Nicole Spewak | Editor in Chief
Years of dialogue, debate and disagreement are coming to a close for the General Education Reform Committee (GERC), faculty and students at Wheaton College as GERC works on ironing out final adjustments to a reformed curriculum for general education at Wheaton.
The final proposal for general education reform is set to be presented for vote to faculty and student representatives on Jan. 21, 2014, during the monthly faculty business meeting.
The latest version of the proposal was submitted to the faculty council on Monday, Nov. 25, and distributed to the remaining faculty on Wednesday, Nov. 27.
The proposal reflected changes advanced by professors during over 20 GERC-facilitated “small, face-to-face group meetings scheduled across campus over the last two weeks,” professor of communication and GERC chair Lynn Cooper said in an email.
GERC scheduled the meetings to gain feedback from departments and divisions following the presentation of a version of the proposal at the November faculty business meeting.
“The biggest proposed change adds two hours back into the Natural or Social Sciences — i.e., 4+4+6 model, rather than 4+4+4,” Cooper said.
Other recommendations included rewording of certain terms, addressing the placement of disciplines and courses under broader categories and answering questions on the teaching of the proposed core classes.
“We understand that change is difficult, and not surprisingly those meetings elicited many questions about the impact of this proposal on faculty loads, class sizes, scheduling and recruitment of majors,” Cooper said.
Although the proposal is in its final stages, there are still recurring questions about some of the new curriculum’s tenets.
“On the student side, we continue to struggle with capping the number of general education hours in an appropriate way to offer a strong foundation for student learning,” Cooper said.
The current general education proposal includes 68 hours of required classes for students, more than the current general education program’s required hours.
Student body president junior Andrew Shadid said that throughout the process, “the general sentiment from students was that we need a decrease in hours. That’s the one thing we want.”
However, Student Government overall approves the new curriculum. “We voted, and the majority of students have voted for the proposal,” Shadid said.
Amidst the faculty, there remain rumblings of dissatisfaction and thoughtful questioning at this late stage.
Most questions center on the distribution of hours to the various divisions, staffing for the new core classes, how those classes will be taught and how many hours general education courses should encompass.
Answers to many of these questions, including staffing and teaching ideas, are included in the current proposal.
“On the faculty side, given the difficulties inherent in any kind of change, we continue to persuade them that the inevitable trade-offs are worth it,” Cooper said.
Shadid views these divisions among faculty as problematic for the success of the program.
“I think it is incredibly important that faculty buy into this,” Shadid said. “If faculty are not raving for this proposal ... and helping students to understand human flourishing, if that’s not the goal, if there are competing goals within the faculty and not everyone has seen the potential and possibility of the unification of faculty in supporting this one goal ... then it will fail.”
Despite the lingering dissension over certain features of the proposed reforms, Cooper is confident the proposal will pass the January vote.
“I am encouraged by the good will among faculty, their support for students, their creative problem-solving and their energy for change,” Cooper said. “So yes, I am confident that faculty will step out in faith and trust their peers — especially those who will represent them in the final process of implementation — so that students can benefit from a strengthened curriculum.”