Task Force presents on revisions to general education requirements

February 3, 2017

Students and faculty asked questions and provided input on the outlines for a new format for general education at Brandeis during an open forum on Wednesday, Feb. 1.

The new format, which is still lacking specific details, divides general educations requirements into five broad categories: 21st-Century Changes and Challenges; Foundational Literacies; Schools of Thought; Health, Wellness and Life Skills; and Global Citizenship.

Students and faculty at the open forum shared a strong belief in the importance of language requirements at Brandeis with faculty often citing studies which link the study of languages to cognitive benefits.

A task force comprised of seven professors, two students and three other university representatives has been working on revising the general education requirements since spring 2016 with the recognition “that our times and our culture have changed,” according to an email to the student body from Susan Birren, dean of Arts and Sciences and a member of the task force.

21st-Century Changes and Challenges is envisioned as a large lecture class with up to 250 students which would break down periodically into smaller discussion groups of about 20 students, explained Birren and Elaine Wong, another member of the task force. Topics might be the opioid epidemic, immigration in a global world and climate change, according to the email from Birren. This class would not replace the University Writing Seminar which first-years take at Brandeis, according to the discussion at the open forum.

Faculty raised concerns about the large size of the 21st-Century Changes and Challenges class and how the size might impede students from building a relationship with their professor.

Emily Thiem ’18, one of fewer than five undergraduates in attendance, suggested that the breakdown of the class into smaller discussion groups would be enough for students to build relationships with their professors.

Faculty also voiced concerns about students not embracing the liberal arts education and focusing only on accumulating credentials rather than, as Prof. Gordie Fellman (SOC) described, taking a class outside of their major because the class is “intrinsically interesting.”

Thiem, a Health: Science, Society and Policy major, responded saying that as a science major general education requirements were often the only way she had time in her schedule to take classes outside of her major.

University general education requirements have not been completely revised in over 20 years, according to the email from Birren.

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