This year, College Dean Rebecca Bushnell has directed the College's Committee on Undergraduate Education (CUE) to embark on a Curriculum Review Initiative. The purpose of this initiative is to review the analysis and conclusions reached by CUE and the Pilot Curriculum Evaluation Committee concerning the nature and status of general education in the College, to solicit and consider feedback from faculty and students, and to frame proposals for revisions to the general education curriculum that will serve all students in the College most effectively.
General education (as opposed to the major) in the undergraduate curriculum has two aims: (1) to provide some exposure to the range of disciplines and areas of knowledge in the arts and sciences, and (2) to develop a set of general critical competencies expected of all liberally educated men and women.
American universities have adopted many styles of providing general education for undergraduates, ranging from a tightly constrained set of courses and canonical texts to a free-wheeling laissez-faire approach. Penn has traditionally fallen between the extremes, having adopted a structure consisting of sectors for general education which seek to provide breadth, together with various competency requirements such as writing, foreign language and quantitative data analysis.
On the whole, the College curriculum has served our students well. However, over the course of the years, faculty and students have voiced concerns as the curriculum evolved, the world changed, and the College and its students have changed. For example, the number of courses that can satisfy the general requirement has grown substantially and now includes many courses that are not particularly intended to serve students not intending to major in the discipline. Also, the curriculum suffers from "requirement sprawl"—new requirements have been added, each of which serves a worthy goal, but it is no longer clear that the totality of requirements represents a coherent academic vision.
In response to these and other issues, the College launched the Pilot Curriculum, an alternative way of organizing a student's education in the College at Penn offered to 200 students each year beginning in the fall of 2000. Students in the Pilot have fewer general requirement courses, but these courses are more precisely specified and are designed to introduce a wide variety of disciplines and modes of investigation. Pilot students are also required to complete a research project.
This year, CUE will gather together and consider what we have learned from the Pilot experiment, from previous deliberations about the nature of the curriculum including last April's Symposium on Curriculum Reform, and from what is being done at other institutions. We will then move on to begin formulating a new general education curriculum for the entire College.
Throughout the process, we wish to be informed by wide-ranging discussions with as many faculty members and students as possible. Watch for announcements of meetings and forums for discussion of curricular matters. Meanwhile, check out the website www.sas.upenn.edu/faculty/Curriculum_Review/ for more information about what has been done so far, what is happening now, and for an opportunity to provide feedback or make proposals.
—Dennis M. DeTurck, Evan C Thompson Professor for Excellence in Teaching and Professor of Mathematics,
Chair of the SAS Committee on Undergraduate Education
Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 10, November 2, 2004
November 2, 2004
Volume 51 Number 10