The Arizona Desert Lamp

White Paper: General Education

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 20 October 2008

Despite the misnomer, “The Vice President for Instruction” is in fact a white paper on the General Education program. VP Juan Garcia rightly points out that the Gen Ed program is pretty bad. In Garcia’s view, the problem starts with a lack of class availability, a claim virtually undisputed around campus. His solution?

As part of the restructuring of undergraduate education, I am proposing that we employ teaching intensive faculty at all ranks. This teaching intensive faculty would practice the tenets of Ernest Boyer’s Scholarship of Teaching.

Ernest Boyer is one of the great names in the ivory tower of educational thought, who dedicated much of his work to decrying the lack of focus on undergraduate students by research universities. In fact, the paper opens up with a quote from Boyer:

“THE RESEARCH UNIVERSITIES HAVE TOO OFTEN failed, and continue to fail, their undergraduate populations. Tuition income from undergraduates is one of the major sources of university income, helping to support research programs and graduate education, but the students paying the tuition get, in all too many cases, less than their money’s worth.”

Perhaps it’s just me, but this reeks of abrogated class-warfare rhetoric. Rise up, you downtrodden undergrads! The graduate students have done nothing but exploit you!

If you want a program focused entirely on undergraduates, I have a proposal for you: Go to NAU. Go to any small, private liberal arts institution around the United States. These schools are extremely good at giving undergraduates everything they could want, because there are no graduate students to deal with on their campuses.

In fact, as far as opportunities go, the UA is better than most. The Honors College does a great job in encouraging undergraduate research, while the school as a whole offers eleven different opportunities for undergraduate researchers.

Anyways, back to the teaching intensive faculty:

Teaching intensive faculty would be required to undergo extensive and continuing professional development in the art and craft of teaching. For example, they would develop or enhance their skills in cultural competency, so as to be prepared to teach, interact, and more effectively communicate with students from different ethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. They would also learn different Models of Teaching and about the different learning styles of students. They would learn to use instructional technology more effectively and creatively.

Question: how do you appeal to all types of learning styles when you’re teaching a class of 500+ kids? No matter what happens, large universities will always have large lectures. That has always been a fact of undergraduate life for decades, and will continue to be.

Faculty who make the choice (another question — what tenure-seeking faculty member in their right mind would volunteer for this?) to become teaching intensive will have to dedicate three years of service to the program. They will also be assisted in the work by “support teams”, which consist of:

. . . academic advisors, learning specialists, tutors, SALT and Disability Resource Center  professionals, writing specialists, support staff from the Learning Technology Center who specialize in the use and application of learning technologies, staff from OSCR, staff from the University Learning Center, and staff from the MASS cultural centers on campus. Other student professionals will be added to each team as needs change and are identified.

Nope, no way this gets over-bureaucratized. Garcia then gets back to general education, discussing how he wants to change the first year program:

We will more actively utilize Learner Centered Education models and strategies. In addition to applied learning in the classroom, students will be encouraged to engage in supervised service learning programs, learning communities, internships, directed study and directed research activities. Leadership studies and social justice components will also be part of the undergraduate experience.

Social justice strikes again! Here we have more of the “Gen Ed volunteerism,” an idea discussed at length in this post. Yet in context of the” teaching-intensive teachers,” it makes even less sense. If students are earning Gen Ed credit by building statues to Che, why do we need “teaching intensive” teachers to direct them?

At least he’s somewhat honest about how to fund this scheme:

How will we pay for such an elaborate program? To help pay for the cost of a teaching intensive faculty, we can redirect the student success funding and the funding already allocated to colleges to support general education courses. Additional funding will come from tuition dollars as we implement a process and system whereby tuition dollars follow student credit hours. There is also the tuition increase that has been proposed for FY 2009-2010. And this proposed structure can be used to attract donors who will support the program.

So, in the end, you get what you pay for. Tuition increases, and you get slightly improved classrooms. The donors line is indicative of another trend that I like to refer to as Deus ex Alumnis — somehow, alumni and other people with disposable income will be so wowed by these neat new programs that they’ll be forking out money like Fannie Mae in the 1990s. Suffice to say, I’m a bit skeptical that this qualifies as any sort of realistic plan; apparently, Garcia agrees as well:

Budget: Information still be developed and researched.

Well, what the hell is this, then? Bureaucratese aside, this is a plan of cutting expenditures, in the wake of surely decreased revenue streams. We’re not enacting a slew of changes because Meredith Hay woke up on the innovative side of the bed one morning. Of course innovation is necessary; but there’s a reason for it, and if the innovation isn’t helping (or perhaps, even hurting) the end goal, then it shouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole.

————
One way to improve General Education, IMHO, would be to make it more, well, general. Right now, the system is an absurdity, filled with various tiers and made-up learning categories such as “Individuals and Societies.” I’m glad that I made it out alive.

The main goal of General Education is to ensure that students have a wide base of knowledge outside of their field of study. To this end, the University requires thirty units. So why not simply force the student to take thirty units out their field of study? Even better, make the student take fifteen of them outside of their college (SBS, Eller, etc.). This offers students more options in their studies; furthermore, it disperses the students more widely, reducing the burden of accommodating Gen Ed students that is placed on departments.

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