University Faculty Council - Educational Policies Committee
Commentary on
General Education Requirements
for Baccalaureate Degrees at Indiana University

Draft for Discussion

Mar 20, 2005

  1. General Education and Baccalaureate Degrees in a World Class Liberal Arts Institution:
    President Herbert, in his inaugural address on April 15, 2004, said in part,
    "While Bloomington and IUPUI have received national acknowledgement for excellent programs devoted to the scholarship of teaching and student success, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Accordingly, with leadership from the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and the University Faculty Council, I urge the entire Indiana University community to make the 2004-2005 year one in which we engage in a comprehensive and thoughtful examination of the IU Undergraduate Experience.
    "Periodically it is important for every university to affirm its collective identity in curricular terms. This is a process that has been undertaken at the nationís finest universities. I believe we have an obligation to devote priority consideration to this affirmation of our collective identity. Thus, I encourage the faculty on all of our campuses to begin conversations about a general education curriculum that extends across the university and serves as the defining characteristic of the IU undergraduate experience."
    At the April 27, 2004, meeting of the University Faculty Council President Herbert, in response to a question from Professor Baldwin concerning the above quoted text, observed that
    "What strikes me, again coming in relatively new from the outside, is that every university, every campus in this university offers a degree that says Indiana University."
    He then charged the University Faculty Council and Vice President Gros Louis to
    "... to initiate a dialogue within the university, certainly over the next year, talking about what we stand for as a faculty of this university. What do we regard as being fundamental to the earning of a degree from one of the world's most distinguished liberal arts institutions? If we aren't able to talk about that in the context of what we define as a world class liberal arts institution, it just strikes me that there's something wrong there."
    Although Indiana University offers both Baccalaureate and Associate degrees at the undergraduate level, the President's charge is clearly directed at the Baccalaureate Degrees. What is fundamental to all Baccalaureate Degrees is their General Education component, and so the charge from the President is to determine what should be the General Education component of Baccalaureate Degrees at a world-class liberal arts institution.
    The answer given by this proposal is that
    1. General Education should be that portion of the BA degrees offered by the University's Schools and Colleges of Liberal Arts and/or Sciences that, when construed broadly, should be a part of all Baccalaureate Degrees,
    2. thus, the starting point for the discussion should be the requirements of the University's Schools and Colleges of Liberal Arts and/or Sciences, and
    3. the discussion should also be guided by and take account of the General Education requirements of all other Baccalaureate Degrees, the General Education policies of the campuses, and the liberal arts offerings of the professional schools.
  2. General Education, Mission Differentiation, and Admission Policies:
    The UFC EPC expects that one outcome of the President Herbert's Mission Differentiation Project will be that campuses will be permitted to customize admission policies to take account of their individual circumstances. For instance, all of the campuses except Bloomington may move to requiring the equivalent of Indiana's Core 40 High School Diploma, i.e., requiring of all regular admits that they have satisfied the course requirements of the Core 40 diploma, while Bloomington may move to requiring the equivalent of Indiana's Academic Honors Diploma.
    Given this expectation, the UFC EPC considered the question of what impact differing admission policies would have on General Education. The UFC EPC concluded that the main impact would be on the quantitative/mathematical foundational requirement, because the Core 40 Diploma requires only three years of high school mathematics whereas the Academic Honors Diploma requires four years of mathematics in high school. Accordingly, this proposal provides that the quantitative/mathematical foundational requirement should consist of one college-level mathematics course but that the definition of college-level for a campus should be contingent on the admission requirements in mathematics for that campus. If, for instance, a campus required only the three years of high-school mathematics specified by the Core 40 requirements, then a course such as Math M125 would be considered college-level at that campus; but if a campus required the four years of high-school mathematics specified for the Academic Honors diploma, then Math M125 would not be considered a college-level course for that campus. Courses such as Math M118 and M119 would be considered college-level for all campuses. (Note: Under the UFC's Master Course Inventory Policy , these courses should have the same model framework, content, and learning outcomes across all campuses and therefore be comparable across all campuses.)
  3. General Education, Knowledge, and Intellectual Capabilities:
    "Having had a baccalaureate education" has always entailed that one has acquired a certain level and breadth of knowledge and a certain level and breadth of intellectual capabilities. However, formulations of General Education requirements have not always exhibited that balance. Historically, they have tended to be defined in terms of disciplines and groups of disciplines, e.g., English, Mathematics, Humanities, Social Sciences, etc. As such, they do refer both to the knowledge and to the intellectual capabilities that are characteristic of the disciplines; nevertheless, there is a tendency to perceive unembellished references to disciplines as referring more to their knowledge dimensions than to their intellectual capabilities dimensions. In addition, in recent years there has been increased attention on cross-disciplinary, i.e., general, intellectual capabilities.
    Different campuses have taken different tacks on how to incorporate requirements on general intellectual capabilities into their general education requirements. For instance, the Southeast campus, tacking a middle course, has, for some of its general education requirements, specified lists of general intellectual competencies and then used these lists as the criteria for determining which courses satisfy the requirements. The Indianapolis campus, tacking to one side, in its Principles for Undergraduate Learning (see the last item for more details), has constructed a framework of intellectual capabilities that stands on its own, separate from and independent of the requirements for Baccalaureate Degrees, the certification of Baccalaureate Degrees, and transcripts and grades. The Bloomington campus, although it has debated contentiously a variety of approaches to general education during the past decade, still has a tack to the traditional side that explicitly mentions disciplines but not their knowledge and intellectual capabilities dimensions.
    This proposal aims for a middle tack that, like the middle tacks of the Southeast, South Bend, and Fort Wayne campuses, combines both the knowledge dimension and the intellectual capabilities dimension to determine the General Education portion of the course requirements for Baccalaureate Degrees.
  4. General Education, Assessment, Accountability, and Accreditation:
    The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, in the Third Edition (2003) of its Handbook of Accreditation states clearly that General Education and the faculty's assessment of students' learning thereof is central to accreditation (see Core Component 4b on pages 13-14 of section 3.2, the Commission Statement on General Education on page 3 of section 3.4, Core Component 3a on pages 9-10 of section 3.2, and the Commission Statement on the Assessment of Student Learning on page 2 of section 3.4).
    The following passage in this proposal's section on "Intellectual Capabilities and Breadth of Knowledge" is intended to begin laying the foundation for School Faculties to meet the goals and the responsibilities set by the North Central Association:
    To be acceptable for a general education requirement in this section, a course should demonstrate through its syllabus, readings, and assignments and exams that it both introduces students to fundamental ideas, theories, perspectives, methodologies, ethics and applications and moreover aims to develop their intellectual capacity for applying this knowledge in critical, reasoned, methodologically sound analyses appropriate to the discipline and subject matter. Academic departments and faculty shall have the responsibility and shall be held accountable for insuring that their general education courses continuously meet this standard
    Each course that is to be acceptable for a general education requirement should have a model framework (see the UFC's Master Course Inventory Policy ) that includes assessable learning goals, and the assignments and exams should provide a basis for assessing the extent to which students have achieved these goals. The faculty of a unit should regularly and periodically review the course and students' work in the course to determine whether the course's learning goals are being achieved. The review process should, ideally, include reviewers from outside the academic unit that offers the course and, when possible, from outside the University. The use of external reviewers would be especially appropriate for reviews conducted in preparation for or as part of the reaccreditation process.
  5. General Education contrasted to Distribution Requirements:
    Distribution requirements typically specify that a student must take a certain number of courses in each of several broad disciplinary groupings, perhaps with an additional specification that the courses be in different disciplines. Usually, almost all courses in the disciplines are acceptable for meeting distribution requirements.
    The General Education requirements in this proposal, while having a resemblance to distribution requirements, are nevertheless significantly different, because a course, in order to be acceptable for the requirements in the "Intellectual Capabilities and Breadth of Knowledge" section, must
    "... demonstrate through its syllabus, readings, and assignments and exams that it both introduces students to fundamental ideas, theories, perspectives, methodologies, ethics and applications and moreover aims to develop their intellectual capacity for applying this knowledge in critical, reasoned, methodologically sound analyses appropriate to the discipline and subject matter."
    This means that, for a course to be acceptable, the faculty responsible for the course must consciously attend to its role in General Education; in the course's learning outcomes the faculty must include both outcomes concerning knowledge and outcomes concerning intellectual abilities, and in the works required of students the faculty must include methods for assessing students' achievement of both types of outcomes.
  6. General Education contrasted to Exploration:
    The intent of this General Education proposal is for students to study, learn, and master significant scholarly material and intellectual skills.
    This stands in contrast to the notion of exploring disciplines and subjects, in that exploration connotes only being exposed to scholarly material as opposed to learning and mastering significant scholarly material and intellectual skills.
    If a student earns less than a C- in a course, then that student may have explored the material in the course but the student has certainly not learned and mastered it. Similarly, a grade of P (Passing) or S (Satisfactory) in a course provides no assurance that the student has learned and mastered material in the course. This is why the proposal specifies that a student must earn a grade of C- or better in a course in order for the student to count that course towards these General Education requirements.
  7. General Education and Transferability and Articulation of Courses and Degree Progress:
    Although there are connections between the issue of the general education requirements of baccalaureate degrees and the issues of transferability and articulation of courses and degree progress, nevertheless these issues are separate.
    Because Indiana University has always had a unified system-wide transcript, course credit hours and grades earned at one campus count as credit hours and grades on all campuses.
    A distinct issue was whether a course with a particular number taken on one campus would satisfy a degree requirement on a second campus if that degree requirement was satisfied by that course taken on the second campus. This aspect of transferability of courses was supposed to have been solved by the University Faculty Council's policies on Undergraduate Inter-Campus Transfers and the Master Course Inventory . Unfortunately, the latter policy has not been fully implemented, due in part to limitations of resources and the implementation of the PeopleSoft Student Information System. However, renewed efforts have begun. Full implementation of the Master Course Inventory policy including the development of model frameworks/syllabi for courses and the inclusion of such within the PeopleSoft Course Catalogue would fully resolve this issue.
    A third issue is the transfer and articulation of degree progress between campuses and schools. This General Education proposal should help ameliorate the situation, even though such was not part of the President's charge. To the extent that schools adjust the General Education requirements of their Baccalaureate Degrees to the norms in this proposal and to the extent that they use courses that are taught on all campuses to satisfy these requirements, then a student's progress on one campus toward the general education requirements set forth here would hold on other campuses as well (subject to the variability of the quantitative/mathematics requirement between campuses that have differing admission criteria).
    A fourth issue concerns the timing of general education courses versus "major" courses within baccalaureate programs. One problem area is that, in some professional degree programs, general education courses are postponed until the senior year. This causes students who decide to change programs to fall behind a normal graduation schedule, because in the new degree program they will have a deficit of both general education courses and major courses. This General Education proposal aims to ease this problem by encouraging schools to have their students satisfy these General Education requirements during their freshman and sophomore years.
  8. General Education, Schools' Degree Requirements, and Faculty Authority:
    Under the Constitution of the Indiana University Faculty , authority over curriculum and the conferral of degrees is vested in the faculties of the schools. The principle underlying this allocation of authority is that a School's faculty is the body that understands best what students need to know to be worthy of the degrees offered by that School. This proposal respects that principle but aims to temper it in the area of what general education should be at a world-class liberal arts university.
  9. IUPUI's Principles of Undergraduate Learning and IUPUI Degrees:
    The Indianapolis campus has, since 1999, been working towards a non-degree based educational framework based on its Principles of Undergraduate Education (PULs) and a rubric-structured, web-based portfolio (ePortfolio). The PULs are a set of non-disciplinary, general intellectual competencies. The strategic plan, not yet realized, is that students should store, into their ePortfolios, samples of their work (e.g., papers, homeworks, exams, reflective essays) that show that they have achieved a level of competency (beginning, intermediate, advanced) in each of the listed intellectual competencies. The schools and departments are responsible for defining the types of work that students must submit as evidence of achieving each level of competence in each intellectual competency. However, because IUPUI has determined that, while students "own" their work, instructors "own" the grades they assign to students' work, the work that students post to their ePortfolios is submitted without the grade. Instead, students' ePortfolios will be evaluated, independently of their course work and grades, by a cadre of retired faculty, alumni, and staff. At this time, the ePortfolio portion is being pilot-tested. Large scale implementation should occur within 1-2 years. Evaluation of its impact for a large cohort of students from their matriculation through graduation will require a further 5-6 years.
    As of this time, although there has been great progress on defining, for each major, the types of work that students should submit to their ePortfolios to show their attainment of the PULs, there has been little direct integration of the PULs into the degree requirements per se of the Baccalaureate Degrees offered on the Indianapolis campus ( 2004-2006 IUPUI Bulletin ).
    Certification of students for degrees is based entirely on students' course work and grades and the Schools' requirements for their Baccalaureate Degrees. The PULs are not part of the degree certification process.

This commentary was prepared by William Wheeler, co-chair, UFC EPC.