December 15, 2016: Pre-planning Group on Liberal Education

Dear Colleagues,

Our current Liberal Education requirements have now been in place for twenty years, with some revisions made to them in 2007-2008. The requirements involve our undergraduate students completing seven “core” classes (mathematical thinking, biological science, physical science, arts and humanities, historical perspectives, literature, and social science) and four out of five “theme courses” (environment, civic life and ethics, global perspectives, diversity and social justice in the United States, and technology and society). As part of liberal education, our writing requirements have students complete a series of writing-intensive (WI) courses. We have also established University-wide student learning and development outcomes, and processes for the assessment of student learning.

We feel that these requirements have served our students and the University very well, but regular reassessment is healthy, and this seems an opportune time to revisit liberal education at the University of Minnesota. We have just been through our periodic reaccreditation review (and fully reaccredited), and implementation of our campus strategic plan is underway.

One obvious question arising from the strategic plan implementation, and the development of the Grand Challenge Curriculum, is whether (and if so, how) the newly-established grand challenge curriculum might be integrated into liberal education requirements.

In any case, given the elapsed time since our last full review of Liberal Education, and the development of the Twin Cities Strategic Plan, we are charging a preplanning group to look at our current requirements and consider the issues that might be relevant to a possible revision. We emphasize that this preplanning group will not be redesigning our requirements, or even making proposals for revised requirements. They will instead be asked to review the current status of liberal education on this campus and make recommendations on a process for further consideration of relevant issues.

This will be a faculty-led process, and the aim will be to generate broad-based discussion. There will be several all-campus events to enable us to think and talk together about the liberal education requirements: we need to have broad-based engagement. We are aiming for a first all-campus forum in late January.

The preplanning group includes the following individuals:

  • William Durfee, Department of Mechanical Engineering
  • Raymond Duvall, Department of Political Science
  • Sarah Hobbie, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior
  • Gayle Golden, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Peter Hudleston, Department of Earth Sciences
  • Sally Kohlstedt, Program in the History of Science and Technology
  • Kenneth Leopold, Department of Chemistry; Chair of Council on Liberal Education
  • Keith Mayes, Department of African American & African Studies
  • Peter Mercer-Taylor, School of Music
  • Richa Nagar, Department of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies
  • Susan Wick, Departments of Plant & Microbial Biology and Biology Teaching & Learning; Chair, Senate Committee on Educational Policy
  • Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs, ex officio
  • Robert McMaster, Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Education, ex officio
  • Leslie Schiff, Associate Dean for the University Curriculum, ex officio

The tasks of the pre-planning group include:

  • Reviewing the current status of liberal education on the Twin Cities Campus-- What is our history of liberal education? Who is teaching our liberal education courses? Do our students see and gain the value in the existing requirements?
  • Understanding who is affected by or has an interest in our liberal education program-- e.g. Minnesota State (formerly MNSCU), employers, graduate and professional schools-- and the implications of those interests.
  • Briefly reviewing national trends in general or liberal education, and considering what selected other universities are doing. (This review could serve as background for a later stage redesign committee, if such there be.) 

The group may also:

  • Recommend to the provost, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and SCEP a process and timeline for consideration of new requirements.
  • Recommend to the provost, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and SCEP the composition and members of a possible Liberal Education redesign committee.
  • Recommend to the provost, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education, and SCEP a charge for a redesign committee.

As we proceed, we will need to keep in mind that the University of Minnesota participates in the Minnesota Transfer Curriculum (MNTC) with Minnesota State. This curriculum allows students easy transfer of general education courses between campuses and systems and it is an important vehicle for educational opportunity. The Office of Undergraduate Education is currently engaged in conversations with Minnesota State about a possible redesign of these MNTC requirements, so a variety of elements concerning these issues will be somewhat in flux as we undertake our campus discussion. Still, it is time for us to consider what we at the University of Minnesota believe is most appropriate for liberal education at our institution. Thanks for your attention to and, eventually, participation in this process.

Karen Hanson
Executive Vice President and Provost

Sue Wick
Chair, Senate Committee on Educational Policy (on behalf of SCEP)

Email sent December 15, 2016 to Twin Cities faculty, instructors, lecturers, teaching specialists, and advisors.