Faculty Senate Discussion

Gen Ed Core Courses Faculty Input

Filed under Gen Ed Core Course Response by salvers@ufl.edu on January 8, 2013 | 28 Comments

Jan 25, 2013
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Bernard Mair
Associate Provost, Undergraduate Affairs


January 8, 2013
In 2012 the Florida legislature amended House Bill 7135 (section 1007.25).  This means some significant changes to the general education program which impacts post-secondary education in the state.  It is imperative that you review these changes and how they may affect you, your department and your college.  

The current 36-hour requirement was changed to 30 hours in the five subject areas of communication, humanities, mathematics, natural sciences and social sciences.  Here is the important part:  Faculty committees appointed by the chairs of the state Board of Education and the Board of Governors were directed to identify a list of no more than five post-secondary courses in each subject area which will make up the core course options.  The statute mandates that all institutions must offer and accept these general education core courses and that students must complete at least one identified core course in each subject area which means that 15 hours of the total 30 hours of core courses must come from the mandated list.

Please review the General Education Core Courses (link to the Florida Department of Education site) that are being recommended by the State-wide General Education Steering and Faculty Committees and provide your input here no later than Jan. 31, 2013.  Your responses will be used  to develop the University of Florida response to the DOE/BOG institution initial feedback.  Remember this is now statute and comments should relate to how you, your department and college may be impacted through the adoption of these courses.

Since comments are routed through the Faculty Senate office, there may be a brief delay before your comment is posted.  As a reminder,  because of state law you cannot refer to any comments posted.

Cheri Brodeur
Chair, Faculty Senate

28 Responses to “Gen Ed Core Courses Faculty Input”

  1. Education is a place to seek knowledge. Wherever the interests of students lie, a high-class university will be flexible enough to meet those interests with appropriate classes. For example, why study the moon? BECAUSE it is there and mankind is curious. Why be a nurse? Because sick people need help and others want to help. Your silly curriculum is childish, robotic, inflexible, does not teach students how to THINK, and, in the end, it is a loser. So your goal is to get jobs for the kids? Auto mechanics, builders, postal workers and such are needed, and they don’t go to UF. Kids simply seeking jobs will do better in such venues if UF continues to sink in its idiotic notions of what education is. UF should not be a job training school with no flexibility, challenges to students, interest to students, or scholarly notions. And stop comparing yourselves to equally misinformed universities, please! Already in my 33 years I see UF sinking, sinking, into this idiotic mentality of classes of huge sizes for jobs, jobs, jobs. You administrators are acting like CEO’s or job training corporate types, not esteemed scholars of academic renown. Go work at Sony. You are foolish to listen to uninformed citizens, politicians, and legislators. You are failures for not fighting back. I would never to to UF as a student. And then there’s the “Gators”.Very useful, huh? Very fair to the rest of the University, huh? Compare your philosophy of education to that of MIT, U. of Chicago, or even some small community colleges, and you’ll see you are losers. Our college has a dean from the military…how appropriate! Too bad, Florida is full of resources, but educational fools like the governor, politicians, and such. Let’s only offer 2.5 courses. How’s that? Cheaper? You like that?

  2. Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t understand the problem this proposal is supposed to solve. Conversely, forcing students into more large-lecture classes does not optimize learning. So what’s the point?

  3. Potential negative impacts of the proposed Gen Ed requirements on UF programs:

    1) The “prerequisite rule” allowing an advanced course to replace the core requirement only addresses math and natural sciences, but does not apply to the Humanities, Social Science and Composition core areas. Not only is this likely to be very confusing, but it seems like the general effect will be a “dumbing down” of the Humanities/Social Science general education courses that our engineering students currently take.

    For example, the two-course sequence in American History (AMH 2010, AMH 2020) is currently a common fulfillment for Humanities, either taken at UF or through AP credit. A student who takes both of these under the proposed rules will not get “core” credit for anything (Intro to Humanities, etc.). The overall result of this is a dramatic reduction in both flexibility and potential rigor (given the introductory level of the stipulated core courses) from our previous requirements.

    Additionally, the College of Arts and Sciences is presumably going to lose enrollment in many of their varied Gen Ed courses and see large enrollment increases in any course listed in these Gen Ed core areas. One would also hope that the university will be devoting sufficient and likely substantial resources to the specified core courses since enrollment in these courses will be large; therefore without sufficient sections, instructors and TA help, the existing courses will be substantially compromised.

    2) UF students, in addition to meeting all Gen Ed and Gordon Rule requirements, must also complete courses which satisfy an International and a Diversity focus. Most of the classes listed in the proposed core area lists for Humanities and Social Science do not meet these additional requirements. Of the 10 proposed courses in the Humanities and Social Science core, three (perhaps four) meet the Gordon Rule, four (perhaps five) meet the International focus, and none meet the Diversity focus. This will no doubt make advising for General Education courses that much more difficult (preview advising for Engineering students is already problematic enough) and will also increase the likelihood that engineering students will end up taking more than the minimum 5 courses to meet the Humanities/Social Science Gen Ed requirements as well as the 24,000 words needed to satisfy the Gordon Rule. With the new excess hours surcharge implemented at only a 12 or 13 credit excess, this is not a trivial matter at all for the students.

    3) Many students currently place out of the composition requirement for ENC 1101 by either AP course credit or via exam (SAT, ACT) scores. Such students in the College of Engineering can move directly in our Professional Communication course ENC 3254. Since the exam scores will not show up as separate course credit and the Science/Math prerequisite rule does not apply here, will students still be required to take ENC X101 anyway if they have AP credit or if they have sufficiently high SAT verbal or ACT verbal scores to place out of ENC1101?

  4. I have not given this enough thought, nor done enough reading, but here are my initial impressions.

    It is difficult to evaluate the initial draft recommendations without knowing what is the “problem” that the recommendations are designed to address and what are the General Education Core Course Options for our “target peer” institutions.

    There are three key questions: (1) how will these changes affect the recruitment of matriculating students; (2) how will these changes affect the education of current students; and, (3) how will these changes affect the competitiveness of graduating students. In all cases, comparison of the draft recommendations to the core curricula at peer institutions is relevant (especially for point 3). UF must remain competitive for the best and brightest students both in terms of recruiting new matriculating students as well as preparing current and graduating students.

    Has anyone prepared a summary (e.g., a chart or table) of how the draft recommendations compare to core course requirements at peer institutions? I think this is a necessary first step in evaluating the draft recommendations. Without this, we undertake the effort of thinking about this “problem” in a vacuum without consulting the relevant literature! Such a comparison may also help us better define the “problem” that the draft recommendations are designed to address.

  5. The proposal limits the educational potential of our programs and the joy of the educational experience of our students. Forced into large classes that of necessity will be less challenging and less interactive, students will begrudgingly jump through these academic hoops, but likely will not emerge with a rewarding educational experience. Was there any presentation of a justification for these changes? Lots of mechanics but no justification. The very end of the Initial Draft Recommendations document refers to a requirement from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools for “developing a new general education program.” So is this change proposed for the sake of achieving a change, regardless of its value?

  6. This scheme is untimely and shockingly ill-conceived and runs contrary everything that nearly twenty years of undergraduate teaching in three R1 schools has taught me about pedagogical rigor, curricular innovation, and what students actually *want* to learn. They will live and work, they live and work *now*, in a world of increasingly diverse, overlapping, and conflicting ideas and ideologies. They want to understand how to navigate that world with self-assurance, discernment and nuance, whatever their official field of study or major. They understand that *more* and more engaging training in critical thought, reading, writing, and dialogue is the key to their success. If we communicate to them that somehow less must actually be more, with the excuse that we can’t afford, or don’t want to pay for, a better and more productive education, then we merely confirm their most cynical suspicions of the reasons for everything we do here. The ongoing reduction in the number and diversity of the courses that they are required to take and, effectively, in the courses that departments will be able to offer, means very simply that these students will be less prepared for the actual world they already know exists, even if the state’s legislators refuse to recognize it. This is not a path to top-ten status. Our notionally peer institutions will leave us far behind in the qualities of their students and their students’ successes in all fields of endeavor.

  7. For graduate students, working as teaching assistants is an important way for them to master material, as well as to gain experience teaching the courses that employers require. In departments with a core course, most teaching jobs will be for that course, and graduate students will lose the opportunity to teach for a wider variety of courses or more rigorous courses. (The core course proposed in my field, Art Appreciation, is not the most rigorous Gen Ed we teach.) How much worse will this be for graduate students in fields that are not represented by core courses? Those students will still find TA employment, but teaching courses that are not relevant to their own fields of study. Instead, those students will have to spend a great deal of time mastering unfamiliar material tangential to their studies. This will detract from their studies, slow down their progress to degree, and hinder recruitment. With the implementation of the Good Life course, we have already previewed some of these effects.

  8. Having standards for general education requirements insures exposure to knowledge outside of the major. However, mandating specific courses reduces the diversity in exploration of topics outside the major and does not capitalize on students’ interest that facilitates engagement in a course. Mandating courses does not leverage the very rich faculty resources at a large university such as UF or the unique ones at smaller Florida universities.

    The effects of the changes on accreditation of academic programs may differ. Providing avenues for flexibilty in the mandated courses may be necessary and should be included in the bill.

  9. The University of Florida is unique in that it has a varitey of faculty each with specializations in their field. That variety has led to some exciting Gen Ed offerings that lead many students to a career path they had not considered before. Taking away these options from students, not only lessens their educational opportunity, but takes away the prestiege of being a University of Florida student. If our lower division course offerings are no different from other state institutuions, why would students want to come here their first two years? Another consideration is that many “found” majors are directly the result of Gen Ed course offerings here at UF. I believe this is a serious issue that hasn’t been fully explored. How will undergraduate majors be impacted if the Gen Ed courses that feed many undergraduate programs are discontinued?

  10. From an educational perspective this restructuring of the gen-ed requirements is clearly a bad idea. But done is done, so I believe those most directly involved should work to ameliorate the consequences by expanding the requirements to allow equivalent content to be the criterion of consequence, not common number. If this does not happen, then the next steps will surely be exit tests, syllabus evaluation, a common text, and perhaps a degree requirement (can someone without a degree in English teach the required English class?). Present state law allows for considerable variety in these parameters in terms of what constitutes course AAA X000 equivalency through the common course numbering system. This system has its issues, but is very liberal in that courses of essentially equivalent content can be taught under more than one prefix (e.g., American government can be taught under history or political science). In this way disciplinary departments are encouraged to teach cross disciplinary courses. It will be a shame to loose that aspect pf general education, which will surely happen because of both the reduced SCH requirement and the compartmentalization of instruction by the numbers!.

  11. When I came to UF the general education requirement was more than 40 credits, SInce then it has been whittled down to 36, and now he legislature wants it to be 30. I am opposed to this law because it is a naked attempt by the legislature to run the curriculum which should be determined by UF faculty for UF students.

  12. The mantra that everything can be fixed by new laws and bureaucracy is amazing. So students now will all have the same course list. This is insufficient. Next we need a State exam to document that all students learned the same thing. Someone will have to make the exam, administer it, and grade it. So now there are more fees associated with graduation. People will fail the exam, and hire a lawyer. The exam will be made easier or scored differently. End result … more fees and government, but no improved education.

    I think of innovation as having thoughts that are different than anyone else. The same truth learned in the same way by all sounds like stagnation. That is not my view of what a university education should be about. On the other hand, if only the course titles are standardized and the content can be anything that the instructor wants to teach … then what is the point of this exercise?
    The stated requirements are vague and lofty goals. The courses listed and proposed credit hours are insufficient to achieve them. Would you have us believe that a student who finished ENC X101 will be able to communicate effectively and analyze communications critically? How will I know that the goal has been achieved? Is there a quantifiable standard for “effective” and “critically?” Achieving cultural literacy is another lofty goal, but I have no sense of what defines cultural literacy. The USA is composed of many cultures. Should I be able to recite the Ramayana as part of cultural literacy? Federalist Papers? Magna Carta? Maybe I take literacy too literally, and I need to appreciate a dinner of Thai red curry, poi, and a Scottish ale. Can I really understand Hispanic culture without knowing Spanish? If all the goals are met in each section, what is the point of graduate degree programs?

    Are the goals appropriate? Does it really benefit a family doctor to have the ability to run a probit analysis on insect dose-mortality data? They should be able to do so if they can “apply appropriate mathematical and computational models and methods in problem solving.”

    Turn the problem around. I graduate with my B.S. from the University of Florida. The general education requirements state that I am now culturally literate. I can easily prove that I do not know all of Martin Luther King’s speeches. I am therefore not culturally literate. I would like to sue the University of Florida and the State of Florida for failing to provide the education that it agreed to provide as set forth in the general education requirements. Furthermore, I can easily prove that all of the students have failed some part of these requirements. Having failed to provide contracted services, all students are entitled to both a refund and damages for the time lost in attending this university.

  13. I appreciate that the committee has devoted considerable effort to this decision, however, making these changes will have a serious and detrimental effect on the quality of education that we can offer to our students. By needlessly limiting student choice in gen-ed courses, we are effectively curtailing students’ exploration of topics that should inform them, excite them, and broaden their horizons. It is hard to imagine how students will benefit from narrowed options, rather, it seems clear that both students and faculty will lose the spark of connection that is generated in unique classes where instructors teach from the perspective of their particular passions.

  14. kr@ufl.edu says:

    The richness of diversity and exploration at UF will be greatly hindered if these “lists” hold. In addition, where will AP classes fit in this scenario?

  15. As an art historian, our department is in the enviable position of having one of the new proposed courses be one that we currently offer (Art Appreciation). However, even though this may translate into large numbers of undergraduates taking our course and thus lead to benefit in terms of SCH’s, I’m concerned about the effect it will have on graduate education. If we have hundreds of students taking Art Appreciation, all of our graduate students’ teaching assistantships will be dedicated to that single course. They will not be able to teach a variety of courses as they do now, and ultimately their chances for post-graduation employment will suffer. Also, if I were a prospective graduate student, I would steer away from UF if I heard that Art Appreciation was all I was going to teach. In sum, these changes have the potential to negatively effect graduate recruitment and education by limiting graduate students’ teaching opportunities.

  16. I appreciate the effort and work that has gone into the proposed plan and courses. I am concerned that the courses seem to be mainly in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and takes general education courses developed by other colleges out of the equation. I know that subs are being considered. Another concern is that the proposed curriculum seems in-flexible. It seems limited in the number of choices. I understand the reason for the change from 36 to 30. I also like the idea of the 5 areas. I would argue to have more choices of courses within each of those 5 areas and not have the few choices currently being offered.

  17. By limiting the general education courses to a limited core group, students will miss the diversity of general education courses currently offered that serve to entice students into specific areas of study and demonstrate the interrelationships between, for example, biology and the history. It is often a key general education course that triggers a life-long interest in a subject. An undergraduate may enter UF as a freshman with a goal of medical school, but after a plant pathology course, such as “Plants, Plagues and People”, they are suddenly turned-on to another view of microbiology that resides in the plant world, rather than the animal world. We should be promoting experimentation and introduction to a variety of disciplines, not rigidity to a limited core.

  18. I was very, very sad to hear about this decision. This new policy is clearly not in keeping with a vibrant, diverse educational environment that we want and expect from the University of Florida. How do we attract students to our University as we push to become a “top 10 school” with a narrow curriculum that is enforced by the state legislature? Also, last time I checked we were a land-grant university with an agricultural college. Where are the classes that educate non-major students about entomology, plant disease, soil science, horticulture, etc.? I was under the impression that the point of the “push to become a top 10 school” was to actually get better? Maybe I am missing something.

  19. groisser says:

    The draft recommendations would amend Section 1007.25 of the Florida Statutes. This section can be found here: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=1000-1099/1007/Sections/1007.25.html . The following sentence occurs in paragraph (3) of this section; emphasis added by me: “Each general education core course option must contain HIGH-LEVEL academic and critical thinking skills and common competencies that students must demonstrate to successfully complete the course.”

    The mathematics course MAC 1105, College Algebra, is one of the proposed core courses, but unless “high-level” is redefined to mean “high-school level”, MAC 1105 does not meet the “high-level” criterion. The course name “College Algebra” is a euphemism for “high-school algebra taught in college”. Its content, from a recent UF syllabus, is “Solving inequalities, linear and quadratic equations; complex numbers; polynomials; graphs; rational functions; logarithmic and exponential functions.” Even if UF were to upgrade the content of MAC 1105 to the current content of our MAC 1140, Precalculus Algebra, most of the content would be high-school-level. To be sure, many students struggle with this material, but that does not make it “high-level”.

  20. capinera says:

    It is unfortunate that our bureaucracy confuses course titles with course content. There is more than one way to obtain literacy in a subject area than to take a course with a particular title. Students benefit when courses are structured around their interests; providing relevant context often makes it easier for students to learn. But we are to abandon these successful courses in the interest of uniformity or standardization? A principal impact will be reduction of richness in undergraduate educational opportunities available at UF. Must we really have the same curricula as community colleges? What does this accomplish that would not be more simply accomplished by drawing up lists of equivalent courses?

    The impacts of this change will extend beyond students to faculty and departments. Faculty have substantial investments of intellect and time in existing courses. Large-scale reassignment of faculty teaching assignments is a colossal waste of time. Yet failure to do this will disrupt department staffing. I estimate a potential loss of 40% of this department’s SCH production if we can no longer service general education courses. I hope that UF will have the wisdom to interpret the footnote on page 6 liberally, and allow for general substitution of courses.

  21. For a variety of reasons it is clear that a restricted list of General Education courses presents problems. At a time when UF supposedly wants to become a “Top-10” university, bringing us down to the lowest common denominator is not a good idea. The flexibility and ability to specialize is very important to maintain the excellence of our graduates. And such a requirement is not appropriate for some of the exceptional high school graduates UF enrolls. However, if such micro-managing interference in our curricula is inevitable, the paragraph at the end of page 6 is a must. We certainly do not want students reverting to lower-level mathematics and natural science classes. I would also argue that such a reasoning on prerequisites should also apply to the other categories.

  22. For a variety of reasons it is clear that a restricted list of General Education courses presents problems. It is of course easy to argue with the proposed course lists themselves but the Social Science list, among others, raises concerns: neither POS 2112 American State and Local Government nor POS 2041 American Federal Government is included.

    A number of surveys have shown that in general college graduates lack basic knowledge about our government and history (http://chronicle.com/article/College-Makes-Students-More/64040/) Colleges and universities surely share some of the blame for failing to increase students’ civics knowledge (http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/2007/summary_summary.html). The 2011 Florida Civic Health Index makes the case that Florida’s young people need to be more involved in a meaningful way in the civic life of the state. One of four recommendations of the report is to strengthen civic education in all of Florida’s colleges and universities and expand programs that give students the experience and know how to organize, debate, and to engage with public issues (http://ncoc.net/FLCHI2011). The new General Education Core requirements are a missed opportunity to place more emphasis on civics.

  23. bsr@ufl.edu says:

    These changes hardly seem commensurate with today’s announcement that the governor “is committed to working with UF and the Florida Board of Governors to help UF become a top 10 university.” Attracting and retaining the best faculty will be exceptionally difficult, if faculty are to have their teaching efforts evaluated based on the ability to attract students to their courses, while the students are being actively disincentivized from selecting any but a small number of predetermined courses. Retention may also be negatively affected in the departments that do “win” the designated core courses, as faculty are likely to be stretched thin trying to meet the increased teaching demand for these courses, while still giving priority to their research programs. Attracting the best and brightest students will be more difficult, if those students are to be given severely limited choices of courses with which they may meet their core requirements. And, as previously noted, an “increase in innovation and creativity” will be actively discouraged for both faculty and students: faculty, whose interesting and innovative courses will not be recognized for the core competencies that they teach, and students, whose curiosity and willingness to pursue a “well-rounded” education will not be recognized with credits towards their degrees. We will neither improve our rankings relative to other universities, nor provide our students with the kind of educational breadth that they will need to become contributors and innovators, by funneling them into such a tightly-molded and narrow curriculum.

  24. The tendency of the Florida legislature to take the authority to legislate specific curriculum is, and has always been, alarming. While having a core of common courses among the state universities may have advantages, especially for transfer students, the criteria that limit students’ choices is simply impoverishing to their educations and needlessly controlling. The reduction in credit hours for the BA further limits their opportunities to expand the foundations of their knowledge and their tools for reasoning and experiencing life as our culture unfolds. One size never fits all. I had a fantastic seminar last semester with a small group of students who ranged from Ph.D. level to undergraduate non-major; the students evaluated the course extremely high, both officially and in conversation. I myself found it to be one of the most satisfying courses I have ever taught. Experiences like these will all but vanish, or occur only for students who are willing to take extra hours, provided faculty are willing to risk offering such courses in an environment where their very existence is discouraged.

    The legislation effectively eliminates any chance of new course offerings, highly relevant special topics courses, innovative curriculum developments. And yet, faculty are evaluated on innovation in practically every area where they *can* be evaluated. The legislation is at best a damper on innovation, and at worst, an annihilator. The situation becomes more and more Kafkaesque.

    Equally alarming is the elimination of areas of study that may not be popular on a massive scale. Though it begins with core curriculum, gen ed courses, it’s not hard to imagine this philosophy pervading our major courses of study, and even graduate programs, where highly concentrated specialization by a few people in obscure areas are essential for the survival and growth of valuable pockets of knowledge.

    This plan also flies in the face of RCM; we have been encouraged to create courses that would generate high enrollments for our departments in order to demonstrate our “value” and generate revenue. Only a few of those courses will survive this initiative. Wasted time, wasted resources, wasted energy, increased frustration and impotence for departments and individuals.

  25. Thanks for dealing with this to those who have worked at it.
    But my major comment is just that this move to a core of courses that everyone must choose from adds one more layer of stultifying ‘education by committee’. Gen Ed classes that are born anew from faculty passion and creativity can engender the necessary competence but with creativity that taps into societal and global culture as it changes.

    I look at this list and compare it to the Gen Ed offerings we have had over the years and cry hot tears of BOREDOM! Without the innovation that arises from competitive, consumer driven offerings — we all lose.

  26. Two things regarding the cap of 120 required credit hours for the BS degree.
    1. My undergraduate degree required 140+ credit hours and though not easy this was quite do-able. For a quality educational experience that will make our students competitive for graduate schools and business opportunities, they need a lot more than 120 credit hours.

    2. National accreditation committees, such as ABET for biomedical engineering, have comprehensive requirements that are strictly enforced. It will be difficult, and likely impossible, to satisfy all the ABET requirements in 120 credit hours. Thus I would expect many departments to loose their national accreditation, thereby decreasing those departments’ national reputation/ranking/status, which will discourage top students and faculty from attending this University.

  27. This is completely incompatible with the current RCM model. How are the majority of departments going to sustain their SCH-derived funding with these restrictions?

  28. I would like to thank the committee for their work on this challenging task. Although the humanities and social science courses represent a breadth of important disciplines, I am disappointed to see that none of the proposed courses in these areas addresses directly the pressing topics of ethnic, racial, gender, or sexual identities. To prepare students for entry into today’s multiracial, diverse, and globalized society, it is a vital learning outcome of the humanities and social sciences to teach students how knowledge about the world is filtered through different perspectives. Courses in African-American Studies, Women’s Studies, Queer Studies, Latino/a Studies, Asian-American Studies, Jewish Studies, and related areas enable students to understand the complexity of American culture and communities.

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