UAS explores general education changes, seeks input

Courtesy Photo / News and Information Services
Figen Mekik, chair of the University Academic Senate. The UAS and GEC met on Friday to finalize the General Education requirements

Courtesy photo

Courtesy Photo / News and Information Services Figen Mekik, chair of the University Academic Senate. The UAS and GEC met on Friday to finalize the General Education requirements

Samantha Butcher

The General Education Committee of the University Academic Senate met Friday afternoon in an open forum to gather feedback from Grand Valley State University faculty and staff on proposed changes to the university’s general education program.

While no official decisions were made during the meeting, the GEC heard faculty comments and concerns about the proposal, which was finalized on Nov. 28 after three years of gathering input. Prior to cementing the proposal, which can be found online at, the GEC sponsored forums, distributed surveys to departments, visited the various GVSU departments and colleges, gathered input from GVSU Student Senate and sponsored two discussion board forums online.

“The details of the proposal have changed quite a bit over the past two years, thanks to all of the input we received, and we feel that the proposal is ready for consideration by UAS,” said Roger Gilles, GEC chair.

On Friday, the UAS Executive Committee will meet on GVSU’s Allendale Campus to further discuss the proposal and vote whether to send it on to UAS for formal consideration next semester. The meeting will be held at 3 p.m. in Room 148 of the Honors College’s Niemeyer Living and Learning Center.

The proposal focuses on four broad changes to the general education program, including the introduction of Issues courses, which would replace Themes, and new skill goals. Gilles said that although it is hard to gauge faculty opinion of the proposal because the GEC hears from a “very limited portion” of the faculty body, there were questions raised about the introduction of “collaboration” into the general education skill goals and about the Issues courses.

“My sense is that most faculty agree that collaboration is a worthy goal, but not everyone feels comfortable teaching it, and some don’t feel comfortable with the prospect of having to change existing courses in order to teach that goal,” Gilles said. “… Everyone needs to collaborate at one time or another, and the GEC feels it is particularly important for students to gain experience in collaborating with those from other majors and colleges. Teachers of general education take on a responsibility to prepare students not just for a particular field of study, but also for effective and successful living in general, and that clearly includes being able to collaborate effectively with others.”

The Issues courses would focus on integration within six larger categories: information, innovation and technology; globalization; health; human rights; identity and sustainability.

“These courses are unlike courses in a student’s major, where most or all of the students are focusing on the same academic area,” Gilles said. “The Issues courses require students to open themselves up to alternate perspectives and competing viewpoints as they gain exposure to new material and new perspectives as presented by the faculty member and the course texts.”

Gilles said that although some faculty members seemed resistant to changing their curriculum for the new general education program, he was “confident” that most would embrace the changes.

“I think people like to constantly bash on the gen ed program, but I think it’s where I’ve learned some of the most practical and relevant things about working with the world around me,” said Eric Spencer, a GVSU senior.

Recent changes to the general education program at GVSU include the elimination of the junior-level writing requirement, Writing 305, and the reduction of the Theme course requirement from three to two.

“The GE program has both knowledge goals and skills goals, and together they embody what GVSU feels identifies someone as well-educated, or generally educated,” Gilles said. “… These proposed curricular goals are our way of saying to all GVSU students that they need to become very reflective and active people in order to shape the world over the next 30 or 40 years.”

If adopted, the changes to the general education program would be fully implemented by 2016, with some changes going into effect by the fall 2013 semester.

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