Task force presents new recommended requirements
The Task Force on General Education has recommended five curricular themes to be implemented as the University’s new educational requirements for first-years and the student body at large. These new requirements will encourage students to think critically and develop foundational literacies, according to a handout circulated by the Task Force.
“The goal of a Brandeis education is to prepare students to be engaged, successful and impactful in their chosen fields, in local and national issues, and as global citizens,” the handout reads. “The new Brandeis General Education curriculum will provide core knowledge and skills through a set of curricular themes that build through first year experiences and major specializations.”
The Task Force brought these proposals to the University community through a series of open discussions with students, faculty and staff. During the last such session on Wednesday evening, a group of seven students spoke with three Task Force members: Dean of Arts and Sciences Susan Birren, Senior Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences for Undergraduate Education Elaine Wong, and Profs. Derron Wallace (SOC) and David Powelstock (GRALL).
According to the handout circulated at the discussion, the five proposed curricular themes include 21st Century Changes and Challenges; Foundational Literacies; Schools of Thought; Health, Wellness, and Life Skills; and Global Citizenship.
These themes are all “fluid” as of late, Birren said, adding that there are still many steps before the recommendations become policy.
One student at Wednesday’s discussion asked whether these requirements would change the total number of credits required for graduation. Birren responded that the recommended themes would not change the 128 credit requirement, adding that the impact on students’ schedules would not be “wildly different,” due in part to cross listing and double counting courses.
“Any discussion about the overloading of the students who are doing double, triple minors and majors? … Because it’s Brandeis,” University President Ronald Liebowitz asked in response to Birren’s presentation of the recommendations at Friday’s faculty meeting.
Birren responded that her hope is that “students will feel like they are getting skills that will allow them to maybe have flexibility to not do as many majors” once the requirements are put in place.
During Wednesday’s discussion, Ben Margolin ’17 asked the members whether the Task Force had considered merging University Writing Seminars and writing requirements with some of the proposed changes. UWS and writing intensive classes, he asserted, are unpopular among a large portion of the student body. Powelstock responded that he believes students still benefit from basic writing instruction — and, as such, UWS courses will remain as is — but the second writing intensive course might be reformatted to better suit students’ individual majors.
Matt Smetana ’17 voiced concern to Task Force members regarding “Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability,” one of the potential courses under the 21st Century Changes and Challenges requirement. Smetana questioned whether this class — one of many possibilities under the new theme — would be the only requirement for students to learn about climate change as undergraduates.
Margolin also asked the Task Force about the Global Citizenship theme, asking if study abroad experiences could fulfill this requirement. Wallace responded that studying abroad would likely not fulfill the requirement, as “experiencing an issue abroad is not the same as analyzing it critically.” Many students who travel abroad spend a large amount of time in packs of American students, he asserted, and a classroom experience would thus contribute better to a student’s scholarship. Wallace concluded the discussion by asking community members to approach the Task Force with any suggestions or recommendations regarding the proposed requirements. “We are genuinely open and wishing to craft something intriguing to students, faculty and staff, so we welcome your thoughts,” he said.