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Univ. examines general education requirements

By Hannah Schuster

Section: News

August 19, 2016

Brandeis is reexamining its general education requirements this year, and this summer students provided their feedback regarding the benefits and drawbacks of each requirement through a survey sponsored by the Taskforce on General Education.

The survey asked students to comment on which requirements they found useful and which they found easy or difficulty to complete. Looking towards possible change, students were also asked which requirements they would maintain, change or discard and then how or why.

Brandeis has 11 general education requirements. There are two writing-based requirements: the University Writing Seminar for first-years and the Writing Intensive course requirement, as well as the Foreign Language, Oral Communication, Quantitative Reasoning and Non-Western and Comparative Studies requirements and the school distribution requirements in science, humanities, social science and creative arts.

Students can, however, use AP or IB credits to satisfy requirements. They can also pass a fitness test to satisfy one or both semesters of the PE requirements. Varsity athletes are automatically exempt.

Susan Birren, who is the Dean of Arts and Sciences and chair of the task force, said she has responses from student, faculty, staff and alumni surveys, and the task force “will be using the survey results to understand perspectives of different groups about the success and importance of our current requirements to gather thoughts about new directions.”

After formulating recommendations this year, the task force will submit them to the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and then to vote of the full faculty, said Birren. The UCC is likewise composed of students, faculty and staff.

Provost Lisa Lynch discussed the Task Force on General Education after Ford Hall 2015, in the university’s statement on diversity and inclusion. She said the task force would have “a mandate to consider how to incorporate issues of race, equity and inclusion in university requirements.” The statement also said there would be an open application process for students to serve on the Task Force. Chinyere Brown ’16 and Emily Conrad ’16 are the student members.

When Ford Hall activists submitted their demand list to administration, they called for Brandeis to enhance the school’s curriculum to “increase racial awareness and inclusion within ALL departments and schools.” During the 12-day occupation of the Bernstein-Marcus building, activists released a syllabus on Ford Hall 2015, movements on other campuses, allyship, white privilege and the importance of intersectionality. They encouraged everyone to examine the required readings and asked professors to use it in class.

Furthermore, during the election process for the new student member of the UCC, both candidates championed the inclusion of requirements in the Afro-African American Studies Department, the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department and/or the Environmental Studies Department.

The Taskforce has started to meet and will continue discussions throughout the coming semester. This process is happening while the university is also engaged in a “self-study” as part of its reaccreditation. Every 10 years, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accredits Brandeis, and as part of that process the university completes a self-study examining aspects of the school, including its educational requirements. Brandeis will present the self-study document to the NEASC when they come for a site visit in November 2017. The Task Force on General Education is separate from the NEASC self-study, but “the Taskforce’s work will contribute to information used in the NEASC process,” according to Birren.

Birren said it has been over 20 years since Brandeis’ last “full assessment” of its requirements and “in light of Lisa Lynch’s commitment to the process in her statement on ‘Reaffirming and Accelerating Brandeis’ Commitment to Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Justice’ and given our current engagement in our NEASC reaccreditation process, this is a perfect time to be starting this process.”

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