The importance of science vs. the significance of liberal arts in undergraduate college education has created an ongoing discussion between SUNY New Paltz faculty and staff about the future of the General Education (GE) requirements at the college.
The question of what GE requirements SUNY New Paltz students should be mandated to take is unanswered, with some faculty believing there should be a continued implementation of a classic liberal arts education, while others believe the university should require more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes.
The current 36 minimum credit GE system in place is over 12 years old, New Paltz Interim Dean Paul Kassel said, with a revision normally taking place every 10 years.
The current GE requirements for every SUNY New Paltz student include Composition I and II, one course of mathematics, social sciences, U.S. Studies, world civilization and cultures, humanities, arts, diversity, writing intensive, and two course of foreign language and natural sciences.
“For me, liberal learning is about making connections across the disciplines and empowering intentional learning,” Kassel said. “There should be, in my view, a relationship between courses, especially within GE.”
In a draft proposal created by the Liberal Education Committee (LEC), their proposed GE system includes one course of composition, mathematics, natural science, diversity, and two course of foreign language. Students must also take one course in at least three of the following categories: art, humanities, social science, U.S. History, western civilization and world civilization.
In addition, all first-year students will be required to take a freshman seminar, two communication-enhanced courses, an eventual capstone course for their major, and two STEM-enhanced courses. STEM, which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, looks to create a more well-rounded student learning in a liberal arts atmosphere, according to the proposal.
“Our liberal education program seeks to promote self-aware, reflective, and thoughtful citizens. We want to create the possibility of graduates liberated by their New Paltz experience to understand the fulfillment their own human potential. Additionally, a liberal education prepares students for an increasingly complex world, focusing on critical thinking and analytical skills applied across a broad array of disciplines,” according to the overview section of the LEC’s Proposed Program.
But because the final say resides with both faculty and the administration, Kassel said, issues have arisen because not all faculty agree with these proposed standards.
“Right now we are at a standstill,” he said. “There are fundamental disagreements here, and it’s not unusual. One question that gets raised a lot is, ‘do we really want a student to graduate without taking X?’ X being whatever GE requirement is asserted as absolutely essential for every educated person. That’s a good question. The answer, in my view, must begin first by answering what is in the student’s best interest. Student needs come first, not courses or curriculum.”
In 2010, five members of the college, including then Provost Donald Christian, Kassel and several other faculty members went to the General Education Conference hosted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U).
At the conference, Kassel said he and the others devised a plan to revise the entire undergraduate experience, including the GE requirements. Approved by the faculty an ad-hoc committee, a revised proposed resolution was presented in spring of 2012 by the ad-hoc committee, and was approved by nearly 75 percent of the faculty. A new committee — the LEC — was then created in Fall 2012, including representatives from each school. The purpose of the committee was to implement the recommendations of the ad-hoc committee’s resolution.
In 2005, the AAC&U had launched LEC and America’s Promise (LEAP) initiative – a nationwide discussion based on reviving and reforming general education for undergraduates based on the following criteria according to its website: essential learning outcomes, high-impact educational practices, authentic assessment, and inclusive excellence.
At faculty meeting in late April, Kassel said a substitute amendment that is ultimately the current GE requirements with minor changes, was brought forward and approved to replace the LEC proposal. He hopes that with further discussion and compromise, the LEC proposal will once again become a key option in deciding what changes to GE requirements will be made.
“There is no perfect or best answer, but there might be a better one,” he said. “We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, nor can we sacrifice a general whole for one part. Compromise is necessary. The status-quo is unacceptable.”