The SIUe Lincoln Plan


Since its establishment in the mid 1990s, the College of Arts and Sciences has 
played a major role in General Education at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.  
Indeed, it could be said that it was primarily for the purpose of effective coordination 
of course offerings in the General Education program that the four schools of Humanities, 
Social Sciences, Fine Arts and Communications, and Natural Sciences were consolidated.  
Since then, the faculty of the College have been busy designing, redesigning, offering, 
and evaluating roughly 90% of the coursework in the program, including “Skills” courses 
like “Freshman Composition,” “Public Speaking,” and “Critical Thinking.”  

At its inception the College adopted a statement, “The Desired Characteristics and 
Capabilities of Graduates,” explicitly recognizing, among other things, the importance 
of the foundational skills for its graduates.  Significantly, it chose as its College logo 
a symbol that represented the trivium.   A rationale for the choice follows:

“The logo is a variant of the triangle theme which also appears on the commencement banner of the College. It was designed by Kazue Woods, an SIUE graphic arts student. It is contemporary in design and traditional in origin, symbolizing the trivium, the curriculum of the medieval university, from which unbroken for a thousand years a tradition of learning has passed from generation to generation. It also represents the classical Greek letter delta, the modern scientific symbol for change, or difference. Combined with the spiral suggesting movement and dynamism, the logo represents the unity and diversity of the College, the rich tradition of its origins and the optimism of its vision for the future.” Given the College’s commitment to general education, it is not surprising that after a decade or so, faculty and administration in CAS and throughout SIUE began to raise the question of how well the current program was meeting the needs of today’s students, especially those in the professional schools. SIUE has a sizeable number of undergraduate students majoring in professional schools (Business, Education, Engineering, Nursing, Pharmacy). For the last several years now we have been engaged in a serious and sustained conversation about general education. A faculty committee was constituted to manage the process of discussion and decision making which was dubbed BRIDGE (Baccalaureate Reform through the Innovative Design of General Education). The committee issued a call for design proposals and winnowed a field of 11 designs down to three. After further development, the entire faculty voted on the three proposals and picked one. The winning proposal was not the most radical proposal. In fact, among its most important changes was a recommendation to strengthen requirements in the general area of what we have described above as “the trivium.” One of these recommendations was to add a Quantitative Literacy course to the General Education requirements. SIUE has had no such requirement heretofore, but we all recognized the necessity for students today to “read” numbers as well as words. Another was to require that all students take a Public Speaking course (it had been an option previously). The final report’s description of the first level of study, “Foundations,” follows: “The Foundations requirements of the Lincoln Program lay the groundwork for all future coursework at the University. These classes are designed to provide students with transferable skills and competencies that can be applied through the rest of their college studies and beyond. Written and oral communication, logic and quantitative literacy are developed and practiced in the five required Foundations courses. “Written and oral communication is a vital tool in today’s society. Therefore, three of the Foundations courses are devoted to this area. Students are required to take a two-semester sequence in English composition (ENG 101 and ENG 102). These two required courses are designed to help students think, argue and clearly express themselves in written form, as well as to develop basic skills in academic research. The various sections of English 102 develop basic research skills and basic information literacy and are theme-based, which allows students to select topics that pique their curiosities or are tailored to their potential majors. Further, students are required to take a course in oral communication, Speech Communication 101, “Public Speaking.” This course trains students in oral argumentation and requires them to prepare and deliver a number of formal speeches. “The remaining two Foundations courses focus on logic and quantitative literacy; these skills are explored, developed and practiced with the aim of enhancing students’ practical capacities to think critically, to engage in analysis, to make judgments, and to solve problems. Reasoning and Argumentation (RA 101) is devoted to developing fundamental reasoning skills in diverse content areas. This course involves use of texts to identify, analyze, evaluate and construct arguments. The practical application of mathematics is explored in Quantitative Literacy (QL 101), which focuses on the use of computational skills to address real-life problems. RA 101 and QL 101 lay the foundation for scientific literacy—the capacity to apply reason in making and evaluating arguments about the natural and social worlds around us.” Recognizing that students must begin learning the artes triviales long before they enter college, the BRIDGE Committee emphasized the importance of reinforcing the skills that students have already mastered in high school and preparing them to use and develop those skills in the college classroom in the context of the new freshman seminar requirement: “For new freshmen entering SIUE directly from high school or those transferring in with fewer than 30 credit hours, one of the early building blocks of their educations at SIUE is the New Freshman Seminar (NFS). The University requires that all new freshmen enroll in a new freshman seminar ideally during their first term but no later than their second term. The seminar requirement may be met by any course that has been approved as a new freshman seminar and designated NFS. By introducing students to the expectations and procedures of the college learning environment as well as the unique culture of SIUE, they introduce students to the possibilities of university education. Small class size and out-of-classroom experiences help students build community, both with fellow classmates and with faculty and staff at the University. These courses are taught by faculty members who explore with students various topics of academic and civic interest. New freshman seminar courses have common goals: to assist new freshmen in making the transition to college-level work and expectations; to orient students to the services and culture of the University, and to engage students in an intellectual community of students and faculty. Resources and offices at SIUE that specifically facilitate student learning are utilized; assignments that emphasize written and oral communication and group activities are incorporated into coursework. Field trips and service learning may also be included in individual courses. The course that satisfies the new freshman seminar requirement also may be used to fulfill major, minor, elective and General Education requirements.” One of the assumptions of the BRIDGE Committee was that to be truly effective, the learning and teaching of foundational skills would need to be integrated into a wide variety of coursework, including the major, beyond the freshman year. To that end, the new proposal requires all students to complete an Interdisciplinary Studies requirement, usually in their junior year, that will place an emphasis on “analytical reading and writing” as well as “information literacy:” IS courses provide “students the opportunity to explore the inter-relation of different branches of human knowledge. Interdisciplinary Studies courses are offered, generally, by two faculty from different departments who explore problems, questions or fields from their different disciplinary perspectives. In addition to showing connections between different disciplines and demonstrating the validity of multiple modes of human inquiry, these courses serve to reinforce and further enhance skills and abilities first introduced in the Foundations courses, including analytical reading, analytic writing, and information literacy.” SIUE has received national recognized for its outstanding Senior Assignment. This is one last opportunity for students to reinforce these foundational skills in connection with what they have learned elsewhere in the General Education program as well as their major coursework. “The Senior Assignment represents the culmination of the entire undergraduate experience at SIUE and should integrate the best aspects of each student’s baccalaureate education. All seniors are required to complete the Senior Assignment that demonstrates breadth commensurate with SIUE’s general education expectations and proficiency in the academic major. This requirement arises from the University’s belief that the ability to integrate a general education perspective into one’s academic discipline is an essential mark of a University-educated person. The Senior Assignment fosters creativity and self-reliance by encouraging each student to complete and reflect upon a meaningful project for the major. As such, the Senior Assignment represents a major commitment by the SIUE faculty to undergraduate learning. Each academic major has its own senior assignment and, therefore, an individual assignment may involve, for example, library inquiry, laboratory experiments, field inquiry, or artistic creativity. Therefore, a given Senior Assignment may culminate in an artistic performance, public speech, written thesis, gallery presentation, or a combination of these with other forms of expression. Individual Senior Assignments differ, but they share a challenge to each SIUE student to achieve individual academic excellence. This is what distinguishes baccalaureate education at SIUE.” Finally, the BRIDGE Committee recommended that the entire general education program be renamed. Their rationale follows: “The rationale for this specific name is arrayed across two axes: first, there are extrinsic reasons to give the general education program this name; second, and more importantly, there is an intrinsic affinity between the structure and content of the proposed general education program and Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts about education. Consider, first, the extrinsic reasons to give the general education program this name: a) identifies the program as a coherent set of courses that students complete; b) helps students understand the rationale behind the program by condensing the whole logic of it into a single proper noun; c) identifies the student with the program, as the product of the Lincoln Program; d) identifies the general education program to wider, public constituencies; e) signals the University’s commitment to an education that is vocationally useful; f) signals the University’s commitment to the civic dimension of education; g) explains the meaning of liberal education to audiences and constituents that may be slightly suspicious of the idea of liberal education; h) helps SIUE identify itself and distinguish itself from other Illinois public institutions; i) help, potentially, in fundraising activities; j) honors the memory, life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, who sought to advance public education; k) celebrates Lincoln, if we can implement at least a part of the program by AY 2009-2010, in the bicentennial year of his birth (1809-2009). “Next, consider the intrinsic affinity between the content and structure of the new general education program and Lincoln’s ideas about education. The program presented here is organized around a set of foundational skills courses that are essential to success in contemporary life and generally applicable to a wide range of pursuits. These skills establish a foundation of basic capacities that students then are given the opportunity to enhance and refine by choosing to explore aspects of the world through the breadth courses, the IS course, and the experiences. The model is designed to allow students to put these skills to use in the exploration of a wider world. That wider world is opened up by the union of their interests and the skills established in the Foundations courses. The distribution plan provides students the opportunity to experience how enhanced foundational skills in written and oral communication and in critical and quantitative reasoning promote an enhanced range of personal action. In theory, this enhancement will continue beyond the university experience, as students carry these enhanced capacities into their lives as professionals and citizens. By developing skills, by enhancing them with interest through shared projects and actions in the rest of the curriculum, the distribution model develops students that can continue to develop these skills of communication, reflection, criticism and invention through their continued use in the rest of their professional and civic lives. Vis-à-vis these issues consider Lincoln’s reflections on education. “It is well known that Abraham Lincoln had little formal education. In his autobiographical sketch of June 1860, he writes (in the third person), “the aggregate of all his schooling did not amount to one year. He was never in college or academy as a student, and never inside of a college or academy building till since he had a law license. What he has in the way of education he has picked up. After he was twenty-three and separated from his father, he studied English grammar.” [1] Of the small amount of formal education he had, he described it thus in a letter to Jesse Fell on 20 December 1859: “Of course, when I came of age I did not know much. Still somehow, I could read, write, and cipher to the Rule of Three; but that was all. I have not been to school since. The little advance I now have upon this store of education, I have picked up from time to time under the pressure of necessity.” [2] What Lincoln had, to put it in the positive, were some basic skills, an active mind and an interest (or necessity) in learning more. In this way he was not unlike many of our students: like him, they will gain basic competencies in skills (not unlike Lincoln’s “readin, writin, and cipherin”) and those skills will be enhanced and developed by a combination of their interest and the ‘pressure of necessity.’ [3] Later in his life, Lincoln consistently praised the value of education for both advancement in work and citizenship. The proposed general education program fuses a sound foundation in critical skills with student intentionality in pursuing their own interests; it aims to make education practical and useful for students. Lincoln likewise praised the utility of education in an address before the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society on 30 September 1859, arguing, “Henceforth educated people must labor . . . . The great majority must labor at something productive. A capacity, and taste, for reading, gives access to what has already been discovered by others. It is the key, or one of the keys, to already solved problems. And not only so. It gives a relish and facility, for successfully pursuing the unsolved ones.” [4] Both Lincoln and the proposed general education program promote the utility of education, the idea that education is best developed through action and invention. In other words, both Lincoln and the proposed general education program promote the pragmatic value of education. Finally, Lincoln claimed that education was crucial to the development of a free and democratic society: “education,” he said, “is the most important subject that we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to . . . appreciate the value of our free institutions appears to be an object of vital importance . . . . I desire to see the time when education, and by its means, morality, sobriety, enterprise and industry, shall become much more general than at present, and should be gratified to have in my power to contribute something to the advancement of any measure which might have a tendency to accelerate the happy period.” [5] Similarly, the proposed general education program seeks to provide students with the foundational competencies—particularly basic information, quantitative and scientific literacy—necessary to be active, informed citizens in a democracy at the beginning of the twenty-first century, when, to an ever increasing degree, politics, science, and technology are interdependent. This program and Lincoln’s ideas about education share a deep affinity: both insist that education begins with basic skills that get developed through practice; both insist that education is essential and useful for economic advancement and political liberation. This affinity can be expressed and highlighted by naming the general education program the Lincoln Program.” 1. Abraham Lincoln, “Autobiography,” June 1860, accessed 19 November 2007; available from 2. Abraham Lincoln to Jesse Fell, 20 December 1859, accessed 19 November 2007; available from 3. Ibid. 4. Abraham Lincoln, “Address to the Wisconsin Agricultural Society, Milwaukee, WI, 30 September 1859, accessed 19 November 2007; available from 5. Abraham Lincoln, “First Political Announcement,” New Salem, IL, 9 March 1832, accessed 19 November 2007; available from