English Requirement Reassessed
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 02:10
The humanities and writing general education requirement could see changes next year if a proposal aimed at strengthening the role of writing in the curriculum is approved this December.
Professors from the General Education Committee have developed a preliminary proposal recommending the introduction of a first-year writing seminar capped at 15 students, a humanities and writing requirement integrated into majors and the transformation of the second humanities and writing requirement into a broader arts and humanities distribution requirement.
The proposal will be presented to the Main Campus Executive Faculty Senate this Friday. According to English professor Randall Bass, the presentation will be an opportunity for the Faculty Senate to question and give feedback on the recommendations. If the committee addresses all concerns, the proposal will be put to a vote in December.
Currently, the humanities and writing requirement for all four schools consists of two courses: Humanities and Writing I and II. However, students who earn a four or five on the College Board Advanced Placement English Literature or English Language exam or a six or seven on the International Baccalaureate English Higher Level exam have the option of skipping the first course, while students in the School of Foreign Service that earn these AP or IB scores may skip the second requirement as well.
“A lot of students never actually take Humanities and Writing I due to AP credits, though on the books, everyone is supposed to take the two courses,” Bass said.
Under the new proposal, the Humanities and Writing I course would be replaced by a more writing-intensive class, according to Sherry Linkon, director of writing curriculum initiatives.
Linkon said that the new first-year writing seminar would place a greater emphasis on writing than the current Humanities and Writing I course does and that the criteria for opting out of the class will be a five on the AP English exam.
The second aspect of the proposal would integrate the humanities and writing requirement into major-specific courses. Bass stressed that this second requirement would not add credits to the overall general education requirements; instead, an existing course already in the core curriculum would place a stronger emphasis on developing writing techniques.
“We understand that students and faculty are often concerned that the general education program is requirement heavy,” Bass said. “The major requirement would be overlaid with current courses. It is not an additional course, so there is no increase in terms of actual course requirements.”
The final component of the proposal would allow a broader array of arts and humanities courses to fulfill the Humanities and Writing II requirement.
“This will preserve the importance of the role of humanities in general education so that there would still be a requirement for the humanities course, though it wouldn’t necessarily be a writing-specific course,” Bass said.
According to Linkon, the discussions about changing the requirements began several years ago in the university’s General Education Committee in preparation for last year’s Middle States accreditation process. However, the committee did not begin formalizing a proposal until the summer.
Bass said that the group is now examining input from various faculty members who are concerned about the effect of the revised requirement, though he was optimistic about the proposal’s future.
“There was a growing sense among faculty that we weren’t doing enough to pay attention to the strength of student writing as it progressed through the curriculum,” Bass said. “We want to strengthen it the first year but also throughout their time at the university.”
According to Bass, student input supported this idea.
“We had some evidence from students that they would like to have more attention on writing, which is not the same as being assigned more writing,” he said. “There was a feeling that the way we were teaching writing was out of sync with national practices.”
But some students said they did not want the writing requirement to change.
“I think it’s a good idea that they’re trying to help students and their writing skills, but I liked how my humanities and writing course was structured,” Carmen Hernandez (COL ’15), who took the Humanities and Writing I class, “Reading & Writing Seminar,” said. “We learned about other things besides just reading and writing.”
Courtney Choy (COL ’14), who took the Humanities and Writing II course, “Germanic Christian Hero,” agreed.
“I like the way the Humanities and Writing requirement program is right now, but the second course, the writing course integrated into majors, sounds like a good idea.”