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February 2008 Draft Recommendations from the Liberal Education Task Force

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These recommendations include a proposed General Education Model that is still being discussed and modified. An updated version should be posted in the next month and a Public Forum will be held in April to generate feedback and discussion about the merits of the draft proposal.


Thanks for posting this; it leaves much to think about!

I hope to respond soon.


Thank you for posting this; it gives us much to think about.

More soon, after reflection!


I like this new LE proposal. It streamlines things greatly. But it does raise some interesting questions about the nature of disciplinarity and departmental offerings. We have seen the graduate school emphasize the interdisciplinarity of graduate education in the last year; it is also fair to say that we see interdisciplinarity as well at the undergraduate level in our own offerings.

. . .

Bruno Latour, in arguing that we "have never been modern," talks about the modern settlement which never was: the division of the world into components analyzable by discipline. This LE curriculum depends upon that modern settlement: it presupposes the distinction between humanities, social sciences and sciences (as methods, at least, if not as a system of objects as well).

But Latour is right, and the modern settlement never really happened. Our departmental structures and course offerings do not divide so easily; history is at once a social science (taking its place among the traditional "human sciences" in its accounts of human behavior and the material, social and political conditions of that behavior) and a member of the "humanities." Even Political Science, in its joint position with Philosophy, has within it a social science method and a theoretical/philosophical orientation.

Other departments are more explicitly conjoined twins across the disciplinary divide: Communication and Writing Studies are sister disciplines in that they draw upon rhetorical (humanistic) inquiry as well as social scientific (interview, ethnographic and survey-based research) inquiry, as part of the faustian bargains upon which those discipline were founded, each in their own way, in breaking from English.

And some departments are hybrid-disciplines from the first moment: Environmental Studies is only the first and more popular example of a discipline that opens itself to science as well as social scientific ways of knowing.

The collapse of the number of overall distinct categories in this LE proposal invites a collective reconsideration of the multiple ways of knowing manifest in any department. The end result may well be an increased appreciation for the diversity of disciplines manifest in every department at UMD.

. . .

The "themes" offer a unique challenge, because they are not tied to disciplinary ways of knowing. Though arguments that they could be tied in that fashion could be made. For example, there are applied ethics courses scattered throughout UMD, some of which are not taught by philosophers. Should "moral reasoning" be taught by a philosopher?

If the themes are really distinct from the ways of knowing, there is a real opportunity for discussion, on the one hand, of every major's possible role in teaching their students moral responsibility, civic engagement, international issues and more. On the other hand, while every department could, perhaps, offer an array of courses in the themes, is it in the students' best interests that they do?

Interesting discussions ahead!


The proposal reflects a lot of hard work and struggle, for which the committee deserves a ton of credit.

Here are a few skeptical questions:

1. The 4 categories and the 7 themes seem to come from different planets. Fit?

2. I don't find the division into humanities, science/math, and social sciences to be meaningful. The themes are interesting and could stand alone with a big array of diverse courses under each.

3. I find it odd that there is a lot of breadth and choice promised or included everywhere but in: Composition. Why? Is it truly in the spirit of liberal education to require every student to take a course from one single discipline? (This has always struck me as quite peculiar.) I'd like to see the students' options greatly widened to embrace writing-intensive courses from every department that cares to offer them, each with a specific discipline base, as befits the kinds of profession-related writing students will be doing for the rest of their lives.

Generally and liberally speaking, no department should 'own' or be owned by any category, theme, or requirement. JMO

I like the new proposal a lot. I think it provides much more choice for the student. Along those lines, I, for one, am in favor of being able to double and triple-dip. The point of lib ed is to be sure our students have some exposure to the various disciplines and themes, not to hamstring them with requirements and hoops to jump through that make learning tedious at best for student and professor alike.


I am very excited about some of the possibilities and outcomes from this process, as well as some of the comments from my colleagues. I agree with David, and would like to encourage that we stretch our thinking as we enter the next phase, the “how? to attain these goals and objectives, to include interdisciplinary offerings.

In my mind, all seven themes and 4 categories are inherent in all that we teach – or could be. Some might consider it watered down versions sacrificing depth for breadth (call them intro. courses) and some might argue that they be capstone courses putting together the depth and breadth accumulated during a 4 year degree (call them upper division capstone courses.)

As an example, here is the way my mind works as a teacher. My 2005 trip journal through Ecuador and Peru began to include ideas about an interdisciplinary study abroad experience for students.

Along the way we stayed in an Eco lodge promoting social and environmentally responsible travel. Compost toilets were a major initiative in this region that could see the end of its glacial water supply in this lifetime (the environment.) We stumbled upon and took advantage of an informal home stay in a Quechua village near Banos and attended a wedding ceremony in the village. We followed our host to a class she was teaching the women elders in Spanish literacy – we each communicated in our second language. I struggled even with that. Talking with her and the villagers in the rainforest forced me to reflect on the indigenous peoples of my own country (cultural diversity in the US) – the similar history and contemporary struggles (historical perspectives/global perspectives-with bonus themes of language literacy, women’s studies, and a psych. offering called Marriage and Families Worldwide.) We spoke with the leader of a village in Serayaco, Ecuador about their efforts to open service learning opportunities to university students around the world as a way to provide witness to the social and cultural context of petroleum harvesting in the rainforest (moral reasoning/the environment/global and international perspectives/ civic engagement-with bonus themes of human rights and social justice.)

Throughout the trip, my musician partner collected and exchanged music with the locals-focusing on music of the resistance movements – in Latin America and the US (cultural diversity in the US/historical perspectives/global and international perspectives-with bonus themes in music and social justice, including historical perspectives of social justice movements.)

Information and quantitative literacy are a thread throughout any such experience, with reading and research perspectives before, during and after. Students engage in self assessment of their own intercultural effectiveness before and after the experience, with coaching along the way toward stretching themselves toward an expansion of their worldview (personal development/global citizenship/critical thinking). Intercultural Effectiveness and the emphasis on multiple perspectives (be they historical/cultural/global or domestic diversity) are stressed throughout. Written communication is fostered through reflective journal activities throughout the experience and a formal integrated paper due upon re-entry. Oral communication would occur throughout the experience as students prepare with information prior to the trip to share with their peers as well as a campus presentation upon their return. Perhaps it could be a theatre production and then you have added yet another discipline to the mix.

Just returning from Israel I can create a similar curricular vision including conflict and group dynamics from the perspectives of psychology, sociology, cultural studies etc., history dating back 4000 years, religious studies, business and marketing interplay with environmental issues as the Dead Sea is drying up – but you can buy its contents in the airport on your way home, etc. Again, the 7 themes and 4 categories are there, and more!

My vision of higher education includes interdisciplinary offerings that incorporate study abroad and international perspectives, civic engagement and service learning, technology, leadership, personal along with professional development, intercultural effectiveness and global citizenship. It can happen in Duluth as well as abroad. We have many resources with diverse domestic and immigrant populations in the area that remain unknown to our students. I would argue that an immersion experience in some areas of our own community could do as much or more than some study abroad experiences. There is a qualitative aspect of study abroad and best practices pedagogy that can serve some of these liberal education objectives right here at home.

In preparing our students for global citizenship, “…a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of values, ethics, and civic engagement? I would agree that we need to provide our students with all of the themes and categories included in these documents in order to achieve these goals. And I would argue that we need to take that a step further and teach in a way that facilitates the integration of discipline specific knowledge into a way of looking at and interacting with the world that incorporates the multiple perspectives inherent in our liberal education mission.

This same excitement and possibility for teaching/learning is fueled every time I travel abroad. And upon my return it often fizzles out due to logistics. How would credit be given, what dept. would it be through, it’s too hard to figure out salary, etc. I am a psychology faculty – where does this idea fit within the existing curriculum? It needs to be more discipline specific to even get the idea through the first door! Even study abroad requires a discipline specific course to attach it too, etc.

So, one challenge for the task force (and all of us, IF we agree that such efforts and offerings are worth pursuing.) If we can’t fit such interdisciplinary ideas into the existing curriculum – perhaps we need to re- structure the existing curriculum to facilitate them. Why not a dept. of interdisciplinary studies that include such course offerings (with multiple themes, categories and disciplines represented in every course?) We could require every student to take at least one and could even have discipline specific pre-requisites identified for each integrated course.

I appreciate the forum to share my musings. While a prestigious and potentially intimidating cast of characters on the credits, I humbly throw my 2 cents worth into the discussion.