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Required classes rise in new general education proposal

On Sunday night, several members of the Task Force on General Education met with the Student Union to discuss the recently released General Education Requirements proposal. The 45 page document alters current requirements and splits them into five new categories.

The Task Force on General Education released the report in early September. According to the document, requirements will now be housed under five themes: Brandeis First Year Experience, Foundational Literacies, Schools of Thought, Health Wellness and Life Skills and Global Engagement. The five themes came out of a set of goals the task force has for every student upon completing their degree at Brandeis.

The requirements are based, in part, on student feedback. The Task Force held two open forums last year and received survey responses from over 1,400 undergraduate students. According to the Task Force’s proposals, the survey responses supported having multiple broad requirements. That feedback was taken into account when forming the five themes.

The proposal has already been approved by last year’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee. It must still be approved by faculty and the Board of Trustees for it to go into effect. The requirements have not been changed since 1994.

The Task Force aims to have the General Education implemented for the first-year class entering in the fall of 2019.

As of now, Brandeis has 11 requirements—including Quantitative Reasoning, and Non-Western and Comparative Studies and the school distribution requirement where students take a class from four areas: science, humanities, social science and creative arts. Most of the requirements have been swapped one for one. However, two new required courses have been added to the list: Digital Literacy and Diversity Equity and Inclusion in the U.S. These bring the total list of requirements to 13. The Task Force reviewed the requirements of peer institutions and found that most had at least 12.

The First Year Experience requirement will build upon the University Writing Seminar (UWS). Traditionally, a UWS course is made of up three essays centered around a core theme. Under the First Year Experience, students will now participate in one of two “Critical Conversations” during the semester in which two faculty members will offer contrasting viewpoints on broad topics such as The Meaning of Truth or American Healthcare. Students will also have a three to five hour mandatory experiential learning trip during the semester. The trip will be designed to expand upon an assignment. The proposal gives volunteering at a Waltham farm as an example.

Tal Richtman, 2020 class senator, asked the Task Force members present whether there has been a push to limit the amount of graduate students teaching UWS courses. Members of the Task Force agreed that the university would like to have more faculty teaching the First Year Experience, but it seems unlikely to not need graduate students to teach.

The new Schools of Thought requirement is essentially the same as the School Distribution requirement, with the exception that students can no longer use AP credits to satisfy it.

Students in the Union expressed concern that the new requirements would burden incoming students. “We actually expect that students for the most part will be taking fewer requirements than they are now, because even though the maximum theoretical number of requirements is a course or two higher, we’re now taking some of those requirements like the Writing Intensive and the Oral Communications […] and folding them into the majors. So those will be major requirements,” said Birren.

This means every department will include courses that satisfy certain requirements, including Writing Intensive and Quantitative Reasoning.

Writing Intensive, Oral Communication and Quantitative Reasoning are still four credit course requirements, but can now be found under the theme titled Foundational Literacies. The proposal states that these requirements can and should be taken within one’s major.

A course in Digital Literacy should also be taken within a major and asks students to, “evaluate the validity of digital sources; create and use digital media; analyze, present and reason about large sets of data; generate or utilize appropriate software in the discipline; and become adept at utilizing data bases,” as defined by the major.

Health Wellness and Life Skills will replace the mandatory two course Physical Education requirement. It mandates that a total of three non-credit courses be completed in three different areas: Navigating Health and Safety, Mind and Body Balance, and Life Skills. A varsity athlete would not be required to take one of the three modules.

Non-Western and Comparative requirements exist under the name Difference and Justice in the World. The Foreign Language requirements will be referred to as World Languages and Cultures.

Four Task Force members were part of the panel on the Sunday night: Susan Birren, Dean of Arts and Sciences, Elaine Wong, Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, Bulbul Chakaborty, Professor of Physics and Tory Fair, Associate Professor of Fine Arts. Alona Weimer ’18, UCC student representative was also present, but not as a part of the panel.

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