Today: May 29, 2024

Faculty doubts the need for requirement change

JESSICA GIANNONE, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER:

The Faculty Senate’s request for a faculty referendum of the LEP expresses three main concerns, among the many others faculty have noted. The petition states concerns for the impact on students’ academic pursuits, such as transfer students’ ability to “transfer seamlessly as required by State of Connecticut law,” enrolled students’ ability to complete major requirements in a timely manner, and the university being able to offer enough courses to meet the new requirements.
Kenneth Gatzke, professor of philosophy, said in the years the debate has been going on, he always questioned how the current program was “broke,” and what kind of evidence there was to show the program needed to be changed. He said no one ever addressed his questions. As he analyzed the university’s accreditation report, he noted it didn’t suggest anywhere that the current program should be replaced.
“They made it look like NEASC wanted them to do it,” said Gatzke.
He said the idea that there’s always something new that will solve all the problems is a “very naive” way to think about things.
Gatzke noted how there are confusions about the concept of what an “educated person” is, and that certain fields and disciplines can be completely avoided, which is inconsistent with the way things have been for “thousands of years,” in regards to what a well-educated person is.
He said the difference is skills versus substance. The old idea was that there were fields a student needs to know, where they get a flavor of different subjects; the new program emphasizes competencies but de-emphasizes content.
“Now after all this historical knowledge, now we’re gonna do this?” said Gatzke. “Why would we have a program set up where we don’t require people to know things?”
David Levine, professor of art, noted that many students discover their majors by experimenting with different disciplines during their first and second years. He said the delay of enrollment in certain courses for students will make it too late to help students in making their major selections.
Levine said as he believes the idea of LEP was intended to make sure students
have the best possible background for doing what they want to do in their other courses, he doesn’t think it gives students very much choice because the new program implies that all students need the same skills and background to succeed, and they will have fewer electives.
“College should never be nearly an extension of high school,” said Levine. “It should provide a different leaning environment.”
He said while LEP may appeal to portions of the student body and improve their skill levels in certain areas, it may create barriers to success for other students, which can be avoided.
“Our students are diverse and think in different ways,” said Levine. “One size does not fit all when it comes to education in college.”
Gatzke pointed out how the current disciplines aren’t accidents, and disciplines will end up competing with each other for the same requirements. He said how “nobody rejects anything” anymore.
“Who’s against competencies? C’mon, nobody,” said Gatzke.
Rex Gilliland, professor of philosophy, questioned that if general education instructors are required to teach a “significant amount” of material
outside their areas of expertise, how likely it is that the material will be taught well. He said disciplinary standards provide a significant degree of quality control.
He said the General Education Task Force members have cited examples of other universities implementing non-disciplinary education programs, but have not provided data indicating how successful those programs have been. He said without evidence, the proposal is a huge gamble.
Gaztke noted that faculty in the university used to joke about how other schools that tried programs similar to LEP were unsuccessful, and that Southern was “so far behind they were ahead;” other schools were trying to get back what Southern never changed from.
Gilliland questioned if LEP is truly a general education program if students can cluster their courses in the disciplines closest to their majors and avoid subjects they label as challenging.
He said taking a leap of faith that an expensive, untested program will work is an irresponsible approach to general education reform.
Levine said the university should recognize how students learn best, and although there is no “perfect formula,” Southern has to be “humble” when considering education, rather than prescriptive.
“The big deal is being able to have some substance as well as these competences,”
said Gatzke,” and I think we’ll be cheating the people that will come here.”

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