The New "Liberal Arts Core"
After a vote of support from the Faculty Senate, UNC Asheville’s newly revised curriculum, the “Liberal Arts Core,” is being implemented this spring and will be in full effect in the 2014 Fall Semester. The Liberal Arts Core will replace the university’s current general education curriculum, “Integrative Liberal Studies” (ILS).
The new Liberal Arts Core is designed to ensure the continuation of the university’s academic hallmarks – the interdisciplinary approach, the Humanities Program, and intensive instruction in certain areas – while giving students greater flexibility in course selection so they can explore diverse topics and still graduate in four years.
Some of the most important changes include:
· a decrease in the number of credit-hours of required courses to allow students more credit-hours for electives,
· ending the required set of university-wide “intensive” courses and instead delivering intensive instruction in the same skill and content areas through already required major-area courses,
· ending topical clusters.
Renovation, not Reconstruction
In a letter to the Faculty Senate supporting the changes, Provost Jane Fernandes likened the university’s academic approach to a trusty and sturdy barn that still serves quite well, but with curriculum requirements like an “old roof, which needs to be shored up and rebuilt.” The new curriculum will be more sustainable and place the university “on the way to better serving our students and their learning.”
The Liberal Arts Core proposal was developed through a two-year process by the Curriculum Review Task Force (CRTF), which involved 30-50 faculty members at different times, with representation from the student government and participation from the Provost’s Office. And before approving the plan in November, the Faculty Senate took a survey, conducted listening sessions and engaged in many rounds of debate and discussion.
“We wanted to create more flexibility to allow students to move through their programs in a timely way,” said Melissa Burchard, associate professor of philosophy and chair of the Faculty Senate, “[We wanted] to make sure that students have a certain amount of room for free electives, so that they really do have some space to explore different areas which is part of the liberal arts tradition.”
Streamlining and Efficiency
Discontinuing the required campus-wide “intensives” and the clusters will make things much more efficient for faculty as well as students, according to Laura Bond, chair and professor of drama, and member of the CRTF who presented the new Liberal Arts Core to the Board of Trustees at its December meeting. “The ILS required a complex oversight structure of committees comprised of 61 faculty members,” Bond told the trustees. “The new Liberal Arts Core is much more streamlined in oversight design, requiring only 16 faculty for oversight. This will allow us to redirect more of our attention to what we love to do, teaching and preparing for teaching.”
The skills and themes of the to-be-discontinued campus-wide intensive courses – diversity issues, information literacy, quantitative skills and writing – are also embedded in many department courses already recognized as “intensives,” with more being developed. Burchard expressed confidence that the quality of instruction will be maintained. “We have been doing the writing intensives now for a decade and we have a very strong sense that our faculty can be trusted to deliver what they need to deliver in their majors.”
And while clusters will be discontinued, many of their component courses will continue. “Groups like the Food Cluster will still continue to work their courses together because they’ve found those courses to be remarkably successful,” said Burchard. “And we still have the interdisciplinary major that students can take so if they’re strongly interested in making a program out of a cross-disciplinary set of courses – that option is still available.”
Students who began their studies under the prior ILS requirements will have the option of completing those, rather than the new Liberal Arts Core requirements. Thanks to the DegPAR program created by the Registrar’s Office and accessible in One Port, students can see how both sets of requirements would apply to them.
Said Bond, “We’re already helping students with materials sent throughout campus to help students finish their requirements right now to graduate in spring.”