Three proposals that could modify Western’s general education program have been created after about 1,000 students ranked the revision of General University Requirements as important on the Associated Students election ballot and 30 years of discussion by the faculty senate.
In September 2015, the faculty senate formed the General Education Task Force, charged with developing three options for improving the GUR system.
The task force, made up of eight Western faculty, five students and five advisors, created these proposals after evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of GUR systems from six different universities: Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, Stanford, Portland State, Keene State and California State, Chico.
Three characteristics were determined to be key to a successful program: a clear and understandable structure, a focus on diversity and learning real-world applications for class material.
During the AS elections, a ballot question asked students if they supported changes to the current GUR system, where 53 percent of voters ranked GUR revision as important, 36 percent were neutral and 11 percent ranked revisions as not important.
Assistant Director of Advising Services Meagan Bryson said the task force was looking for campus-wide feedback to analyze what areas of the GUR program are working and what needs to be revised.
“The three [programs] that have been presented are very unique and different and [require] gathering feedback from folks across campus as they’re moving forward and looking at revising the program,” Bryson said.
Eighty-five percent of students reported being “satisfied to very satisfied” with the quality of education and instruction in their major programs, but only about 50 percent said they are satisfied with the quality of their GURs, according to a report by the Western Study of General Education.
Senior Galen Herz was in Red Square encouraging students to vote during election week. He said a university producing citizens for this country should be educated in diversity and cultural competence.
“I feel like it would be cool to see diversity and racial justice brought into the [GUR] program as something that’s focused on,” Herz said.
Faculty surveys pointed to needed improvements as well. Sixty-seven percent of faculty surveyed expressed a desire to lower class sizes for general education courses and 64 percent said Western should invest in a greater number of multi-disciplinary and/or thematically linked GUR classes, according to the General Education Task Report.
The report also found that first-year students at Western are having less interaction with professors, less course material requiring high-level thinking and less written assignments than first-year students from other universities.
On the AS election ballot, students were asked to rank different improvements to the GUR system based on which they believed to be the most crucial.
The different improvements listed as choices were: more relevance of GUR classes to their major, more application of learning to real life situations, better writing and communication classes, improved diversity requirements, understandable goals and spreading GUR courses throughout the student’s academic career.
Students’ votes will be used to help the senate faculty decide which GUR model best fits with their interests.
Molly Ware, president of Western’s faculty senate, said the proposals listed on the ballot weren’t so much proposed changes as they are “catalysts for our thinking.”
The three models, outlined in the task force’s report, are as followed:
1. The Thematic Model was adapted from Portland State University’s system and extends GURs throughout four years of study. Each year, students choose to be placed in different groups related to their interests. The goal is to integrate real-world issues into their major or specialization.
2. The Blended Core Model was adapted from Keene State College’s Integrative Studies Program. In this model, early core classes build a foundation for future years of study. These model focuses on providing a well-rounded liberal arts knowledge as a base for a degree and introduces specialized disciplines later in the student’s academic career.
3. Western developed its own proposal, titled the Distribution Model with Suggested Changes. It takes the current GUR structure to incorporates suggestions and concerns from the Western community. It would include a stronger diversity component, improve the clarity of the GUR structure and include more emphasis on communication and writing skills.