University reexamining General Education requirements

Students sit in a lecture hall. UConn is currently conducting an assessment of the school's General Education requirements. (File Photo)

The University of Connecticut is currently conducting an assessment of the school’s General Education requirements.

Gen. Ed. requirements are determined by the University Senate. The existing requirements were decided on in 2005, and the Senate Executive Community (SEC) made a provision to review the system after ten years. Jon Gajewski, an Associate Professor of Linguistics at UConn, is spearheading the evaluation.

“The SEC charged the Senate Curricula and Courses (C&C) Committee with conducting this review. The Senate C&C decided to convene an ad hoc task force to carry out the assessment. I am chairing the task force,” Gajewski wrote in an email.

The University Senate, according to the organization’s website, “is a legislative body responsible for establishing minimum rules and general regulations of the educational program and mission of the institution.” There are 91 members of the University Senate – 72 faculty, three administrators, nine “members elected by the professional staff,” five undergraduates chosen by the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) and two graduate students appointed by the president of the Graduate Student Senate, according to UConn’s online guide.

Fahima Dirir, a fourth-semester political science major chosen as a member of the task force, said that focus groups are asked questions about their experiences with Gen. Eds. and what they think of them. She also explained her specific involvement with the task force.

“When I started to look into how different schools phrase their General Education courses, I found when I looked at ours that classes like Africana Studies were not listed in that (Content Area Four) category,” Dirir said.

Dirir hopes for a stronger focus on the politics, social justice aspects, histories and identities of people of diverse backgrounds, rather than multi-cultural classes in strictly food, literature or art.

Gajewski termed the process a “routine ten-year assessment.” Current Gen. Ed. requirements include at least six credits in all content areas. Content Area One is Arts and Humanities, Content Area Two is Social Sciences, Content Area Three is Science and Technology and Content Area Four is Diversity and Multiculturalism. Gen. Ed. requirements entail taking at least six credits in all of these content areas in order to graduate.

Majoring within one of these content areas does not insulate students from taking classes in other areas. On the contrary, in addition to the requirements for majoring in a single content area, and the Gen. Ed. classes needed to graduate, Content Area One, for example, requires that students complete three Q (quantitative, i.e. math) courses, as well as two science and technology courses, one of which must include a laboratory.

Emails were sent to certain students recently notifying them of the assessment and asking for their participation in focus groups in order to “seek feedback from students, staff and faculty about the current requirements,” according to the email. Six different groups were targeted in the emails for focus groups. These include Arts and Humanities, Sciences, Social Sciences, Pre and Professional, At-Risk and Engaged students. Members of the UConn community can sign up for these focus groups by visiting this site.

Gajewski gave an update of the assessment.

“The task force is still at the stage of collecting information. The point of the focus groups is to gauge the views of students and faculty. The Task Force will make a report to the University Senate on Apr. 4,” he said.

Dirir also put forth the task force’s belief in the purpose of their project.

“Our task force is not looking into how things are being changed, we’re looking at whether or not we should be changing them,” Dirir said.

UConn’s undergraduate catalogue explained why the university has Gen. Ed. requirements.

“The University Senate enacted these requirements to ensure that all University of Connecticut undergraduate students become articulate and acquire intellectual breadth and versatility, critical judgment, moral sensitivity, awareness of their era and society, consciousness of the diversity of human culture and experience, and a working understanding of the processes by which they can continue to acquire and use knowledge,” the website reads.

There is an ongoing debate in academia regarding whether General Education courses should be required. While UConn’s website speaks to the benefits of General Education courses, an article in The College Voice argues against these requirements.

“Mandating students to take classes in specific disciplines curtails the freedoms that are supposedly inherent to a liberal arts education,” the article reads. “…a student would not take a class far outside of his or her comfort zone if given a choice. If mandated to do so by General Education requirements, they will take the easiest, safest course possible.”

The jury is out on Gen. Eds. with UConn students as well. Claire Hurwitt, a sixth-semester psychology major, believes Gen. Ed. requirements are valuable depending on the context.

“I think they (Gen. Eds.) have their benefits because they give people who aren’t sure about what they want to do a look at various subjects so they don’t end up regretting putting all their eggs in one basket,” Hurwitt said. “That’s not to say they don’t get in the way later, the requirements themselves should be less than they are, but they do have their upsides.”

Bailey Steele, a sixth-semester biology major, is firmly against the concept of Gen. Eds., raising financial concerns.

“I believe it’s a waste of a student’s precious monetary resources to be forced to take classes that won’t teach them knowledge that’s within their scope of practice,” Steele said. “If somebody want to be a more well-rounded person, those classes are a great option, but they shouldn’t be forced. Especially when it’s $1,200 a class.” 


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sten.spinella@uconn.edu.