Student Voice session shows opposing viewpoints for GE

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Ethan Johnson asked the panelist about the Re-Envisioning the Undergraduate Experience process and mentioned a sense of community that can come from the shared knowledge that general education provides. Photo by Lincoln Op’t Hof

Committee will face task of balancing professional focus with broad liberal arts focus


Students raised several questions about the process of re-envisioning the undergraduate experience at the Student Voice forum March 1, in the Sorensen Center.

General education, a significant part of the undergraduate experience, was a recurring topic of the event, with the discussion focusing on potential changes to the curriculum and illustrated difficulties that the responsible committee will have to address.

The forum focused on the Re-Envisioning the Undergraduate Experience initiative that was announced in December 2017

Several attendees expressed a wide range of opinions about the role and the importance of general education requirements.

The polarizing, complex topic of general education was simplified in a response that Sean Tolman, an associate professor in pre-engineering, gave to one attendee’s question.

“The committee is aware of and considering essentially two theories of higher education,” Tolman said. “One is that of professional development or preparing students for a profession. That’s one side. The other side is we need students to have a broad liberal education. It’s balancing those two sides.”

Tolman acknowledged the importance of trying to create a balanced system that addresses both components  and adapts to the modern age.

“This system of higher education that we have right now was established at the turn of the last century. It was motivated by the industrial revolution, and now we have another revolution. We have the information revolution. We need to adapt to this change in our society,” Tolman said.

Students expressed that they feel general education requirements are not meeting their needs in an efficient way, while some went on to express they feel they have benefited from being required to take classes outside their major curriculum.

Ethan Johnson, a senior dual-majoring in philosophy and history, mentioned the idea of a community united in shared knowledge.

“It seems to me that one of the ways in which communal life and community, student community, can be made to be more tightly knit, I suppose, is through some sort of common understanding of some sort of common area of knowledge,” Johnson said.

Johnson used a general education class in geology as an example and argued that through a shared knowledge base, people can interact with others more easily.

Another student made a recommendation, one in which they proposed that less time be devoted to typical general education in order to provide students more time to pursue internships or electives related to their majors.

Additional questions and comments addressed the initial concerns about the Re-envisioning the Undergraduate Experience initiative, such as the condensed timeline, composition of the committee and courses, such as Ethics and Values, that might be under threat from the reevaluation.

Tolman and Chelsie Kraczek, UVUSA vice president of Academic Affairs, were the panel members. Both also serve on the committee for the Re-envisioning the Undergraduate Experience initiative. Tolman and Kraczek took time to reassure the forum attendees that there was no specific agenda going into the process and that there is no expectation of a finished product by the end of May.