Faculty unsure of Gen-Ed program

With the recent announcement by Temple that the General Education program will be piloted in spring 2007, followed by a scheduled full implementation in fall of 2008, “Gen-Ed” is on its way toward becoming a

With the recent announcement by Temple that the General Education program will be piloted in spring 2007, followed by a scheduled full implementation in fall of 2008, “Gen-Ed” is on its way toward becoming a reality.

While the administration and the group charged with designing Gen-Ed, the General Education Executive Committee, tout the potential benefits of the program, doubts linger among some in the faculty.

Money and resource issues dominate the spectrum of complaints, but another concern is that since there will be fewer choices under Gen-Ed compared to the core, class sizes for underclassmen will grow.

“We are definitely concerned that freshmen will come in, and for the first two years, will only have lecture classes,” said Jane Evans, a professor of art history and president of the Faculty Senate.

“That’s totally counterproductive,” Istvan Varkonyi, director of the Intellectual Heritage program, said. “Critical thinking, reasoning, writing skills – how can you do that in lecture halls with 300 people? You can’t.”

Another major concern expressed by the faculty is the question of who exactly will teach these courses.

The goal, expressed in the General Education Policies and Procedures manual, is to have as many top tenure and tenure track professors as possible to teach the courses.

Robert Baren, a mechanical engineering professor and a faculty member of the GEEC, explained how this is a key component of early collegiate learning.

“My personal opinion is that experienced faculty are as worthwhile in lower level courses as they are in higher level ones, mainly because that is where students have the most difficulty,” Baren said. Daniel O’Hara, an English professor and former
president of the Faculty Senate, said he is not sure that enough presidential faculty members would be willing to teach Gen-Ed courses.

“If the faculty remains significantly divided on the very feasibility of general education, they aren’t going to be enthusiastic about teaching it,” O’Hara said. Even if the university can convince enough presidential faculty to teach the Gen-Ed courses, the shifting of funds between departments is still unresolved.
Currently, as core courses are run by individual schools and their departments, funding is funneled to the schools based upon credit hours generated. Gen-Ed’s departure from department-run courses calls into question funding for the classes, and how that will affect each school’s funding.

Peter Jones, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and chair of the GEEC, said, “The impact on the departments will vary significantly across the various schools.”

The move to Gen-Ed will potentially
change how many teaching assistantships
each department receives. This may affect how successfully departments can recruit graduate students, according to Jones.

Though there are concerns about the future success of Gen-Ed, those that are involved in the process and the imminent pilot program said they were excited about the concept.

Faculty development seminars set up to train teachers on how to handle the new courses have been well attended, according to the GEEC.

“To my knowledge, everyone who is teaching a pilot course in the spring has signed up,” Baren said. The class development process, which consisted of faculty submitting proposals for courses they would like to see created, also apparently drew interest.

According to Ben Rifkin, vice dean for the College of Liberal Arts, a third of the faculty in his college were involved in drafting a proposal for a course in Gen-Ed.

While the Faculty Senate voted to approve the Gen-Ed proposal, a document largely written by former President David Adamany, it soon became apparent that the program was not supported, according to O’Hara.

“Even though I was president when it was approved by the faculty senate, it probably wasn’t a good thing,” O’Hara said. He added, “It was sort of a fluke how it was approved.”

According to multiple people who attended that particular Faculty Senate meeting, the measure passed more because the opposition was not prepared to express their concerns, rather than because of widespread support for Gen-Ed.

Additionally, O’Hara said he feels that the other issues facing GEEC have left an important philosophical debate largely unanswered.

“For a lot of faculty, the idea is that all knowledge comes from the disciplines. The idea that you can create a course of general knowledge that wouldn’t be tied to the disciplines and specialties is often viewed with skepticism.” O’Hara said. “What do we end up with? Popularizations? A dumbing down of the standards of the disciplines?”

Faculty members also said there are other unsolved questions, such as who will be responsible for student complaints about faculty in Gen-Ed courses and how area community colleges will refigure their course structures to accommodate this shift. This concern is important for transfer students from those colleges,
to ensure that there is an easy transition to Temple. O’Hara, for one, said he still wonders if the program will ever be fully implemented.

“The longer you take to demonstrate the viability of this program, the view that general education per se just isn’t going to work at Temple will grow,” O’Hara, who was on a previous incarnation of GEEC, said.

“That’s just my gut feeling, though. I hope it does work out.”

Nolan Rosenkrans can be reached at paxtang@temple.edu.

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