Ad Hoc General Education Committee

Initial Ideas from the Committee

Written By: Robert Wolff - Oct• 24•11

To see the Ad Hoc General Education Committee’s initial DRAFT ideas, please open the PDF below.

Ad Hoc Gen Ed Report for Faculty Senate_24Oct2011

The Committee will hold an open meeting this Thursday, October 27, at 3:05 pm in Copernicus Hall 231. If you have questions about this document, please contact Robert Wolff, Department of History, at, or sign up to use this blog.

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  1. Susan Slaga says:

    Regarding the Gen. Ed draft ideas, under plan D why would it be suggested that students be required to take a Calculus class unless it is something needed for their major? I am a 1991 graduate of CCSU and I was someone who unfortunately struggled with math from junior high school through college. I realize that it is important to be exposed some college level math classes, but calculus? I never took a calculus course and have never had a need for it in any of my jobs or life experiences. (I mean no disrespect to anyone when I say that either). I just feel that might be asking too much.

  2. The concepts of calculus are fundamental to understanding how the world behaves and so firmly implanted in many disciplines that you probably have used these concepts even if they were never explicitly called calculus. Anyone who’s ever looked at their speedometer and a mile marker to determine how long it will take to get to their destination has done calculus.

    Differential calculus is the study of changes (rates of change) while integral calculus is the study of cumulative changes and the two are related fundamentally. Together they form the basis for describing physical laws and chemical processes, actuarial science, economics, statistics, etc.

    By necessity, some courses in calculus would have to be designed for a general education audience, one that teaches and uses these concepts to solve a wide variety of problems. Courses wouldn’t have to be like the calculus courses taken by math, science and engineering majors which are designed for those students who need mastery of and fluency in the concepts and tools of calculus.

    There is an interesting book called The Calculus Diaries by Jennifer Ouellette, a journalist about her experience learning to understand and appreciate calculus. It also has one of the best sub-titles ever: “How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse”

  3. I really think highly plans C and D, and I would lean totally into “D” because of the calculus requirement, were it not for the course abroad requirement. I see a definite value in going abroad, and I love it, myself. It’s a luxury I feel very fortunate to have had, but it is still a luxury.

    This sounds like something that a small, private, liberal arts school would do. Those are things that CCSU is not. If it is the consensus that people want to start moving the campus culture to a system with a greater emphasis on quality than quantity, I can support that wholeheartedly, but realize that this criterion, in particular, can be CCSU’s Black Friday. If you ask people why they chose to go to CCSU, things like “convenience” and “affordability” would come-up for a large percentage of students. CCSU attracts students mainly from surrounding communities, mainly due to those two factors. Requiring study abroad can change both of those things. I chose to transfer to CCSU rather than the state university I live closest to because I liked the international aspect, I liked the study abroad options and I think that the professor who is my advisor has done good, interesting work in his field. I didn’t go to a school with better internationalization, better study abroad or better research because I wanted to be close to home (convenience) and not incur debt (affordability). Comparing CCSU to other schools in the state, the only cheaper options are Charter Oak (online liberal studies degree) and the community colleges (associate’s degrees). This is the cheapest traditional 4-year education a student can get in Connecticut. Making it less affordable or less convenient will result in reductions in enrollment, reductions in graduation, increases in outward transfers… and these effects would be activated much more quickly by this change than by other changes (such as the CIS) that seek to improve the quality of students’ intellectual experience of CCSU. If CCSU has the resources (financial, strategic and emotional) to cope with the consequences, then go ahead… but requiring students to study abroad without providing funding will ultimately result in people needing to tighten their belts… and by people, I also mean departments and programs.

    The Global Collaborative program at Kyung Hee University is a value because of the grant from Hyundai and because of the fact that KHU is a partner school and their credits are included in the program fee. A bit under $3k for a roundtrip flight, a month of shelter in South Korea, six university credits (taught by great professors), field trips to truly significant places and other extra curricular activities (Tae Kwan Do, movie nights, etcetera) is a fantastic deal even before you get there, make great friends, experience a different culture and have the time of your life. It was such a good deal that after I came home from the program in Summer ’10, my brother decided that he would go in Summer ’11. Our family was able to afford that. Paying over $4,000 for a week in another country to get credit for one class is not worth it for our family. There are families with students at CCSU who can’t even find $3k for a month in Korea to be worth it. Furthermore, there are students who don’t even have family support… there are those who are supporting families of their own. If you add in lost wages for a week (or month) plus the cost of childcare, you’re looking at an even larger figure. Even if these students are “exceptional,” I don’t feel comfortable with the school “requiring” people to spend money to go abroad, as much as I value and promote the experience.

    Either it should be calculated into the cost of general tuition to give the superficial appearance of being a good value, or (and this is far more ethical and palatable, to me), there should be more work done to procure grants and international partnerships so that foreign travel is more accessible to students. I understand why study abroad costs shoot up so quickly, but I need to say a few things about that: 1.) If students do not experience any discomfort while abroad, they are not really abroad. 2.) Travel insurance can be purchased cheaply and cover most anything that could go wrong while traveling (I think CCSU does purchase insurance for all students they send abroad, if I heard that correctly.), but with that coverage, there is permission to take reasonable risks. I can understand forbidding, say… shark-cage diving, as one study abroad program I participated in did. But students should not be coddled, white-gloved or floated above the reality of a country (it’s not like anybody is bringing a class to Somalia; if the country is “safe enough” to visit, then students should get their hands dirty and experience local conditions).

    As an example, I know there is one program advertised to South Africa for the summer. I don’t remember what the cost was, but assuming that the program CCSU was using (Cross Cultural Solutions, or CCS) for the trip gives CCSU a similar price for three weeks in South Africa as they give the general public (US$3,590) and students need to pay for tuition ($1,200?) and a flight in and out of Cape Town ($1,800?!?!?!)… who really expects students to line-up to sign-up? Other volunteer programs provide similar services to CCS for as little as $770 for three weeks. I don’t expect a professor to teach for free, though I have always had a bit of an issue with professors taking these trips for free and then getting paid for the class (if that is the case at CCSU)… as if only students actually enjoy the travel… but the cost needs to come down, somewhere.

    I’d say that, if the general consensus amongst professors is to require all students to go abroad (on a CCSU program, nonetheless), someone had better find a lot of money in places other than students’ piggybanks. In the meantime, while we’re waiting on those checks, there should be a greater emphasis put on the development of “budget” courses abroad.

  4. Its odd that we have debates about math requirements. Calculus is over 200 years old and many, many studies have shown that basic understandings of math is what open opportunities to multiple paths of career success.

    I teach math as much as writing in my chemistry courses so I feel I am on solid ground to say the following…. there is a large push for writing across the curriculum because (1) it is important, (2) it lies within many facultys’ comfort zones, and (3) faculty who teach in the program will benefit by an expectation (perhaps foolhardy) of increased resources to see a WAC program implemented.

    There is NOT a huge push for strengthening our math requirements even though it has shown time and time again to be just as important because (1) it lies outside of many facultys’ comfort zones and (2) only a handful of faculty will benefit from it.

    People who say that they don’t need Math for their major might as well be saying they don’t need feet to walk. I’m sure they could find a way to crawl around on their knees but they won’t go farther than people who use their feet.

    Its easy to be cynical about gen ed revision since we all know it has a lot to do with turf and pulls for resources… but nothing makes me more cynical about the whole process when people down play Math requirements.

  5. There are so many important questions and discussions to have about this plan, I find it difficult to decide where to start. I think the strong Math requirement in Plan D brings up a host of questions about the relatively weak requirements in other traditional disciplines. Given that under Plans C and D, the other humanities departments will be required to envision almost completely new goals, courses, and versions of what their disciplines offer to our undergraduates, it does seem both strange and an awkward fit to require 6 credits of “Mathematics with at least one calculus course.”

    If the teaching of “calculus” were aimed at the kind of understanding and scientific literacy that Thom and others describe (real world tactics for measuring and analytical understanding of what both “math” and “science” do in a range of contexts) and that would allow students to have and retain a clear understanding and appreciation of the role of mathematics (vs. arithmetic, as several at the meeting pointed out), then 6 credits in mathematics and statistics makes excellent sense. If however, “calculus” will be taught in the more or less traditional fashion of learning to comprehend and solve differential equations, it is going to be for most students, ultimately anyway, largely a waste of time. I took several of those courses–and began my university career as an engineering major (for a whole year)–and frankly, by the end of my college years (4), I could neither solve the equations nor remember anything concrete and usable about the amazing power of calculus to describe what was happening in terms of area and rates of change, etc. I guess you could say I knew it was there and had learned that much.

    Still, math is really a “language” and a disciplined way of thinking that, as with other second languages, we should probably want and require all of our undergraduates to learn and practice. A program in undergraduate math (and science)–preferably linking the two, I would think– that would use its 9 credits minimum, and 24 credits maximum, to produce humanities and business and education majors who have a profound understanding and appreciation of measurement, analysis, and numbers in relation to knowledge (of the physical world, though also of other things “counted”) would be a real asset to our students, and one neither they, nor other faculty not “benefitting,” would forget or dismiss.

    I think I’ll need to post a separate reply to address the other issues that came up at the Open Meeting, since they are the ones that will concern me and my colleagues in the humanities departments most directly.

  6. For me, the biggest issue I have is with the new categories that will replace the disciplinary requirements of the current GenEd program. I appreciate and strongly agree that we need to move beyond the disciplinary framework of our current program. But, as everyone is aware to varying degrees of dismay, the entire university and especially the faculty are organized and identified by very traditional notions of the “disciplines.”

    Well, I just lost several paragraphs about the crisis in higher education and the very justifiable fears of faculty who see the possible reorganization of the undergraduate General Education program as an attack on, and a loss of, resources available to departments and faculty, which we all know are increasingly meager and tenuous. Particularly for those of us in humanities and sciences disciplines whose areas of knowledge do not fit easily or directly into current initiatives for a public higher education system that provides the students with only “practical” knowledge, i.e. the kind that is remunerated.

    However, it is exactly this “crisis” that has created an urgent need to revision and find new grounds for defending the kinds of knowledge we offer as a university: the kind of knowledge taught and practiced in a wide-based liberal arts or general education program. The committee has made a hugely important move toward some kind of organization that is not traditionally “disciplinary” but that helps underline for students (and the public and administrators) the importance and the deep connections that cohere a real and enduring “college education.”

    I am not very happy with the new categorical names nor am I yet comfortable with the relative weight that is given various kinds of knowledge and thinking, especially the small balance left for both arts and culture and the historical and social sciences. But it may be possible that these are cosmetic concerns that can be addressed with new, more explanatory names and/or a fuller picture of where courses and disciplines will fit into the new program. To address that question, it seems a good idea for someone–at some point not too far down the line–to do the math and offer a possible measurement of what would be the “demographic” changes in best and worst case scenarios for each department on campus.

    Or it may be necessary to have full scale rethinking of what are the goals for general education and how can we achieve the kind of education that fosters imagination, critical thinking and innovative problem solving, and offers training in how to do things (both established and new “things”) and gives students the tools, intellectual and practical, to identify what is needed– which I believe requires a full understanding of what has been done by humans and what is left to do, and how those human activities, past and present, have impacted and interacted with the physical world, etc. Among other things that others will hopefully add to this list. What combinations of knowledge and modes of critical thinking are going to be needed by ALL of our graduates?

    The committee has identified several key issues involved in that question: 1) this combination won’t be the same for every student and students should therefore have some ability to decide for themselves and 2) the way we teach our areas of knowledge now are not working for the non-majors that have come through our classrooms and the Gen Ed program as a whole has not given students the general tools that both they and the university agree all our students should have.

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