Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The General Education Curriculum, Again

 Green Hall, Home of URI's Administration

We have a new provost who took one look at our general education requirements, declared them a mess, and mandated a complete revision. I have been at this university since 1993 and this is at least the third full revision since my arrival.

I suppose it would not speak well of a new provost if he were to approve the general education requirements as they are. Someone might think he was not doing his job. How could he put a line in his curriculum vitae reading, “Revised general education curriculum,” if he had merely studied them, spoken to the faculty leadership about the process, and decided that they were reasonable and worth keeping? No; that would not do at all. Who would hire him in the future?

There is nothing like revising a general education curriculum for keeping faculty busy and out of the administrators’ hair.  It may be the number one time-waster for faculty members. We continue to work on it dutifully, believing in our hearts that it matters; that this one will be the definitive one for our generation.

These continual revisions make no sense. It isn't like we are testing one educational method; giving it time to mature and see the results. It's more the Louis XIV-approach to the flowerbeds at the Palace at Versailles: If he looked at a bed of flowers that bored him, he'd order it replaced. The gardeners had to have full greenhouses to be ready to change a bed of mature red flowers for a bed of mature other-colored flowers on a whim. The result had nothing to do with taste or elegance. 

We should have known that the years spent working diligently on the general education requirements would be wasted the minute a new provost appeared on the scene. It has nothing to do with educating our students; it’s just being ready to throw out, willy-nilly, everything we've worked for, at the king's whim. And yet at the heart of this process is the sincere desire of the faculty to prepare our students for life-long learning. I don't know what the provost wants but I know that what WE want, which is why we will jump through all the hoops yet again. The sad thing is that the students will never realize how cynically their teachers have been manipulated. 

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