Liberal education redesign process continues with several public forums

The forums were intended to gather feedback from faculty and academic advisers on the proposed changes to the University’s liberal education requirements, which will be discussed at the upcoming University Senate meeting.

Professor Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, chair of the LE Redesign Committee, speaks with faculty during a forum in the Northstar Ballroom at the St. Paul Student Center on Thursday, Oct. 31. Faculty from various departments offered feedback on proposed changes to liberal education requirements.

Mrunal Zambre

Professor Sally Gregory Kohlstedt, chair of the LE Redesign Committee, speaks with faculty during a forum in the Northstar Ballroom at the St. Paul Student Center on Thursday, Oct. 31. Faculty from various departments offered feedback on proposed changes to liberal education requirements.

Niamh Coomey

Looking to gather feedback on potential changes to liberal education requirements, a UMN committee has hosted public forums over the past two weeks for faculty and academic advisers.

The Liberal Education Redesign Committee has been meeting over the past two years to rethink the current requirements, a set of classes which students must complete before graduation. The committee hosted three forums, two for faculty and one for academic advisers, to prompt discussion on new, proposed models for the requirements. 

At the forums, faculty and advisers shared their perspectives on the proposed models and how they may impact students.The models will be the main topic of discussion at the upcoming University Senate meeting on Thursday. 

The committee drafted plans A, B and C, which were published earlier this year. In response, discontented faculty drafted plan D.

Plan D requires that students take one class in each thematic area: Diversity, Power and Justice in the U.S., Global Perspectives, Technology and Social Transformations, and Environment and Sustainability, while plan A asks that students take two out of the four themes.

Previously considered plans B and C have been taken off the table. This leaves plans A and D as the main models up for discussion. 

Both plans have adopted “ethics” and “quantitative reasoning and mathematics” as requirements.

One of the main points of discussion at the forums was whether courses that “double dip,” those that are double certified by fulfilling two requirements, should be eliminated, as suggested in plan A. This change would increase the number of required courses for students.

Mahesh Mahanthappa, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Material Science, said this could be harmful for diversity in the student body.

“More requirements put more financial stress on students and that certainly is not going to help our students who are not coming from … well-off backgrounds,” he added.

Mahanthappa said double certified courses are valuable because, in his experience, innovation comes from making connections between different disciplines.

Claire Hilgeman, senior academic adviser in the College of Liberal Arts, said the redesign process has shed light on topics that are peripheral to the requirements, such as the liberal education course certification process. 

Joseph Farag, a professor in the Asian and Middle Eastern Studies Department, said the proposed changes, which would ask faculty ‘learning communities’ to review syllabi and discuss thematic course certifications together, would be an improvement.

Faculty in his department and others have felt discouraged from taking the time to propose courses that meet thematic criteria because they often do not get approved, he said. 

Daniel Gallaher, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, said he is pleased to see the ethics fundamental present in the proposed plans A and D. This was previously not a required topic for students. 

Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster, who has overseen the redesign process, said the idea that drove the work in the committee was finding the best curriculum for students. 

“I’m convinced that either plan A or plan D will provide the students with a terrific undergraduate core curriculum,” he said.

Maintaining the current curriculum was also discussed as an option at the forums.

“Why change something that isn’t compelling?” Hilgeman said. “If they got it right 11 years ago, they got it right 11 years ago.”