It’s not often that civil debate prevails in the university today. Inside Higher Education yesterday published an article highlighting an announcement by the University System of Georgia saying that USG will pause and reconsider its changes to the core curriculum at 35 Georgia colleges.
Susan Herbst, USG’s chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor, made the announcement in response to the opposition raised against the proposed changes.
In February, USG held a retreat in which the Core Curriculum Competencies Committee and the Curriculum Design & Assessment Committee were to brainstorm curriculum ideas conforming to parameters set by “Strong Foundations for a Global Future,” an initiative of USG. The retreat-ers returned with two proposals in hand—“Framing Worldviews in a Global Environment” and “From Self to Global Society”—which favor course areas such as “Addressing Global Issues with Sustainable Responses.”
Since then, over 400 faculty members signed a petition protesting the changes. The petitioners argued that USG had not provided substantial evidence that the current core model needed to be revised and held that the proposed models would “diminish students' knowledge of American subject matter (history, government, society, culture, etc.), vitally important scientific knowledge, and the actual nature of globalization.” They also rejected Strong Foundations’ coercive methods in compelling USG members to create the models. As George Rainbolt, quoted by Inside Higher Ed, said, “The result of a bad process was a bad result.”
Herbst wrote in her letter:
We will discuss the nature of our current core, whether extensive change is thought to be needed, and also whether there are additional possibilities for enhancing undergraduate education outside of the curriculum (e.g., through faculty development, leadership programs, or seeding of innovative pilots related to international studies). All options should be considered as we hone our strategy for achieving sustainable and pervasive academic excellence.
Enhancing undergraduate education outside the curriculum—this sounds like an educational residence life system with which we are familiar. And sustainable academic excellence? Does ordinary academic excellence endanger the environment? Does it leave a carbon footprint? Or perhaps there is more to this sustainability than “going green.” Possibly Vice Chancellor Herbst is fed up with the state of sporadic excellence at USG schools.
The Strong Foundations website (www.strongfoundations.usg.edu), formerly a sleek page detailing the rationale and process of the Georgia curriculum changes, has now been cached; in its place is the USG website, with no trace of the previously bold initiative name. It’s interesting to note the vanishing of this webpage. Susan Herbst sounds as if she has nothing to hide. Is Strong Foundations carrying on in secret? Or is Herbst agreeing to the petitioners’ call to end the initiative process and begin anew?
Questions like these linger in our minds. We NAS-ers view the ceasefire as an encouraging sign that debate and freedom in the academy are still alive. Clearly, Herbst and others at USG felt the pressure as the signatures accumulated and the signers produced sound arguments. The USG-ers realized just how unpopular their ideas were. We are delighted to see them backpedal.
Yet we also expect that USG will try to do the same thing as the University of Delaware’s residence life: repackage the old proposal and present it again in disguise.
But for now, we allow ourselves a moment to savor victory in Georgia.