BY LAUREN JURGENSEN
Starting next fall, incoming freshmen and rising sophomores might no longer have to take physical education, freshman composition, and three of the five current across-the-curriculum requirements in order to graduate.
If a major revision to the schools’ general education curriculum gets faculty approval later this semester, the overall number of credits to graduate will be cut from 122 to 120. Officials state that this year’s freshmen will have the option of switching over to the new general education requirements next year if they successfully completed a first year seminar during their freshman year.
The first year seminar, which is a small, discussion-based course taken during a student’s first or second semester at the university, and a new “experiential learning” requirement are also among the other general education changes proposed by an ad hoc faculty committee.
Across the curriculum course requirements expected to be dropped are environmental awareness, race and gender awareness, and global awareness. Freshman composition will also be removed.
The ad hoc committee has proposed retaining the writing intensive, speaking intensive and foreign language requirements in their present forms. All remaining general education requirements are modest variations on the current ones, with the biggest differences being that physical education courses are no longer required, and that only one of the two required science courses will have to have a lab.
Committee co-chair, Carter Hudgins said, “It creates, from the student point-of-view, greater flexibility in the general education choices. It would give students a further range of choice.” Hudgins is chair of the Department of History and American Studies.
“The changes also encourage more interdisciplinary thinking and cooperation, so that students make more connections between disciplines,” he said. “And, from a practical point of view, the requirements are more efficient for students to accomplish.”
Student leaders say they support the changes. Kate LeBoeuf and Amanda McCuskey, chair and vice-chair of the student Academic Affairs Council, have already gathered over one hundred student signatures on a petition in support of the general education revisions.
“I support the change because I believe that the changes will permit students more flexibility and choice when designing their schedules because it creates room for new courses not yet offered at Mary Washington,” said LeBoeuf. “I also believe that because the requirements are interdisciplinary, students will have the freedom to focus their general education studies in a way that complements their major, thus providing more depth to their education.”
However, the proposal that students are hearing about now may become something partially or entirely different several months into the future. It still needs to go through a series of faculty votes before it can take effect next year.
Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs, and member of the ad hoc committee, John Morello said, “All along the way, specific features of the current proposal might be changed or amended.”
Nevertheless, members of the committee said that the proposal is making rapid advancement.
“The progress on this proposal has been remarkable to this point,” said Morello. “The last time Mary Washington changed general education, in the 90s, two committees first tried and a failed to get new requirements adopted. A third committee got a proposal passed after a year and half – they began work in May of 1993, and the plan was adopted in October 1994. Then it took three more years before that plan went into effect, in the fall of 1997.”
The proposed curriculum change has been a work in progress since last October, and will still have to be acted on by the faculty Curriculum and Academic Affairs committees in October before it can pass to the Faculty Senate in November, where, if again passed, will continue to a final vote by the general faculty later that month.
Overall, there are ten components to the proposed general education revisions. In addition to the first year seminar, the experiential learning requirement, and the newly refigured science requirement, a student will also need to take four writing intensive courses, two speaking intensive courses, two courses that focus in quantitative reasoning, two courses from two different disciplines relating to human behavior and society, one course that fulfills an understanding of global interconnections, and two courses in art, literature or performance.
Dr. Hudgins said he was excited about the new experiential learning requirement. “We think [it] will create a vehicle for students to do more hands-on things,” he said. “The intention there is to get students learning – actively learning, or experientially learning as the proposal says, and to apply what they know early on.”
Current independent or guided research courses would fulfill the new experiential learning requirement. A new course, coded as 499E Internship, requires a final internship with a paper or project to be evaluated by the sponsoring faculty member. The course would count toward the requirement.
General education at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Tech require only seven components, and these components do not include any equivalents or similarities to the proposed fre shman seminar or experiential learning requirements.