Looking to add diversity in educational fields, group charged with approving courses expands

The council, which approves liberal education courses, has expanded to include representation from different departments and colleges.

Illustrated+by+Morgan+La+Casse

Morgan La Casse

Illustrated by Morgan La Casse

Niamh Coomey

The University of Minnesota’s Council on Liberal Education, which is responsible for approving new courses, is including more representation from different areas of study.

The council’s work was put on pause during the recent liberal education redesign process. The redesign ended in December when the University Senate voted against proposed changes to the curriculum and course approval process. The council is now meeting again after expanding its membership to include more intellectual variety.

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster said lack of expertise on particular subjects meant more editing and clarification on course proposals from faculty was needed. Additionally, some faculty expressed discomfort that their courses had not been reviewed by an expert in their field, McMaster said. 

“What we want to do is add or make sure there are enough experts in the various areas on the council,” he said. “So that when a course comes through there’d be at least two, if possible, faculty members who have an expertise in that area.”

The reconstructed council, which has a new chair and a handful more members than in the past, includes more representation from different University departments.

Ensuring a range of representation was important when reconstituting the council, as was maintaining some continuity, said council chair Kathryn Pearson.

Several of the new council members served on the Liberal Education Redesign Committee, which spent time looking closely at liberal education issues during the redesign process, Pearson said.

“One of the other things that we wanted too, is really ensure that … there are domain experts who are evaluating courses,” she said.

Department of Forest Resources professor Joe Knight said when he got a course approved years ago, the process was straightforward. 

There was also a faculty member from his department on the council at the time who could explain and advocate for the course and how it met requirements, he said.

Having one course approval body with representatives from across the University is most ideal, he said, rather than the smaller faculty groups proposed during the redesign.

“You can imagine that a way that, for example, a literature requirement is implemented in one department or college … might be really different from the ways it’s valued or implemented in a different college,” he said.

Because there was uncertainty about what changes would be made to the curriculum, the council took a step back from approving courses over the past year, McMaster said.

Pearson said the council plans to be proactive and work hard to review the backlog of courses that built up over that period of time.

Faculty committees have also been discussing the potential for new descriptions for liberal education course requirements to make the approval process clearer, she added.

Pearson said the main goal of the council is to facilitate course certification rather than act as a gatekeeper.

“I want to ensure that we provide positive, constructive feedback to faculty, that we do so in a timely fashion and that our goal is really to facilitate the approval of courses,” she said.