Today I had the opportunity to speak with an academic advisor at the University of Georgia. He helped fill in some of the context of curricular switches under consideration in the state of Georgia.
First, he said, the UGA revisions are different than those proposed by the region. As the flagship university, UGA wanted more flexibility and independence. To that end, long before the USG February retreat that resulted in two new plans for a “core” curriculum—distribution requirements called “Framing Worldviews in a Global Environment,” and “From Self to Global Society”—the University of Georgia had put together its own taskforce for curriculum revision. Since the 2004/05 year, a committee of that taskforce has worked to make adjustments to the main track requirements; the new plan will be implemented in the fall. UGA, thus, has special permission to revamp its curriculum outside the provisions of the USG Core Curriculum Initiative.
The way UGA’s system currently operates is like that of most colleges: it uses a set of category “checkboxes” that students must complete in order to graduate. For instance, there are two science requirements; one must be a class under the heading “environmental literacy.”
The present curriculum has been in place for ten years, and UGA officials decided it was time for a change, for two reasons. One is to improve standards of academic rigor, and the other is to imitate “trendy” revisions of peer institutions.
Based on the changes that have been released so far, our UGA advisor observed, “Everything is essentially the same, a redistribution of what we’ve already got.” The “General Education Core” remains relatively unchanged, though more checkboxes are being added to “General Education Abilities,” which is a list of ancillary goals such as “Cultural Diversity.”
One thing to look out for, the advisor said: the University of Georgia chancellor went on the February retreat and was part of all the brainstorming for the USG proposed core. “No one knows where that’s going,” he said, calling the plans a “mess” written up by people in the business and political world, rather than by those in the educational world. His concern is that the area goals implemented by the USG will find their way to UGA’s already growing list of checkboxes.
The advisor described what he sees as a contagious tendency among officials in higher education to wake up in the morning in a panic that students will slip out of college without having learned essential skill X. On that impulse, some colleges have begun issuing painfully basic tests to ensure that their graduates can read and write. “This looks to me like that reflex on steroids,” the UGA advisor said.
He sees two warning flags in UGA’s upcoming revisions. First, they are written in fuzzy terms, sprinkled with political buzzwords such as sustainability and social justice. Second, they lack coherence and add to the tiresome pile of course choice lists. “Rather than seriously think about what a coherent core curriculum would look like, they’ve thought, we need to make sure students know this and this and this…” In this way, the revisions become whimsy with no backbone.
On April 29, the UGA academic advisors will receive training on the new curriculum. They will then find out the extent of the changes and whether “From Self to Global Society” will creep in.
I will report after that meeting takes place.