October 13 and 16th , 2003

General Education: Models and Options: Carnegie 06/O-R 350

Purpose of discussion is to examine Macalesters current structure  and consider it against three primary alternatives.

Current distributional requirements were brought in the 1970s nothing more than addition to the basic major. Requirements are for the student to complete "x" courses. Objective is to achieve, breadth.   One way to handle requirements is to layer on additional requirements: diversity requirements. Definition, requirements not well spelled out. Language requirements. 

Strengths: We know what it looks like, students treated equally, no demand on resources, even in our first year courses.  Very departmentally based and gen ed requirements consistent with that.  

What’s wrong, what needs fixing?  Even if not broken we could still do better than we do. We have implicit promisary note in the catalog that we will deliver educated citizen leaders that can address problems in the larger community. Our core requirements have little alignment with statement of purpose and belief. We say students should learn quantitative reasoning, they should we learn to write, we have little in the gen ed requirements that guarantee they will accomplish these objectives.

Divisional distributional requirements do not achieve what they might. Possible  to satisfy requirements in most shallow manner.

What changes have taken place elsewhere?

  1. Dedicated core curriculum: sequence of courses. 2, 3, 4 all students must take. Or a track with certain courses in each not track.  Extreme core: St. Johns, decision to matriculate defines the curriculum. 

    Create intellectual community, provide common knowledge.

    No flexibility, draws resources from departments.

  2. Outcomes based: We have some of this at Maclester in the form of diversity requirements.  Some places like Princeton, Duke and Pomona, replaced distributional requirements with outcomes based requirements.  “Q” quantitative reasoning, writing skill, ethical moral reasoning.   For example, in our statement purpose and belief we define objectives.  Could be departmentally based, save siphoning resources, but lose autonomy in syllabus. Would require greater supervision on the part of EPAG.
  3. Final, advising based gen ed. Brown, Amherst, Grinnell, complete major and first year seminar and that’s it.

    Benefits: no student is in a class that they don’t want to be in.

    Costs: Increased advising load. 160 faculty, get 160 gen ed requirements. No general consistency.  Could slide, into gen ed requirements if we try to police advising..


 Discussion: (note combined both the October 13 and October 16th discussions):

VS: In your or EPAG’s thinking which is more likely to further objective of academic excellence?

M2:  There are excellent schools that do have adopted each of these approaches.

VS: maybe we should line up these and pick at random.

DI: We would do well to be as good as Amherst/Brown.

AS: I’m wondering if all three have listed set of strengths and weakness. Why not keep ours. It is faulty like others.  Why not eliminate ours?

AL: When you look at these you can see the compromises. One is part Pomona, one is part divisional requirements.  Just as we added diversity requirements.  When you look at this you develop a preference quickly, but I am not speaking for EPAG, EPAG has no preference.

JS: Not happy with current system.  Would be better if we knew what requirements were trying to achieve.  We in departments don’t have to think about it. If you have a social science requirement, Pol sci does not have to think about what if this is the last social science class this person takes.   I prefer a more outcomes based approach.  Does not make us dilatants. I would like to see us move to option 2.

I’m familiar with Carleton’s writing requirement. Faculty had to figure out what constitutes good writing.  They all became better at recognizing good writing.

UG: I wondering if this has come around because we recognize our students are deficient in some way.

AL: Curricular first principles, clearly a good understanding of the scientific method  and some basic knowledge.

DK: each of these is a mechanism for organizing policies. And strengths and weaknesses based on implimentation.   Certain values here, Jan pointing out that we need to hav e a conversation. This is the minimum necessary to have a standard.  Four frameworks are not all of a kind.  One of them is a meta-framework. There is nothing about an advising framework that would preclude greater structure.    Could have a board of advisors. 

DB: Whatever we decide it has to be labled new as we are using this in part to frame a capital campaign.   Requriements…what matters is what goes on in each individual class. We have not been self conscious of what our goals are in each class at different stages of their careers.  Not so sure we have done a great job of advising.  Put emphasis on what goes on in individual courses.

AL: one advantage of outcomes based is it does have reverberations. It does afford opportunity to enforce certain standards.

AS: Attendance: If this is as weighty as we think then why is attendance so low.  What is relationship between weight of questions and faculty interest.

DI: Faculty get involved when it becomes real. Nothing is real yet.  If you show up you have some possibility of shaping the process.   If I may break ranks on EPAG we do need to recognize when it becomes real.  Whatever we adopt this is a good forum to talk about the curriculum.  We were just talking about something real. That is science requirement. We can fix this under any model we adopt.    I still remember 8 o'clock physics classes that molded me in ways I'm embarrassed to say.

AL: The curricular reform is a two part process.  This is opportunity to listen to faculty.  Advantage is to get new ideas but also to make it clear that process is open.  Don’t agree with the proposition that whatever we do it wont have a difference on what comes out at the other end. 

PF: is there any assessment on how these various programs are working?

AL: we do know a little bit.  There are always transactions costs as we move from one type of curriculum to another.

AS: I lean to minimalist approach. I came to Macalester as a maximialist, but am now a minimalist.

GH: Several points already made. Most of our weaknesses are in our program.  I like some of the outcomes based requirements.  We can talk about this. No guarantee. No guarantees built in to any of these. Take best of these and incorporate.  Never put down any sensible alternative.

AL: Traditions are always worth preserving if they work. 


Williams has done some of this. Williams retained divisional distribution but added quantitative reasoning. Divisional requirements are more tightly spelled out. 

KM: disagree with minimalist approach but we do need to tighten up on advising.  Students should take art history, science etc.

AL: we have to be careful of not eroding departmental majors.

JS: Option 2 is only option that looks at learning outcomes.  Input/requirement model offers no quality control. My first faculty meeting, curricular reform is like polishing toilets on titanic. 

DK: I'd like to point out that number 3 (advising model)  could be a maximalist model. Could require that all student have three advisiors in each division that they must sign off on.  Of those who fulfill the science requirement 1/2 take one science course (Physics concepts) 1/2 take calculus.  We can work within each of these frameworks. I’m unfamiliar with any assessment of diversity requirements. We do have some outcomes based success with language requirement.  QR (quantitative reasoning) requirement does not fall neatly in one department.   No shared experience.  Diversity requirement can diffuse to become anything you want. For example,  if we are going to mark courses with a "Q" we have to compensate faculty for being in their face, we have to decide who would be in their face and what they would look for.

AL:  Always need to worry about equity.

DB: Too dire. Could have team taught courses that could have outcome based courses. Maybe even double and triple mark these as outcome based.

Faculty are basically ungovernable, need to accept inevitable and rely on good faith of faculty.

DI: Piggyback on what  David just said. We need a system that is realistic. We all need standards. What do we mean by rigor for example? We may quickly discover we kick out the minimalist and maximalist models right away. Ultimately, it is some version of outcomes or what we have now. But outcomes are really inputs as well. I think that if we get some more support for team teaching we’re a better institution.

AS: Elaborate on this.  If tied to capital campaign, is it possible to make proposition. Reduce faculty course-load, 4 courses. Fifth course is time for focusing on advising. College makes commitment for resources maybe 25 million dollars. Still need to focus on what we want from advising.

HH: Williams is moving to partial tutorial system.  2/2 system. 

DK: does not need to be 4 courses for everyone. Could be for some if you want to do a substantial advising.

HH: some go to professional advising.  Somehow to have a more formal structure.  First year system and structure seems to be working.

RAKS: We try to do so much in first year course. We could do a first year seminar focusing on advising. Other ways to look at core courses.  Cross majors and also fulfill gen ed requirements. 

From the October 16th Session:

Unnamed Women: I think there would be 1760 gen ed requirements, because students take what they want.

MS: For me its not one or the other. The key is management and oversight. In science division we never really got what we wanted out of it.    I hope whatever we do we have management and oversight.  

AL: The “C” (our colleague to the south) college has explicit statement that in effect excludes certain course in certain divisions from fulfilling divisional requirements. 

MS: Another reason we need oversight, its selfish, human tendency  is to maximize numbers. This needs policing by EPAG.

M2: Do we even buy into the concept of requirements.

GK: if you measure it you get it.

Writing Guy: Students can and do avoid writing if they can. If have writing across curriculum then have supervision of this objective. Advantages to that, but costs. Someone out there to make sure that requirements are really doing what they are supposed to do.

AL: If “W” requirement, would need resources. Faculty development. Not many of us are trained in teaching writing.  

TH:  We work best when we do things we are excited about.

M2: First thing on our mission statement is academic excellence.  That’s a challenge. How can you ensure an academically rigorous experience when they don’t want to be there.  Depth within breadth.

AL: could require that divisional requirements build on one another. That is first course in division outside the major would be basic methods, second would be application of basic methods.

MS: I’d like to state that our divisions are pretty broad.  In sciences we have lab sciences, and computing/quantitative pockets. These are not all the same.

Unnamed women: We have courses in H/SS that are in interdisciplinary programs course often don’t count across divisions.

MD: We also have Extra-divisional staff in library and macexcellence.

Dcollins: SPB speaks strongly to using/accessing information.  No force encouraging faculty to use these resources.  Would be nice to induce faculty to use these resources. 

AL: how to get there?  We require every student to take an off campus practicum.

BC: Thinking after chairs meeting yesterday.  I can see the wisdom of having these requirements divisionally based.  Would be great to reinforce and expand these divisional requirements.  Reason there is all this energy in interdisciplinary areas suggests a thematic approach would have benefits.

MS: We could also have distributional requirement that are not course based. For example, we could have a requirement to study abroad and/or a requirement for community service.

We should urbanize our international studies program and internationalize our urban studies.

AL: We should not screw over the good majors that we already have. So we have to be mindfull of the interdigitation between the gen ed and the major. WE need a wholistic approach.

BC: If this is pursued, we need to interview people of color, to work out issues of why certain groups do not choose to study away.

AL: not all students are from cookie cutter. We need to find

TK: What works in the gen ed requirements?

AL: Our students are doing better according to our measures from Institutional research. 

Our majors clearly work, we need to preserve the high quality of our majors while making the best use of the 1/2 to 2/3 of the other courses they take.

We have a lot of good faculty…

AL:If we scrapped distributional requirements would our students be worse off?

BC: I support distributional requirements. They give us levers.  How many times can you repeat and refine our knowledge….

Unnamed woman: Forces them to look across and see things they would not otherwise.
One tweak: might be to make them take requirements in first few years, rather than put off until senior year..

KW: Seems like gen ed has three components: methods, skills , and  moral ethical values. In option 2  seems to ignore methods.  If Q/W/? (GK addition: maybe “M” method requirements?) Williams retained requirements then layered Q/W on top.   A course should not have to be evaluated for methods.

AL: Maybe every liberally educated person should be able to read NYT and figure if they are being conned.  Outcome that every liberally educated person should know.  We as a faculty can exercise our judgment that every student that walks across that stage should know.

KW: What kinds of courses would not have methods.  Who decides?  Not an easy task.

KD: CST web site/Hewlett grant does have guidelines for writing.

AL: in science division big split between majors/non-majors. Courses for non-majors are vastly different than courses for majors.

M2: We might get rid of courses for non-majors.

Other woman: IL should not be put in a single division. Other outcomes that we are going to have to articulate outside of a divisional structure.

AL: We realized in 1991 when we added language requirement.

Just to piggy back on that. I worry about the co-curricular following the curricular.  Everything should be curricular.

DC: as alum: “courses I remember were team taught. Modelling linkages between disciplines. I’d love to see that.

AL: Team teaching comes up all the time. Maybe in first year seminar. Boot camp to the liberal arts.  Downside is that’s one fewer course  a dept. can teach.

KD: I had core curriculum. WE had tracks, not exactly team taught.  Very memorable experience.