Georgia faculty wary of proposed curriculum changes

University System of Georgia Chief Academic Officer Tristan Denley (center) speaks to the Georgia House of Representatives’ Higher Education Committee about a plan to revamp its core curriculum for college students. ERIC STIRGUS/ESTIRGUS@AJC.COM.

Change isn’t easy, particularly when it involves 330,000 students and about 12,000 faculty members.

The University System of Georgia gave a presentation to a group of state lawmakers a few weeks ago about its plan to revamp the core courses students must take when they enroll.

The system wants to reduce the number of core credit hours from 42 to 33. The proposed courses include classes that officials hope improve critical thinking, digital fluency and oral communication, skills that employers say many students are lacking in a world where young people often talk like they text or tweet.

System officials planned to make a presentation to the state Board of Regents in April.

Courses in math, science, history and other subjects remain in the curriculum, but faculty worry there will be less time devoted to them.

“There is still science, humanities, composition, math, social science, and history, but across the board, less of it,” said Augusta University history department chair Andrew Goss.

“This plan will not make our graduates more workforce ready, and USG undergraduates will have less preparation, be less well rounded, and be less competitive in their careers,” he added.

The system’s chief academic officer, Tristan Denley, discussed the changes during a Feb. 26 presentation to the Georgia House of Representatives’ Higher Education committee. He’s aware of the concerns, and faculty suggestions are being reviewed.

Denley believes in the key elements of the changes. The core curriculum hasn’t significantly changed in about a decade.

“We really want a structure that prepares them for the rest of their lives,” he told the committee.

Denley said the current core requirements do not provoke enough critical thinking. He said some students reply “you make me” when asked why they’re taking some of the courses.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark, a lecturer in Emory University’s nursing school, said during the meeting she’s worried it may be “burdensome” for faculty to complete their instruction in more limited hours. Emory is not part of the University System.

Some committee members asked whether the changes were “condensing” the coursework, particularly in history. Georgia law requires University System students take courses that teach them about U.S. history, state history and the essentials of the federal and state constitutions. Most schools require students to take two courses in those subjects, one in history and one in government. The proposed requirements include a combined category for history and government. The Political Science Regents’ Advisory Committee has recommended the system have one class on government.

Tim Schroer, the University of West Georgia’s history department chairman, worries changes that would reduce instruction time will weaken students’ understanding of history and both constitutions.

Schroer does agree with Denley that educators must do a better job explaining the relevance of core coursework to students. He completed an online form with his feedback.

“I’m hopeful that those comments will be weighed and considered,” he said.

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