Faculty weigh in on changes to UMN liberal education requirements

Several plans, including one authored by faculty members, are being discussed in an online forum and among Liberal Education Redesign Committee members.

Illustrated+by+Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Niamh Coomey

As the school year progresses, the Liberal Education Redesign Committee faces difficult conversations about what changes to make to the liberal education requirements at the University of Minnesota. 

The committee, or LERC, has been meeting over the past two years to discuss changes to the liberal education requirements. When their proposed plans A, B and C were publicized in the spring, discussions sparked among faculty. An alternative option, “plan D,” was authored earlier this summer and was proposed by a group of faculty who have expressed discontent with the other proposed options.

Plans A, B and C introduce “ethics” and “quantitative reasoning and mathematics” as fundamental requirements, while eliminating “double dipping,” or double certification classes. “Plan D” largely maintains the current curriculum and keeps double certification classes, while adding the new ethics and quantitative reasoning aspects of plans A, B and C. 

An online forum made available this semester has allowed faculty to publish critiques and support for the different plans. The committee also has several upcoming forums throughout the fall semester where the public can weigh in on the discussion.

Committee Chair Sally Gregory Kohlstedt said the committee’s goal is to decide on a plan by the end of this semester. 

However, other faculty members say they want the process to slow down.

Michael Gallope, a professor in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, emphasized that the plan decided on by the committee should be agreed upon by faculty.

“Changing the University’s curriculum is a massive, expensive operation. It needs the full support of the faculty. A divided LERC that does not agree about their own recommendations and a dismayed public response are signs that it is time to take a step back,” he said in an emailed statement to the Minnesota Daily. 

Gallope, among other faculty, authored “plan D.”

Kohlstedt said “plan D” has been helpful for the committee to look at in contrast to the other plans.

“I think it’s been a useful foil for us to be able to say, ‘What do they want and are there things in their plan that we want to take a second look at,’” Kohlstedt said. 

Professor Sumanth Gopinath, acting president for the University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, expressed concern that the current liberal education requirements have not been put forward in direct comparison with the proposed changes.

“The visualizations of plans A, B and C have never been put up against clear visualizations of what’s there. I think if you want to make an accurate assessment of whether or not you want something to change or not, you should see them all together,” Gopinath said.

Faculty in the CSCL department also expressed concern about plans A, B and C in a memo reviewed by the committee and Council of Chairs last month.

The memo emphasizes concerns about several things present in the proposed plan options. One main point of contention was that the proposed plans would potentially allow students to graduate without completing a diversity and justice themed course, setting the University apart from other Big Ten schools, the memo said.  

Kohlstedt said she consulted with groups such as the Faculty Consultative Committee and the Senate Committee on Educational Policy before the plans were introduced to the entire faculty earlier this year. The process was in line with national guidelines for curriculum reform, Kohlstedt said.  

“We did feel like we were being engaged in due process. So once we had a report we put it out and now we’re waiting for the response,” she said. “I’m really listening, that’s part of the process, just to really listen.” 

Professor J.B. Shank, a member of the committee, expressed that there has been a divide when it comes to the proposed changes, and that a compromise settlement is likely. 

“The LERC remains, as it has been from the start, deeply divided on a lot of fundamental issues, and as we approach the moment of decision, its not likely that the committee will present a clear unified proposal that will reflect a consensus of the committee as a whole. More likely is a compromise settlement between competing proposals and points of view,” he said in an email.