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Special Committee on General Education holds listening sessions

Ashlyn Kelly

Staff Writer

The Special Committee on General Education held two listening sessions to hear student and faculty opinions about the general education program on Zoom.


The first meeting focused on the mission statement April 5.


According to Amanda Simons, chair of the committee, the review of the general education program began in 2017.


This process consisted of internal reviews through surveys of faculty, staff, and students as well as an external review through the Association of American Colleges & Universities.


“The general conclusion was that our current program is adequate and adequate is not super inspiring,” said Simons.


Simons said the review process was never finished and that is the responsibility of the current

committee.


“One of the comments that came up in the review from our external reviewer was that the program doesn’t have a clearly defined purpose,” said Simons. “And an even bigger concern comes from our student survey, where the students don’t know what we’re doing with the general education program, either.”


The current draft of the mission statement listed certain goals of the program, such as building

knowledge across disciplines, exploring majors and minors, “investigating pressing issues,” and developing skills for employability.


English Professor Halcyon Mancuso, executive director of the Mancuso Humanities Workforce

Preparation Center, said she does not think the current mission statement says how the goals will be achieved, and the document is “just way too long.


“I’m not sure that students are going to get it and read it,” she added.


English Professor Patricia Lynne said it may not make sense to call it a mission statement.


“Mission statements tend to be fairly dry and brief and this is ... more in the language of advertising,” she said. “It might be better to adjust what we’re calling it as well as possibly shifting the format.”


Simons said it is OK if it is not a mission statement, but asked, “Does that mean that having a mission statement is not important?”


Lisa Eck, English department chair, said, “I think there’s a case to be made that the breadth of gen eds needs to be promoted. We’re asking students to not just pick a major but to go outside their comfort zone for ... 10 courses.”


She added the general education program should be able to answer questions such as, “Why do they [students] have to leave their comfort zone?” and “Why do they have to work across the disciplines?”


English Professor Bartholomew Brinkman asked in the chat, “How do we square the encouragement to ‘explore majors and minors’ with what often seems to be an institutional push to declare majors early?”


Marc Cote, dean of arts and humanities, said while the current two-year window to declare a major may seem short, some departments view it as being too long.


Larry McKenna, physics and Earth science department chair, suggested a “vibrant gen ed program ... would allow [students] to get a few classes done in the gen ed program while they explored the majors.”


According to Simons, many of the gen ed courses offered at FSU can count toward minors.


“Students could take a course from this domain, in that domain, and that domain and be three-fifths of the way to a minor,” she said.


The second meeting focused on the creation of a general education council April 7.


Simons said, “One of the problems that the special committee has run into is a lack of information that comes from a lack of centralized administration of the general education program.”


In order to solve this issue, the special committee is considering creating a General Education Council.


According to McKenna, the Council “would be charged with the coherent management of the gen ed program, including the reviews that we have to do every >ve years, but also including this sort of day-to- day management of the program so that it runs in the way that best benefits our students, our faculty, and our University.”


Eck said many opportunities “just lay dormant because we treat [gen eds] like a checklist and students just want to ‘get through’ or ‘get past’” them.


She added in the time the special committee has spent examining the general education program, they have discovered minors that students could work toward while completing their gen eds.


“I really think just the packaging ... is what this Council could address,” said Eck.


She also said the Council could address the scheduling of gen ed courses.


“We have some data that certain disciplines or certain departments lost ground in this last enrollment,” said Eck. “In this current system, we don’t know what those factors were – were they scheduling or [something else]?”


McKenna said he was “addressed by a chair two days ago who said, ‘You guys don’t have the right to decide when I offer classes’ and the chair was quite adamant about that.”


According to Susan Dargan, dean of social and behavioral sciences, the Council would not have the authority to regulate the schedule due to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but could make recommendations.


Simons said, “I think the value would be in making sure the chairs have a way to coordinate with other chairs and know what else is out there and what’s being offered and what their courses will be competing with.”


McKenna said he hopes to get students to serve on the Council.


“I think this Gen Ed Council has to have vigorous student participation. After all, the gen ed program is to [their] bene>t,” he said.


Mancuso said she believes it will be a challenge to get people to serve on the Council.


“Everyone is maxed out already with all the various departmental and University-wide committees,” she added.


Simons asked if there were a way to compensate students for being on the Council.


Chemistry and Food Science Professor Vinay Mannam proposed in the chat for students to receive professional development credit to be put on their transcripts.


Dargan said there are co-curricular transcripts available for students to order.


According to Simons, the committee is also considering creating a guide to the general education program for both faculty and students.


She said the main purpose of the guide would be “to help students >nd pathways through the general education program that will work for them.”


One example was if a student were interested in sustainability, the guide would list certain courses that explored the topic.


Simons added, “But this kind of advising guide would show students some ways that they could make the program work for their interests.”

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