that amount of time to do it.”

While many would like to see quick action, Willihnganz also stressed another concern for the university.

“We could try to make it happen faster,” she said, “but the added complication for us is SACS.”

SACS, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is U of L’s accrediting body.

“Every ten years, you have to have your accreditation reaffirmed. We’re preparing right now for the reaffirmation of accreditation of the university,” she said. “One of the things they require is that you have a general education program and you assess its effectiveness. If you put in a new general education program just before they come, you haven’t had it in place long enough to do any kind of assessment, so you wouldn’t meet one of the key criteria.”

Missing this requirement could be disastrous for any university going through the reaffirmation process.

“If a university doesn’t get reaffirmed for accreditation, game over. So we don’t necessarily want to get tangled up in that,” she said. “We would be on the front page of the ‘Chronicle’ rather than the ‘Cardinal’.”

As far as what kind of general education requirements students will see, Willihnganz offered some guiding principles but will leave the specifics to the faculty committees.

“I don’t see us stepping back from that commitment to the arts and sciences. It is grounding knowledge that every student needs to have regardless of what their major is going to be. It’s that ability to think critically and creatively,” she said. “Certainly those will be principles going forward.”

She mentioned writing, speaking, working with others, logic and scientific thinking as main focus areas for the committees.

“We’ll have to see what changes the faculty come up with around that.”

The process has already begun this year, and students can begin to look out for results.

 

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