The General Education Task Force, a hodgepodge of university administrators, faculty, and student representatives, has produced their version of a G.E. Reform Plan proposal that looks to reduce the number of units required in certain G.E. course categories starting the Fall 2006 semester.
The plan, which needs to pass through the Faculty Senate before being sent to the CSU system offices for approval, will do a variety of things, but primarily will serve to reduce the amount of units a student has to take in five G.E. categories: Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities, Comparative Cultural Studies, and Applied Arts and Sciences (“Lifelong Learning”). The GETF claims the new G.E. model will encourage more students to take a minor and/or pursue individual interests.
The ancillary issues of this reform plan are significant, but it’s clear that the meat of the issue is the reduction of G.E. units that students will need to graduate. While the number of units students need to graduate will not change, this change will mean that students will have a noticeably less “general” education when they walk out of here on graduation day. The new G.E. model, instead of requiring between 58 and 60 units, will require just 47. That means students will not be taking valuable astronomy, creative writing, political science, or kinesiology courses, and therefore will graduate being that much less “worldly” with what they’re educated about.
The justification for this change is that it will open students’ schedules to take more specific, career-oriented classes, perhaps even to declare a minor. This extra time will most definitely provide students with some time for exploration, which will hopefully allow them to find a suitable major faster, which will make them more employable.
At the core of this reform plan is the never-ending debate in higher education: should a student’s focus be on acquiring skills to make them more immediately employable, or should a student’s focus be on acquiring knowledge to make their education more “worldly” and generalized? It’s a debate that “immediately employable” just scored some points in.
But the surface issues of changing the existing G.E. model are much more compelling for students. In this case, they deal with the impending academic freedom students will soon be getting. In the same way that critics of Social Security “reform” cite the inability of retirees to invest wisely enough in private accounts to produce gainful retirement, how will students handle having more freedom with their course selection?
Academic advisement on this campus is noticeably weak, at least in the eyes of students. There are many, many horror stories of students being advised by fellow students, by borderline incompetent and obviously disinterested advisers, being shuffled into classes they don’t really need, and into graduating late just because of poor planning and oversight. Students who want to switch majors are oftentimes given the runaround by both of their departments.
During a student’s first two years at CSUN, good academic advisement is essential to future success. This is where our school’s advisement is most fragile. So it’s not so much whether or not students can handle their newfound academic freedom; it’s whether or not academic advisers can handle their newfound responsibilities.
We call upon the Faculty Senate to take into the account academic advisement when determining whether they’ll approve the reform plan, and put into motion plans to reevaluate the effectiveness of current advisement programs. Ideally, students should be primarily in charge of their academic planning, but one cannot deny the important role advisers play in planning’s earliest stages.
Maria Rodriguez, Associated Students Social and Behavioral Science II senator, is chair of the A.S. Academic Affairs Committee. Their unwavering support of this reform plan is noteworthy, and we hope that they have at least some hesitation in terms of their constituents’ future in responsible academic planning.
Rodriguez herself alluded to such hesitations, and spoke of how the committee would like to see a “one-stop-shop” for early academic advisement, such as how the Student Services Building serves as a hub for all financial and academic records. The system as it is now, she believes, and we agree, is very confusing, especially for students who want to change majors and don’t know where to go. Such out-of-the-box ideas are good first steps, even though they are unfeasible, and even if A.S. is throwing its full support behind this reform plan.
That greater debate, however, between general and specific education still remains unsolved. There is something very important being lost with this reform plan, but something tremendously positive — giving students a new way to discover who they are and where they’re going — can negate that, so long as academic advisement is asked to help shape how a more lax academic plan can work.
Unsigned editorials represent the majority view of the Sundial editorial board and do not necessarily represent the views of the entire staff.