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More Science, Less Social Science

November 14, 2006

The University of Georgia is seeking to revise its core curriculum and the changes would require students to focus more on science, quantitative reasoning and exposure to globalization through classes in foreign languages or culture.

As is usually the case in curricular redesign, which has been approved by Georgia's University Senate but awaits consideration by the state Board of Regents, choices mean perceived losers as well as winners, and some professors in the social sciences believe their disciplines would get short shrift in the new setup.

Bill Vencill, a professor of crop and soil sciences and chair of the University Council subcommittee that approved the changes, said that the shift in the 42-unit core requirement would prepare students for the future. The humanities requirement, which would double from 6 to 12 units, would be renamed “World Languages and Culture, Humanities and the Arts.” Vencill said that this broader category would allow students to fulfill general education requirements by taking more courses in a foreign language, effectively doubling a student’s exposure to global ideas.

Students would still need six units of science, but would now have to take at least one of those courses in the physical sciences. “Currently, students take two life sciences and shy away from the physical sciences,” Vencill said.

And in the future, students would have to take two courses in quantitative reasoning instead of one.

Vencill said that most professors were content with the changes, but some have grumbled over a decrease in the required units in the social sciences, which would fall from 12 to 9. “It’s a loss to the students,” said William Finlay, who is head of the department of sociology. The social sciences at Georgia include sociology, speech and communications, psychology, anthropology and geography. Finlay said that some students are meeting their requirements in this area through courses in political science and history. Dropping the required units down to nine would mean that some students might end up taking only one course from the social sciences.

“They aren’t going to know much with just one course,” he added.

The university has not changed its general requirements since the late 1980s, and a 2003 report from the National Survey of Student Engagement found that Georgia's students were not as challenged in writing or in time spent studying as their peers at similar institutions. Vencill said that the quality of students at Georgia has risen in the last 10 years since the state began its HOPE Scholarship program. An influx of new residents in Georgia has also driven the competitiveness of admissions at the university.

“Georgia has experienced some of the fastest growth of any state east of the Mississippi, and you’re bringing in families who are highly educated,” said David Mustard, a professor of economics at the Georgia’s Terry College of Business who has studied the effects of the HOPE scholarship. “If you look at any measure of quality, it’s gone up,” he said.

Debra Humphreys, vice president for communications and public affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, said that preparing students for a global economy while increasing science education and quantitative skills is becoming the norm at many universities. Harvard, she said, is also emphasizing student preparation for a global economy, and universities understand that students must become more scientifically literate.

However, she emphasized that these skills must be threaded throughout the upper division courses, as well. “We’re trying to cram all this into core curriculum,” she said. “These same outcomes need to be developed also in the majors.”

Any change in core curriculum is not expected to be enacted until the fall of 2008. Vencill said that if the Board of Regents approves the change, the faculty's University Council would then determine which courses would qualify in the different core categories.

 

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