Eric Kraemer

General Education Committee Report for 2006-2007

 

General Comments

This past school year, 2006-2007, proved to be a year of changes and transitions for the General Education Committee in several respects. 

First, unlike the previous half-dozen years when the Director of General Education has automatically served as chair of the General Education Committee, this year the General Education Committee, acting according to a directive from the Faculty Senate, elected a member of the committee to be chair.  This change necessitated adjusting duties and responsibilities of both the director and the chair, and resulted in some changes in committee functioning as well. 

Second, although the topic of assessment has been mentioned in the past and although there have been efforts made to assess aspects of the General Education Program, this year proved to be the first year in which serious discussion and planning for a systematic assessment of the whole General Education Program took place. 

Third, despite the many meetings held by the committee, this year turned out to be a year in which concerned faculty, academic staff, and administrators from across the university regularly showed up in relatively large numbers and participated fully and most helpfully in committee discussions and deliberations. 

 

The large issues with which the committee grappled this past year were four:

[1] Whether to revise the current General Education Program at all or first to assess the current program to determine what changes should be made?  

[2] Whether there should be a Freshman Year Experience, and, if so, what form/s should it take?  

[3] Should the content requirements in General Education be modified, and, if so, what changes would be academically justifiable and work better for students? 

And, [4] should there be additional, synthetic or community-service based requirements (Tier III) added to the General Education Program? 

 

These important questions were ones about which the committee could rarely come to consensus.  The big splits in the committee, which was representative, I think, of the faculty and campus as a whole,  seemed to reflect similar splits across campus on the same issues.  Thus, the meetings of the General Education Committee in 2006-2007 provided an important place for serious dialogue, for the exposing of serious disagreements, and for the attempt to find compromise solutions regarding the General Education Program.

 

First Semester Overview

In order to understand the fall 2006 activities of the General Education Committee, one must begin by recalling that the previous General Education Committee had spent much of spring 2006 discussing aspects of a proposed revision of the current General Education Program.  Various individual proposals were approved, and, although the resulting package was not voted on as a whole by the committee, it was forwarded to the Senate Executive Committee for its consideration.  [See appendix A.] The Senate Executive Committee returned the proposals to the General Education Committee, asking for clarification and justification of the proposed changes.

 

It was with this charge that the General Education Committee in fall 2006 began its business.  Different aspects of the proposals were discussed by the General Education Committee in fall 2006, and various faculty groups came to the committee to present arguments critical of various aspects of the proposed revision.  In response, some motions were passed by the committee proposing changes to the proposed revision.  [See appendix B for a complete list of committee motions for 2006-2007.]  One college, S&H, came to the committee suggesting additional changes to the proposed revision.   One college, CBA, sent the committee a letter urging that the current General Education Program not be changed and insisting that the program should be systematically assessed.  The School of Education also presented to the committee and it seems that the concerns of the school are largely being met by the current General Education Program.  Given that the General Education Committee was itself sharply divided regarding the proposed revision, it became clear that the committee needed the help of subcommittees to formulate specific proposals.  The General Education Committee then established four working sub-committees to deal with specific problems and then report back to the committee as a whole. 

 

The four working subcommittees were the Global Studies Subcommittee, the Tier II Structure Subcommittee, the Tier III Subcommittee, and the Freshman-Year-Experience [or, FYE] Subcommittee.  The work of these subcommittees was successful to different degrees.  The Global Studies Subcommittee met several times, had faculty and academic staff representation from many different programs, and broadly agreed on a clarification and revision of the Global Studies requirements for General Education.  [See appendix C.]  The subcommittee presented its work to whole committee, but its proposal was not accepted by the committee as a whole. 

 

The Tier II Structure Subcommittee met to clarify requirements for the Tier II section of the proposed revision of General Education.  The subcommittee attempted to deal with various criticisms of the proposed revision, including lack of flexibility, increased numbers of credits and omission or improper combination of important areas of content knowledge.  But, in spite of numerous meetings, excellent discussions and suggestions, the subcommittee was unable to come up with a new proposal for re-organizing the proposed Tier II offerings that both had broad subcommittee support and was not substantially the same as the requirements in the current program.  Thus, this subcommittee was not able to forward a new proposal regarding clarifying the proposed Tier II Structure to the whole General Education Committee.  [A working paper documenting this subcommittee’s final efforts is included as appendix D.] 

 

The Tier III Subcommittee met to clarify questions about Tier III, in particular what counted as a civic engagement course, how to accommodate a civic engagement course requirement, and what other courses currently offered would fit into Tier III.  Although the subcommittee was able to come up with a proposal to answer these questions, when presented to the General Education Committee there was not substantial support from the committee as a whole for immediately incorporating these changes in Tier III into a revision of the General Education Program.  [The subcommittee’s final effort is included as appendix E.]  The FYE Subcommittee also met several times during the fall semester but did not complete a proposal.

 

            Thus, the General Education Committee ended the first semester after extensive discussion both in committee and in subcommittee with no revised program to present to the Faculty Senate, and with significant disagreement among committee members as to the appropriate steps that the committee should be taken.  Committee chair Kraemer, at their invitation, met with the Senate Executive Committee during J-Term, summarized for the SEC members what had occurred during the fall semester [see attachment F], and worked with the SEC on determining a course of action for spring 2007 for the General Education Committee that would lead to agreement on some important issues.

 

Second Semester Overview

The committee kept to its regular meeting schedule during the spring semester, it even had an additional meeting; it accomplished all of its business not related to program revision. In addition to working on attempts to revise General Education, it should be noted that the General Education Committee also reviewed proposals for new courses to be added to general education, reviewed and approved various Writing in the Major Programs, and reviewed the requests from faculty for certification as Writing Emphasis Instructors.  [A list of courses, programs and instructors approved is included as Appendix G.]

 

Still, the bulk of the second semester was spent trying to find broad areas of agreement regarding curricular revision.  As a result of several meetings with intense discussion by all committee members and consultants, four large areas of agreement emerged:

 

[1] FYE: The committee agreed on the value of attempting to construct a meaningful and

 workable Freshman Year Experience for all incoming freshman.

 

[2] Tiered Program: The committee also agreed on the importance of creating a tiered

program, in which certain courses would be taken by all in-coming students, and other

courses would then be taken later.

 

[3] Assessment: The committee further agreed on the importance of having a systematic

and comprehensive assessment program. And,

 

[4] Flexibility: The committee was strongly committed to maintaining flexibility in the

General Education Program to make it workable for the widely diverse undergraduate

programs at UW-L.   

  

Beyond these general points of agreement, basic divisions prevented the committee from reaching further agreement on whether or how to propose a revision of the current General Education Program that might be forwarded to the Faculty Senate.  In spite of this, the committee continued to provide a valuable function for campus discussion.  And, the committee was still able to take several important steps towards improving the current General Education Program.

 

   A report was presented by Provost Hitch and Senate Chair Wilson to the committee early in the spring semester regarding concerns by some Board of Regents members about assessment and with clarifying desired changes in General Education.  The committee as a whole agreed to set up a new subcommittee, the Assessment Planning Subcommittee, to deal with the issues of assessment, and to encourage the FYE Planning Subcommittee to continue its working out the planning the First-Year-Experience.

 

The Assessment Subcommittee met several times, including meetings with outside-consultants Cerbin and Wilson, and, thanks to the help of member Jon Fields, came up with a plan for the systematic assessment of the whole General Education Program.  This plan was presented to the General Education Committee, where it was approved and forwarded to Faculty Senate.  [The submitted plan is attached as Appendix H.]

 

Another important breakthrough occurred thanks to the hard work of the FYE subcommittee, chaired by Steve McDougal.  Composed of members of the General Education Program, additional outside faculty and representatives from Student Life, the FYE subcommittee worked hard to come up with a workable plan to accommodate a Freshman Year Experience for all students.  This plan was presented to the General Education Committee.  [See attached appendix I.]  The final proposal from the FYE subcommittee turned out to require that all freshman students take two specific courses in their freshman year, one in the fall and one in the spring, to meet the Freshman Year Experience requirement.  After much discussion over the course of two meetings this proposal was ultimately rejected by the committee, and, instead, a substitute proposal for the FYE, which involves students only taking one specific course in their freshman year, was accepted.  The committee also discussed and strongly supported the setting up of pilot programs to deliver a FYE experience to freshman, in addition to the current UWL 100.  It was urged that these pilot experiences could be assessed in terms of demonstrating their effectiveness in delivering an appropriate FYE experience to freshmen.  It was suggested that having such assessed pilot experiences would help convince the faculty as a whole of the value of an FYE requirement in the General Education Program.

 

In its last meeting of the year, the committee voted to direct the General Education Director to spend remaining General Education funds to support the further development of the Comprehensive Assessment Plan for the General Education Program and to support efforts to develop pilot programs to provide new Freshman Year Experience courses. 

 

Final Comment:

It is important to note that, although the committee spent much time in discussion, there is no complete plan for revising General Education that was approved by the General Education Committee during 2006-2007.  There were several elements of such a plan that were approved, either formally or informally, but no complete alternative to General Education as a whole has yet been formulated and formally approved as a whole by the General Education Committee.  [The current working version, based on changes formally approved so far, is attached as Attachment J.]

 

  

Suggestions for the Future

  1. The change in committee structure seems overall to have worked well.  Based on comments from faculty, administrative staff and administrators across campus, the following reasons emerged.  Under the new structure, more committee members were engaged, less onerous work fell on the shoulders of the director, better structuring of agenda occurred by collaboration between chair and director, and there was more faculty input on agenda items.  In addition, a single person was not put in the difficult position of being the official institutional expert on General Education matters, attending to all the nuts-and-bolts activities of General Education, being the sole force to galvanize faculty regarding general education and playing the role of moderator of difficult disputes.  By sharing these roles, the committee seemed to function more actively with greater and broader participation. This structure should not be changed. 
  2. This being said, additional work is required to clarify the tasks of the committee chair and the director.  Establishing who is responsible for what, who reports to whom on what, who is to instigate what, are all matters that call for a little re-working.  The division of the duties needs to be clarified.
  3. The committee should continue to grapple with the issue of revising General Education.  Only the public forum of the committee with its broad representation can provide the needed platform for such important discussion at UW-L, which is deeply committed to transparency from top to bottom.  Although some might think a special task force would be more effective at coming up with a better plan quicker, past experience has proved otherwise.  While a special task force could be used for a limited task, the general education program as a whole needs to be given full and public scrutiny, where all the difficult matters of detail are worked out in the open.
  4. With Director Johnson’s stepping down, it is now more than ever appropriate to assess the directorship position.  When it created the directorship 7 years ago, the Faculty Senate promised the faculty that the directorship would be assessed after a couple of years.  This has not happened.  The faculty senate should appoint a special committee to assess the directorship position in 2007-2008.

 

Respectfully Submitted,

 

 

 

Eric Kraemer, Chair of General Education Committee, 2006-2007


 

Appendices

A: various ideas for a change in gen ed, sent to FS in Spring 06, returned to committee for clarification

B: Complete List of Motions passed by Gen Ed 06-07

C: Global Studies Subcommittee Report [Ruthann]

D: Structure Working paper

E: Tier III Report

F: summary for SEC at end of first semester

G: Programs, Instructors approved

H: Assessment Plan

I: FYI Proposal