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February 29, 1988 - Image 29

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-02-29

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including Cognitive Science and Me-
dieval / Renaissance Studies. "Stu-
dents find it interesting to bridge and
to cross specific disciplines," notes
William Cain, director of American
Studies, an interdepartmental major
at Wellesley. "I think interdiscipli-
nary work provides breadth, range,
freedom, openness."
There are other attempts to repair
the fragmented curriculum. The Uni-
versity of Washington has created the
College Studies Program, an "inte-
grated core" that will begin next fall.
Students will take a sequence of
linked courses in different disciplines
organized around a given theme. One
proposed sequence, "The Universe,"
would combine astronomy, physics,
biochemistry and evolution through
four separate courses. A similar effort

1; //

director of the National Endowment
for the Humanities. Bennett called
Brooklyn one of the few places to dem-
onstrate that "colleges and universi-
ties-and not just the elite ones-can
become true communities of learn-
ing." Since then, more than 200 visi-
tors from other institutions have
studied Brooklyn's methods. The ac-
claim has improved faculty morale,
creating "a collegiality among the
faculty for the first time," says Ken
Bruffee, director of the Scholars Pro-
gram, an honors plan.
So, what is all this change sup-
posed to achieve? Obviously, the
flood of action indicates more
is taking place. The buzzword is

Mixed signals: What do employers want?

is under way at the State University of New York in Stony Brook.
The Federated Learning Communities combines six existing
courses around a broad theme, such as world hunger. Faculty
teach a core seminar that approaches the subject from different
perspectives, and a seventh instructor, called a "master learner,"
leads a "linking seminar" that integrates the whole thing.
In nearly all cases, the new reforms are being tied to a growing
emphasis on basic skills, such as writing, math and foreign lan-
guages. "We're looking for strong foundations," says Myles Brand,
Ohio State's vice provost for academic affairs, "good communica-
tion skills, good science quantitative skills, real appreciation of our
own cultural heritage as well as international affairs-then, to
integrate all that with a strong majors program. It is a radical
departure, universitywide, from the current basic education re-
quirements." OSU's proposed new general-education plan would
add three freshman-level composition courses and a foreign-lan-
guage requirement.
Of all the places where reforms
have taken hold, perhaps none has
changed more dramatically than
Brooklyn College. In the wake of a
disastrous open-admissions experi-
ment and the financial collapse of
New York City, the school attacked its
old curriculum in 1976. Three years
and one failed proposal later, Brook-
lyn adopted the Core Studies Pro-
gram. This general-education plan di-
vided the curriculum into 10 sections
(called cores); one or two new interdis-
ciplinary courses were created for
each. One core-Studies in African,
Asian and Latin American Culture 4
-was installed to temper the tradi-
tional humanities bias toward West-
ern, specifically European, thought.
The overall intended purpose of Core
Studies, says Provost Ethyle Wolfe, is
to "strike a balance between a con-
temporary perspective and the past."
Brooklyn's efforts have been widely
applauded. The school was one of only
three praised in the report "To Re-
claim a Legacy," written by Educa-
tion Secretary Bennett when he was Student concerns: Getting

"coherence"-giving a program. a
shape, an interconnectedness, a character. It is a monumental
task, considering the nation's vastly different types of colleges and
universities and the widely divergent backgrounds and priorities
of those involved. Not only must aschool decide what the goals of its
program should be, it must decide on how to achieve them.
Reaching a consensus is fiercely difficult. The establishment of
priorities means that some kinds of knowledge-and, consequent-
ly, departments and faculty-get emphasized and other kinds
don't. That has a major impact on staffing and budgets. Since the
University of Alabama started making students take foreign lan-
guages in 1983, the number of languages offered has gone from
seven to 17, and the number of instructors has risen up from 23 to 66.
Says Michael Schnepf, who teaches Spanish at Alabama, "Core's
had an effect on the entire system." Because the debate works on
more than one level, the politics of the decision-making process can
be ferocious. When Brooklyn College was in the process of forging
its vaunted core, someone called a pre-
liminary plan "a nonaggression pact
among department chairs."
Faculty at Stanford reacted angrily
to a proposal last year to broaden cul-
tural studies beyond the traditional
Western-civilization approach. One of
the major objections was: who will
k teach this? English professor Herbert
Lindenberger said there weren't
enough qualified faculty "to teach
1,500 students a year." Personnel lim-
itations explain why Robert King,
dean of the College of Liberal Arts at
the University of Texas, Austin, vehe-
mently opposes a move by the business
school at Texas to increase its liberal-
arts requirements. "Every household
needs a garbage can-and [here] liber-
al arts is it," he says, pointing out that
faculty are already stretched beyond
their capacity. "We've reached a cri-
sis." Other scholars regret the limits
on freedom of choice. "Students usual-
ly learn more," says Grinnell histori-
an Tom Hietala, "in courses that they
select than in courses that they feel
are foisted upon them."
involved in learning Another degree of intensity has

MARCH 1988

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