Today: Mar 03, 2024

Inside look into new Liberal Education Program

Part I of our special on the LEP Program

 Despite many changes in academia, students are still receiving the classic liberal education in the university’s newly structured curriculum as they did under the former program, according to Polly Beals, director of the Liberal Education Program.

“Students are still getting the classic liberal education but the LEP is more structured than the AUR [All University Requirements Program],” she said.

Overall, Beals said, the LEP requires interdisciplinary work made possible by the collaboration of departments.

“The LEP diversifies the general education requirements for different majors a little bit,” she said. “Business majors won’t be just looking at spreadsheets and numbers. They need to know how to write in business and they need the communications skills.”

Beals said the newly required course categories in each of the three tiers can help departments to recruit more majors.

“It’s a real opportunity for them,” she said. “For example, students are required to take an American Experience course. Then they see JRN 101 The Media Freedom and Power as a course they can take. That sounds sexy.”

Mike Shea, chairman of the English Department, a known proponent of the LEP since its inception, has worked toward changing the former general education system at Southern for over a decade. He said he’s proud of what the university has accomplished in implementing the LEP.

“I think it will be a stronger curriculum,” Shea said. “I think this program will produce better thinking, writing and problem solving students than the old program did.”

While incoming students started this semester under the LEP umbrella, taking Tier 1 courses, Tier 2 classes are still on the drawing board and Tier 3 classes remain on the horizon.

“The pendulum has gone more than halfway, but it’s not a full swing yet,” Shea said. “The first semester of Tier 2 courses will just be offered in the [spring] and I’m hoping that faculty and students will be excited about it. But because it’s a lot of work at a time when we don’t have a lot of resources; and in fact, resources state wide and nation wide are being cut—it means that even if we didn’t make any changes at all, people would have more work to do with less help.”

Shea said this pressure has been affecting instructors.

“I think people are psychologically thinking, ‘I just don’t have the time or energy to get excited about doing it,’” he said. “I think they will still do it because it’s their professional commitment and these people are all professionals.”

Leon Yacher, chair of the Geography Department, said the small department of 38 majors has felt the pressures of course development for the LEP.

“It has been difficult and it will be even more difficult in the future,” he said. “We have had to make significant changes to our offerings at the expense of the geography courses and program.”

Beals said she realizes the concerns of small departments who may not have adequate resources needed for course development.

“It’s not ideal,” she said. “Plus there are teachers who may or may not be here every semester which complicates developing courses.”

Ilene Crawford, co-coordinator of the composition program and a professor of English, said faculty have the opportunity to apply for competitive Davis Foundation grants in for extra support in developing new courses for the LEP.

“About 22 faculty were awarded grants to attend a teaching retreat and eight were awarded fellowships in which they serve as a faculty leader on campus by hosting workshops,” she said.

Nicole Henderson, director of the First Year Experience program, said small departments can benefit from the opportunity made possible by the LEP to develop new and exciting courses but also as a means of obtaining more faculty lines.

“Because the LEP offers smaller departments to contribute more to Tier 2 courses, they can argue that they need more staff to help with LEP course development,” she said. “The university cares about this program and has a commitment to it so it’s a good way to argue the need for more lines.”

Likewise, Henderson said departments can more easily develop new courses, which might not have been approved under the former AUR.

“I watched the fights at [the Undergraduate Curriculum Forum],” she said. “There was a really high bar to get your course added to the AUR. The LEP is much more welcoming to the departments who want to add courses.”

The LEP also makes more sense to students, according to Henderson.

“Students understand more. On freshmen registration day we came in early because we always get hit,” she said. “We got here at 8 a.m. and there were no students, no calls. I called Frank Ladore in academic advisement and he didn’t have any calls. They get it. It’s a more coherent program.”

Crawford said the LEP emphasizes the critical thinking a college education should instill in a student, rather than providing them with a checklist of disciplines.

“A nod toward an economic reality that we need to be attentive to,” she said. “It’s about thinking and working globally. We need thinkers. We need people who know how to ask questions and find new solutions, all while thinking ethically.”

She said the LEP has repackaged the curriculum as a series of tiered experiences of interdisciplinary work for students to be excited about.

“I want a student graduating with broad exposure to the disciplines from the LEP,” she said. “You approach something different as a historian than you would a psychiatrist or a sociologist. As a university, that we’re really thinking about what your second job is going to be and what your third job is going to be.”

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