Changes to general education requirements for students pursuing a Bachelor of Art degree in the College of Letters and Science de-emphasize courses in Western culture and will allow undergraduates more freedom to select classes.
The UCSB Academic Senate approved the changes Jan. 27, and B.A. students are no longer required to take two classes from a sequence under the Area E-1: Western Civilization requirement, such as History 4A and 4B. They still must take three classes in Area E: Civilization and Thought, which the senate has renamed “Culture and Thought.” The distinction between Area E-1 and Area E-2: World Civilizations has disappeared, but students must now take at least one class that meets a new special requirement called “European Traditions.” Classes that would meet this new requirement were part of the previously listed Area E-1 section.
The alterations to the Area E: Civilization and Thought requirements will immediately affect all B.A. candidates, including those petitioning to graduate at the end of this quarter – but would not penalize those who have already completed the previous requirement, the College of Letters and Science’s academic advising website said. In addition, the Non-Western Civilization special subject requirement has been renamed “World Culture.”
Omar Blaes, chair of the Committee of Undergraduate Academic Procedures and Policies, said the changes are the result of an approximately five-year struggle in which some UCSB faculty members argued for a more culturally comprehensive G.E. curriculum.
“Americans need to be educated on the rest of the world,” Blaes said. “We live in a culture that was shaped largely by European cultures, and putting Western civilization on a pedestal like that and calling it ‘civilization’ in comparison to all the other cultures in the world, and to place European history as the central position, is generally wrong to us.”
Debra Blake, the Undergraduate Council analyst, said the Faculty Legislature’s approval of the resolution was part of an ongoing debate between UCSB departments and involved differing philosophies of faculty members.
“There were faculty in [the College of] Letters and Science that felt it was important for students to have a very strong foundation in ‘European Traditions’ and felt the concentration in a series was important for students,” Blake said. “It’s a matter of preference. Some felt it is as important to study other civilizations and to have a more diverse study of cultures, and that students should be able to choose.”
Along with a greater inclusion of world cultures, the new requirements aim to free students from the binds of a two-course sequence, Blaes said.
“It really seemed wrong to us that the student is locked into two-sequenced courses,” Blaes said. “Say, as a student, I wanted to learn about the Roman Empire, so I take History 4A, but I’m not interested in History 4B, the Middle Ages in Europe. Say I’d rather learn about Japanese history instead. But in order to get credit, I would have had to take that course.”
However, Blaes said he was concerned by the lack of student representation during the extensive proceedings on the G.E. requirement changes, despite the amount of care he and others put into their efforts to reflect student desires.
“My complaint is that we’re supposed to have an [Associated Student] representative on our committee and this person has not appeared,” he said. “I’m disturbed that a committee that makes decisions about the student curriculum has no student representation. We’re just faculty talking to each other, and this makes me nervous.”
Blaes said the curriculum alteration created tension between certain faculty and departments.
“The G.E. change affects the humanities and fine arts departments – departments traditionally poor – and anything that threatens their financial resources scares a number of people,” Blaes said.
The departments listed in the former Area E-1 category include art history, comparative literature, French, philosophy and religious studies.
Blaes said many faculty members in these departments, however, still favored the G.E. changes.
“Many in those departments voted for this,” he said. “Both sides of this debate had honest, valid positions.”
Harold Marcuse, the former chair of the Committee of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Policies, initiated a study in response to concerns within the humanities departments about losing resources with the elimination of the E-1 sequence requirement, Blake said. The results of the study indicated there would not be any dramatic shifts in course enrollment.
“If you take all the courses in Area E, the vast majority are sequences in E-1,” he said. “So even if a student wanted to get out of E-1 courses, there’s not enough room in other courses.”
Blake said she does not foresee immediate changes in enrollment for any Area E course.
“People no longer have to take the series and may take up slots in [previously listed E-2] courses,” she said. “[But] there’s still a limited number of slots and no extra courses.”
Over time, however, enrollment numbers might change as proposals for new courses that fulfill the European Traditions requirement come in, Blake said.
Although there are multiple concepts for change in the future – such as rewording the definitions of Areas C, D, E, F and G and extending courses allowed under the Ethnicity special subject requirement – Blaes said he is relieved the conflict surrounding these recent changes has been resolved, and he will not push for any further modifications for a while.
“As chair, I’ve made a personal decision not to make any more changes this year,” he said. “Campus went through a lot of grief, and now we need to heal wounds.”