Willamette’s general education (Gen Ed) requirements are undergoing major changes for the 2019-2020 school year and beyond. The new curriculum, which faculty voted on in October 2018, is the first revision the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) has made in 20 years and aims to create a more flexible and experimental educational experience for current and future WU students.
According to CLA Dean Ruth Feingold, the Modes of Inquiry (MOI) system that WU currently uses to satisfy general education requirements will be restructured, moving from six MOIs to four basic distributed requirements. In order to graduate, students will need to take a science class, a social science class, some sort of quantitative course and an arts and humanities class. In the current MOI system, students are required to fulfill classes for Understanding the Natural World, Understanding Society, Examining Values, Creating in the Arts, Interpreting Texts and Thinking Historically. With only four requirements, the latter four MOIs combine to create one arts and humanities requirement, while the others roughly translate directly into the new curriculum.
Foreign language requirements are also changing. Rather than taking two mandatory years of language classes, students will now have the option to take only one year and then complete a practicum, which could be satisfied through semester abroad, a service learning class or a class focused on equity, diversity and inclusion, which is a new concept WU is introducing to the curriculum. Students will still be able to take two or more years of a foreign language but, as Feingold explained, this reconfiguration allows for more options.
“What we’re trying to do is give students more flexibility in the ways that they satisfy different requirements,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of people who said that two years of the language isn’t really appreciably better than one year, in terms of actually making yourself understood and being useful, and there are other things that would be more useful and more interesting.”
Finally, students in the Class of 2023 will experience a new format of College Colloquium when they arrive on campus this fall. While all first-year students will still be required to take Colloquium, classes are moving away from writing intensivity and instead focusing on interpreting texts and exploring concepts in both quantitative and creative realms. According to Feingold, this new structure also encourages more critical thinking and allows faculty to have more leeway when planning courses.
For current WU students, deciding which general education system to choose will most likely be an individual decision. Feingold explained that all incoming students in the fall will automatically be enrolled in the new curriculum, and that she expects the majority of rising sophomores (current first-years) to switch over.
“For people who are rising juniors, it’s not going to make a lot of sense for most of them to change,” she said. “If you haven’t satisfied a lot of your Gen Ed requirements it might, but those are the people who are sort of on the cusp. And people who are rising seniors, in all likelihood, will have satisfied their Gen Ed requirements for their upper-level writing in their major, which will be their senior capstone.”
As of now, the degree audit for the new curriculum isn’t accessible, since the requirements have to line up with the next school year’s course catalog, which will be published this summer. According to federal regulations, general education requirements and majors must correspond to the same catalog, which, as Feingold put it, “makes things tricky.”
“It’s like a contract when you enter,” she said. “For example, students who started off in the old politics major can’t mix the old politics major with the new Gen Ed program. They would have to pick politics, policy, law and ethics or international studies, or if they wanted to do the old politics major, they’d have to do the old Gen Ed.”
Students who do choose to change to the new requirements will be able to switch once the new catalog is released, most likely through a letter to the Registrar. Ideally, Feingold said, students should have taken the new curriculum into consideration this past week when registering for next semester.
“If anybody registered and didn’t think about this or consult with their advisor about it, they should sit down and do that now, because there’s obviously still a possibility of changing your classes,” she said. “But you’re not going to end up worse off at all. It’s either you go on and do what you’re doing or you change to something you might prefer more.”
However, statistics show that many WU students are still unfamiliar with the general education changes even after registration. A survey administered on The Collegian‘s Facebook page found that only 14 percent of the 50 respondents reported that they feel “well-informed” of the changes, while 86 percent indicated that they do not.
“I don’t know why that is,” said Feingold about the general confusion among the student body. “All faculty were given three different kinds of handouts explaining what the changes were that they could pass on to their advisees, and it may be that some people didn’t pass it on to them. It may be that some people looked onto their advisees’ transcripts and said, ‘Okay, it’s going to make sense for this person or it isn’t going to make sense for this person.’”
She also added that it’s difficult for information like this to be effectively shared with the community. “I’m trying to figure out what is the best ways of getting out the information to students, because this is a perennial problem. We hold for a and people don’t go, we put materials up on the website or send out emails and people don’t necessarily read them. That’s the question: what are people going to pay attention to?”
As the general education requirements change, departments are identifying the implications that this may hold for certain majors. For example, a department might mandate that certain classes are taken outside of the major when all four requirements can be technically satisfied within one department. The biology and English departments, which are being redesigned for unrelated reasons, have taken the new requirements into consideration, and in order to more easily satisfy the new science requirement, new classes such as Human Evolution will be offered without a lab component. Despite these additions and transitions, however, Feingold doesn’t expect class sizes to be drastically different.
“We’re trying to find ways of ensuring that every department has some classes that are attractive to students who are non-majors and thus can be taken by anybody in the college, as well as classes that are really small and specialized for majors. To a certain extent, it’s going to be a bit of experiment this next year to see how things go,” she said.
Other plans are also in the works. Feingold and other faculty members are currently designing a cluster program for students who are interested in taking certain types of classes. The clusters, which could potentially satisfy all four requirements for some students, would be co-taught by multiple professors and focused on topics such as ethics or espionage.
Overall, the new curriculum is focused on reflecting WU’s values, keeping up with new pedagogy and creating more options for students. As Feingold put it, “There’s more room to double major, more room to do minors if you want to and more room to have flexibility in terms of how you progress through your education.“