As SIUE is about to begin its first top-to-bottom review of our General Education program in over twenty years, we felt it was a good time to update the faculty as to why this is happening now, and how the process will work. We want to assure the faculty that the process of General Education reform will proceed transparently. We will actively solicit broad input from the faculty and be open to suggestions from all quarters. We hope to develop, nurture and guide a dialogue on General Education that will result in meaningful reforms that improve the quality of undergraduate education at SIUE.
There are two principal reasons that General Education reform is being undertaken at this time. First, while the original 1982 design of SIUE's General Education Program is still in place, the program has drifted over time. With modifications in 1993 and 1999 adding requirements, the program has become complex and confusing. There is general agreement among the faculty that there is need for streamlining and simplifying the structure of General Education. A secondary motivation for reform relates to faculty ownership. While there is ownership for individual parts of general education, because of recent turnover in the faculty (over 60% of SIUE's full-time instructional faculty has been on campus for less than a decade), there is very little ownership for the conceptualization, design, and implementation of the program as a whole . Most of those who created the General Education Program are no longer on the faculty. Because of this changeover in the faculty, the Provost's Office and the Faculty Senate initiated a process in 2003 for re-engaging the faculty in the design of General Education. This process has had a number of steps.
First, to begin the re-engagement, the Provost's Office and the Faculty Senate formed the Objectives Steering Committee to review SIUE's Statement of Objectives for General Education and the Baccalaureate Degree. The Objectives Steering Committee was charged with engaging the faculty in a review of both the current Statement of Objectives for General Education and the Baccalaureate Degree and the Goals of the SIUE General Education Program, completing the review by the end of 2003. While the committee was still early in the review, it became clear that there was significant interest and concern among the SIUE faculty about the objectives, structure, content, and pedagogical methods of the General Education Program. In light of the grassroots demand for a discussion forum, the committee hosted three open meetings that provided faculty the opportunity to discuss their views on the current general education objectives and other areas with which they were concerned. The faculty raised and discussed a number of important issues: the current use and practices of particular general education courses; the disjointed relationship between general education courses and the courses comprising a student's major or minor concentration; and the frequent and pervasive lack of communication between the providers of foundation-level general education instruction and their colleagues teaching upper-division courses. These concerns were incorporated into the Objectives Steering Committee's final report, which concluded that it was both necessary and fruitful to move forward in the process of reforming General Education
In a second stage, SIUE sent a team, in 2004, to the General Education Institute to develop a draft plan for the Faculty Senate and Academic Affairs to reconsider and redesign the General Education Program. The plan proposed a structure and time table for meaningful curricular and pedagogical reforms. The plan proposed the formation of a BRIDGE Committee (Baccalaureate Reform through Integrated Design of General Education) that supplements the existing governance infrastructure (committees, offices, funds, personnel) to support General Education reform.
The BRIDGE Committee is the third step in this process. Its function will be to oversee the process of General Education reform. It will not cook up a single General Education plan and seek to impose it on the faculty. Rather it will oversee the development (and solicitation) of a number of plans and will help guide a broad conversation that will lead to the adoption of one of (or some hybrid of) the plans. The membership of the BRIDGE committee was just finalized at the end of Spring Semester 2005 and the committee is just now beginning to coalesce.
While a number of SIUE faculty have participated in some or all of this process, several of the members of the BRIDGE Committee are new to the project. The SIUE team that attended the 2004 AAC&U General Education Institute wrote into its plan that the representatives from the BRIDGE Committee needed to develop the expertise necessary to lead the university in reforming our General Education program and create a process by which the effectiveness of the reform can be assessed. The BRIDGE Committee will begin to develop this expertise and a framework of assessment in July of 2005: a one-week colloquium on assessment and general education to be held at SIUE's teaching and research site in Costa Rica . National experts in the assessment of general education will be involved with the colloquium, along with undergraduate students and their mentors who are there participating in a service learning experience. The colloquium has the following goals:
1) The BRIDGE members will form a team committed to the development of the best possible program of general education. Getting the team away from SIUE, but in a location with institutional ties to SIUE, is an ideal way to foster this commitment.
2) External, nationally recognized experts in liberal education and assessment will facilitate the BRIDGE group's development of the skills necessary to develop plans for General Education reform.
3) BRIDGE members will observe and investigate a model program that pulls together pedagogical innovations that could be central to SIUE's future general education program: service learning, international experience, interdisciplinary studies, integrative learning, and learning communities. The Costa Rican site is the most accessible SIUE-affiliated location where these innovations are all in place.
4) The BRIDGE committee will generate ideas for how to probe the effectiveness of such programs as are in place in Costa Rica , in particular, how to assess the extent to which they can lead students toward achieving SIUE's goals for the Baccalaureate degree.
These and other exercises will help the BRIDGE committee to develop the skills and expertise necessary to oversee meaningful General Education reform at SIUE over the next semesters.
Joel Hardman President, Faculty Senate
Eric Ruckh Chair, BRIDGE Committee