By Max Miller – firstname.lastname@example.org – Staff Writer
A UNC Asheville faculty task force compromised on a proposal for changes to the school’s curriculum that the Faculty Senate will vote on in the near future.
Volker Frank, professor of sociology, led the task force, which addressed issues regarding UNCA’s liberal arts mission, especially interdisciplinary programs like the humanities, the Liberal Studies Introductory Colloquium and topical clusters.
The task force began working on the proposal in spring 2011 and submitted it to the Senate in April 2013. Depending on how the Senate votes on it, the administration could put it into effect as soon as fall 2014.
The proposal plans to keep topical clusters, but make them a non-requirement, so students could take them based on a desire instead of necessity.
“We knew that surveys had been done, so we examined and re-examined those surveys, both in terms of faculty and student perceptions of clusters,” Frank said. “It became clear to the committee after a while that the clusters are a good idea for UNCA, but there is a lot of diversity in the way the clusters are produced, and in the way the clusters are experienced from the student side.”
Frank said making the clusters optional will allow students to more freely choose their electives, which is more conducive to UNCA’s vision for a liberal arts education.
“We found that a lot of students take some of their clusters because they’re very close to their field in nature, which challenges the very idea of interdisciplinarity,” Frank said.
Grant Hardy, director of humanities, said he favors adjusting the vision for the clusters so it might better help students show concrete evidence of their interdisciplinary background.
“One of the ideas that I hope will come out of it, is creating some interdisciplinary minors,” Hardy said. “Which isn’t something that we’ve had before, but that may take some of those clusters and allow students to do them in such a way that it still shows up on your transcript that you’ve done something in, say, sustainability or something that requires classes from different prefixes.”
The task force also voted against reducing the humanities program from 16 credit hours to 12 credit hours. The proposed reduction would have necessitated making either Humanities 124 or 214 optional or redistributing the course across three classes instead of four.
“One of the things that people don’t always realize is that the humanities program is continually changing, and one of the big transitions over the last decade or so is trying to expand it to include more non-Western materials,” Hardy said. “When we thought about trying to take what we do in 16 hours and then cut out a quarter of that, in order to give students a basic understanding of their own culture and where we come from, it would have meant getting rid of a lot of the diversity stuff.”
Hardy said he also hopes to shape the humanities program to better conform to transfer students’ needs.
“One of the things we’d like to do, moving forward, is if transfers come in and they’ve taken courses that are like the humanities courses, they ought to come talk to the director to see if we could waive some requirements or count some things, because we don’t want transfer students to retake courses that they’ve basically already done before,” Hardy said.
Many of the changes in the proposal reflect a need to better support UNCA’s large transfer student population, which Frank said makes up nearly 50 percent of the student body.
“We are an institution that has a lot of transfer students, and we needed to, therefore, adjust the curriculum to that reality and not vice-versa,” Frank said. “We know that many of our transfers find it cumbersome, and have to go through a lot of hoops in order to get credit for their classes.”
The proposal further helps transfer students by eliminating the LSIC 379 introductory course, because many students and faculty found it an unnecessary requirement that treats transfer students like incoming freshmen.
“Plenty of people argued that its usefulness is debatable, and we also wanted to reduce the structure in the sense of too many requirements for our students,” Frank said. “Our students are telling us there are a lot of requirements.”
Erik Fraser, an environmental studies student who transferred to UNCA in fall 2012 after spending two years at the University of Maryland at College Park, also said the current requirements inhibit transfer students’ progress and said the proposed curriculum would better serve them.
“I do understand the clusters,” Fraser said. “I feel like that’s the core of liberal arts education, which is good, and it’s a real required thing especially with the current cultural climate that’s going on in this country and other countries. My only suggestion would be for UNCA to make that more well known, to really have a lot of workshops or something for people interested in UNCA so they know specifically what they’re getting into.”