Scroll Top

General Education Task Force releases first draft

DSC02347 2

By Avery Ellfeldt and Sam Carlen


A March 18 working draft of the new OLE Core Curriculum reveals that the College’s General Education (GE) core may be reduced from 17 to 11 requirements in the coming years. The proposed curriculum does not include an ethics requirement, prompting 58 faculty members to sign an open letter opposing this element of the document.

The GE Task Force’s draft also introduces a “Power, Inequity, and Race” requirement and eliminates the art, literature and Studies in Physical Movement (SPM) requirements, among other changes. After a series of meetings and forums throughout the Spring, the Task Force anticipates a vote of approval at a September 2019 faculty meeting, according to an email from the Task Force.

The Task Force, made up of seven faculty members, one staff member and two students – Ulises Jovel ’20 and Myrtó Neamonitaki ’20 – have placed seven “guiding principles” at the center of their work so far, according to the Task Force. These principles, voted on by faculty, state the new curriculum should support the College mission, deepen and complement students’ majors, support equity and promote student agency, among other things.

“The purpose of this was to make the GE lighter, more accessible, more representative.” – Ulises Jovel ’20

“The purpose of this was to make the GE lighter, more accessible, more representative, for students to pursue a second major or for students to have the freedom to pursue more courses that they would like to take to broaden their studies,” Jovel said.

Neamonitaki thinks the Task Force also reduced the requirements to eliminate the “checklist” mentality, where students take courses to fulfill the requirements rather than because they apply to their interests or disciplines.

“We’re trying to, I guess, bring back a little more excitement about the GEs and make them more accessible within people’s majors, so that you are able to gain the elements that the GE is intending to but doing it by building on the knowledge you already have and want to focus on,” Neamonitaki said.

Several new requirements are introduced in the draft. These include an Experiential Learning in Context GE that can be fulfilled by internships or other experiences, and a “Power, Inequity, and Race” GE fulfilled by one course.

The requirement will function as a revised version of the current Multicultural Studies-Domestic (MCD) GE and is “aligned with the goals and work of the Council on Equity and Inclusion,” according to the draft. The addition of a mandatory course regarding race will also partially fulfill one of the demands made by the Collective for Change on the Hill during their protest against institutional racism at the College in May 2017.

In Article 3, B of the Collective’s demands, student organizers wrote that “Rather than condensing issues regarding class, race, gender and sexuality into the Multicultural Studies: Domestic/Global requirements, we demand that the college create a minimum of two GEs that enforce mandatory introductory courses in Race & Ethnic Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies departments.” While the Task Force’s draft includes a requirement regarding race, there is no mention of a GE that incorporates Women’s and Gender Studies.

“Talking with race and dealing with race in one semester is insufficient, but it’s a good place to start and better than not having a GE on race and intersectionality,” Jovel said. “It can be the starting point to something for more structural change in how St. Olaf views race and how St. Olaf teaches race.”

Cuts, concerns

The curriculum presented in the working draft would cut the number of GE requirements from 17 to 11, as well as the maximum number of required courses from 26 to 16, by combining and condensing requirements and eliminating several others.

The Natural Sciences GE, which currently requires two courses, was proposed to require only one. The Writing requirement – which takes four courses and is commonly difficult for STEM majors to fulfill – was would be reduced to one course, though the new two-course First-Year Seminar will also focus on writing. The Oral Communication and First Year Writing GEs could also be incorporated into the First-Year Seminar.

Many faculty have voiced concerns about the potential elimination of several GEs, with some of the strongest critiques of the draft aimed at the exclusion of an ethics requirement.

58 faculty members from 19 departments and programs signed a March 22 open letter to the GE Task Force – in it, they object to the exclusion of an ethics requirement, according to an email from Associate Professor of Philosophy Michael Fuerstein.

“We are writing to express our deep concern about the apparent exclusion of such content from the draft curriculum and believe that its exclusion is inconsistent, both with the stated mission of the College and with the internal stated goals of the curriculum as presented,” the letter reads.

The letter goes on to note that the College’s mission promotes and values “directing our skills and knowledge toward the good.”

“If these goals are indeed central to our mission, then our students need some education in how to think about what is good and right,” the letter continues.

Several faculty have also voiced concerns about the elimination of SPMs. At the March 21 faculty meeting, Professor of Music Justin Merritt said students have “physical and mental health needs that are addressed by SPM,” according to the meeting minutes. Associate Professor of Philosophy Danny Muñoz-Hutchinson said students are increasingly unable to do somersaults in his interim judo class, and that “moving one’s body through space is an important part of education,” according to the minutes. Some students have expressed, however, that the SPM is not an accessible GE requirement for students with disabilities, and are in favor of its elimination.

Professor of Religion David Booth was surprised at the exclusion of art and literature GEs, according to the minutes.

“The experience of entering imaginatively into the worlds of others, through literature and art, is basic to the liberal arts; and it is [a] capacity essential to citizenship in a complex world,” Booth wrote in an email to the Manitou Messenger.

The Task Force plans to continue gathering faculty feedback during upcoming faculty meetings, as well as at a faculty forum on April 18. Jovel and Neamonitaki will discuss the proposed curriculum with the Student Government Association (SGA) at the next Senate meeting on Tuesday, April 16.

Meanwhile the Task Force will continue revising the working draft, culminating in a May 2 presentation and discussion with the Board of Regents. It is imporant to note the drafted GE curriculum is a living document, and will be susceptible to change according to feedback in the coming months, the Task Force wrote in an email to the Manitou Messenger.