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Future of General Education Requirements is Unknown

By Stephanie Bauer, Editor-In-Chief

Furman students are promised a well rounded liberal arts experience. Students are not only required to take classes towards their majors, but are obligated to pursue several other to pursuer several other categories of study. This however, raises a serious question: How strict are the standards for creating such general education requirements?

At Furman there are two types of requirements: core requirements and global awareness requirements. Courses cannot fulfill two of the same type of requirement but one course can meet one core and one global awareness requirement.

Faculty members use a computer system cleverly called the “Course Proposal System” to propose new courses and revise old standards.

Courses go through complicated process to gain approval. First, the course goes to the library. The library must see whether Furman has the materials to support the proposition. Next, if the course passes library inspection, it must go through its home department for approval.

If a course has connections to other departments, the proposing professor has to go to these departments for endorsements before she can officially submit her proposal. After submission, a course proposal cannot be changed.

Next, the Curriculum Committee looks at each proposed course. Made of six faculty members and two students, the curriculum committee is an elected faculty body with representatives from each division. This committee has access to proposals and meets with professors. After reviewing each proposed course, they either approve the course, moving it to the next committee, or they tell the proposing professor their qualms about the course to the proposal can be amended before it proceeds. Very few proposals get out right rejected.

“I can count on one hand the proposals outright denied in twelve years. It’s like a paper you cannot fail,” said Registrar, Brad Barron.

Once the curriculum committee passes the course on, it goes to the Academic Policy Committee (APC). This committee is made up of six faculty and two students as well. One faculty member is on both committees; this year it is Jerry Cox.

APC looks at the GER guidelines. They have a set of standard questions each proposal must answer. The questions are different for each GER. If the APC approves a course, it goes to the full faculty to vote on. If not, the proposals may be sent back to their proposing professors or outright rejected. Proposals are more likely to be rejected in this phase than the Curriculum Committee phase.

The faculty meets five times a year as a whole unit. All the course proposals are brought through this organizational body and voted on. Because there have already been seven layers to go through, almost all proposals are approved unanimously.

“Unanimous approval is standard. It’s a big deal if any of the courses are even talked about,” said Barron.

APC looks at whether or not classes meet their requirements. The problem with GERs recently has been the sheer numbers that have been approved by the APC.

According to Associate Academic Dean, Paula Gabbert, most proposed classes apply for GER credit. Those that do not are typically electives within a major.

Of the twenty most recent classes approved, ten have GERs attached. Six of the twenty are MayX classes that could not have even received GER credit.

“We keep getting more and more courses,” Barron said. “We are just throwing things on the mountain of curriculum.”

Barron explains that professors believe no one will take their course if it does not have a GER attached to it. He compares it to Furman’s cultural life program, a program where students must attend a certain number of qualified “CLP” events in order to graduate.

“If it’s a CLP, people will go, if it’s a GER people will register,” said Barron.

Dr. William Aarnes, head of the APC, notices the issue is quickly intensifying.

“As we stay consistent, there is a growing worry about staying consistent. When someone new comes in and proposes a course, we cant say ‘you cant have one because we have too many’, that’s not fair to them. Which means some sort of systemic change needs to happen,” said Aarnes.

Is this broad definition of GER affecting our liberal arts education? Aarnes discusses one of his classes, English 312, a course which he shares with Dr. Lynne Shackelford, as an example.

“We all had to rewrite our courses and I decided I’m not going to make it a TA. I’m going to make it a UQ. So you take this English course. That means you don’t take a religion or philosophy course? … I wonder,” Aarnes said.

So should Furman keep its broad GERs? Before 2008, Furman had a very structured GER system. There were specific classes in each department that fulfilled each requirement. Every student took similar classes.

“The new curriculum mirrors the old one. [However] rather than have one course to satisfy requirement, we look at what the purpose of the requirement was,” Gabbert said. “[This] broadens access to requirements.”

With the old curriculum, departments controlled most of the GERs, but now, because the new curriculum is not department specific, we have specific guidelines. Those guidelines are what APC makes sure every course meets in order to be awarded GER credit.

“We have to assess whether these courses when they are being performed are doing what they said they would,” Baron said.

A pilot study of GERs is starting in the spring to discuss these issues, Aarnes said.

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