Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Hot [curricular reform] fun in the summer sun

It comes down to this: after 15 months of data gathering and analysis, debate, conversation, strategizing and schematizing, agonism and agonizing, lost sleep and lost lunches, the 40 or so people on the Curriculum Review Task Force (the Sustainability Subgroup of which I've been heading up) have reached the point where curricular decisions simply must be made.

The task force met as a whole body twice toward the end of the this past Spring semester, and after arguing often heatedly (but, fortunately, never hatefully) over the finer points of three specific proposals for curricular change, it was decided that a smaller group would meet over the summer to draft concrete recommendations for change.

Guess who's leading that group? The only other logical leaders for the group are either administrators or faculty who may be perceived as serving a quasi-administrative function (as outgoing Chair of the Faculty Senate, for instance). I've been involved enough that it's fallen to me to gather the group and coordinate our efforts.

We've met four times to date, and the meetings have gone wonderfully smoothly. The tone has gone beyond cordial to outright friendly. There's been substantial disagreement, but always it's accompanied by open-mindedness and tolerance. Compromise and consensus have ruled the day.

To date we've designed a tentative plan to overhaul the Integrative Liberal Studies (ILS) Program, UNC Asheville's general education program. Currently the program requires roughly 50-55 hours (though sometimes slightly more) for students to complete. As currently drafted, even after adopting a predominantly 4-credit-hour model for the curriculum, ILS would require students to complete at most 40 hours.

This has, as you might imagine, required a great deal of sacrifice on the part of ILS's advocates. For instance, in our tentative model intensives are essentially gone, the writing intensive and information literacy intensive requirements now absorbed by departments as major competencies rather than as course requirements, quantitative intensive requirements now folded into the remaining math requirement, and diversity intensive requirements now met by other curricular elements. Gone too are those pesky bugaboos, the ILS Topical Clusters. We've yet to decide on a model for means to meet the learning goals Clusters currently serve, but we're hoping to design some curricular piece that will guarantee intentional interdisciplinarity.

Now it's time to focus on the majors. To date the most popular proposal is the implementation of a simple 60-credit-hour cap on the number of hours any department can require of any of its major concentrations, along with exhortation to eliminate concentrations whenever possible. As you might imagine, there's resistance to this move, primarily for departments offering large majors (Chemistry, Art, Management, Computer Science), who argue that more than 60 hours may be needed to offer a robust degree, or to meet national accreditation standards. For their part, proponents of the cap point out ways cognate universities have managed to offer parallel programs with more slender course requirements and argue forcefully that it's not the mission of a liberal arts university to focus on disciplinary specialization, but rather on the intentional development of an interdisciplinary educational experience.

Large major advocates ask that we merely encourage departments to re-envision their majors and justify low-enrolled courses and concentrations. This move would be a vain one, I fear: we've essentially already asked departments to do this (in an information request I sent them in Fall 2011), and the response we got from them was almost always a nimbyesque "we don't need to change; we're doing's the other guys who're mucking things up." If we merely recommend change and don't out-and-out require it, we'll get no response. I think (I hope) it's becoming clear to these large major advocates that they too must make some sort of sacrifice if we're to achieve a sustainable curriculum. There's simply no way a proposal that asks ILS to cut back by a third will fly if departments aren't asked (forced?) to make similar cuts.

Will it work? We'll see. We hope to have proposals to put to the Faculty Senate by the fall. Stay tuned.

Enough of my nattering. I'm sure this absolutely riveting discussion of curricular policy has had you on the edge of your seat. My next post will deal with something which is a bit more exciting, I hope: my recent and upcoming writing-related travels.

1 comment:

Bret Benesh said...

Actually, I rather enjoyed this "nattering." We are likely going to overhaul our curriculum in the next 5 years (after having just done it 8-10 years ago).

One of our big problems is that we reduced the number of requirements for students. The result is that they tend to just take courses in their major, which is not very liberal arts-y. I, for one, would appreciate reading more about this topic.