As its period for reaccreditation draws near, Stony Brook University decided to give its general educational requirements a new face-lift.

Still known as the Diversified Education Curriculum, the proposed  required core classes address nine different concentrations, from English comprehension to mathematics and natural sciences.

The University Senate discussed modifying the general education requirements of undergraduate students.
The University Senate discussed modifying the general education requirements of undergraduate students. (NINA LIN / THE STATESMAN)

The new proposal was formed in the spring of 2009, and a new committee was started to review the current DEC system. Headed by the former Provost Eric Kaler and Chair of the Undergraduate Council Scott Sutherland, the University Committee on General Education submitted a 38-page final report last August detailing the new system. At a university senate meeting, Sutherland estimated the new system’s start by spring of 2014.

Coincidentally, that is when the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the university’s evaluation body, will visit for the school’s reaccreditation process.

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According to Stony Brook’s website, MSCHE reviews the university’s progress every seven to 10 years and holds all colleges to 14 standards – one of which requires a curriculum in general education that teaches students “college-level proficiency in…oral and written communication, scientific and quantitative reasoning, critical analysis and reasoning and technological competency.”

Taking just three years to complete such a big proposal is a good reason to question the necessity of the change.  But according to Sutherland, the reaccreditation played only a minor role in their decision making process.

The current system had been long due for review, he said, and it had been the former provost who pushed for the reevaluation after the current DEC system was shown to be confusing and rigid for both students and faculty.

“There is certainly some relationship to Middle States and I would say there is some motivation to be able to document for them, that we are thinking about general education and doing things the body wants us to do. And pushing it through in three or four years makes it sound like we’re just doing something to do something and do it fast. But you can look at it another way,” said Sutherland. “[The Committee on Gen-Ed] have spent huge portions of their time the last three, four years [on the proposal]. It isn’t like we just talk about it and don’t do anything for two weeks.”

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“A lot of people have been spending many, many hours doing this for many weeks,” he said. “A lot of people have been working hard to make it work.”

Under the new DEC system, students will still be required to pick classes from a broad range of studies. But whereas the old system had studies from 11 distinct areas, the proposed system draws from nine. However, there is also an additional focus on speaking, writing, research, ethics and “experiential learning”, the use of school-taught knowledge for practical purposes.

While both systems resulted in about the same amount of requirements, one major difference the new system proposes is the use of a new certification system. Some classes may fill the requirements of two areas, while “clusters” – multiple courses grouped under one common objective – serve to fill many at a time. This, the report claims, allows students to finish their requirements faster than they currently can and allows more time for students to develop interests outside of their chosen fields.

“This idea can be viewed as just taking the current DEC system and calling it the ‘new gen-ed’, but that’s not it,” said Sutherland. “The new system is an extension of the DEC, it takes the ideas of the DEC away from the courses and uses a different implementation of it.”

Students stuck between the transitions will not find it hard to reassign classes to their newly designated requirements. Best of all, said Sutherland, students will be able to get credit for internships and other academic extracurricular activities under the experiential learning requirement.

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Still, there are some issues to be worked through before the proposal goes live. One notable issue was the missing Technology and Society requirement, or where “DEC H” was supposed to fit into the new system. Another was the minimum grade required for passing future DEC courses. Currently, students only require a D to pass their general educational requirements. Eugene Hammond, director of the writing program and a university senator and committee member, had proposed a C or S grade requirement for all courses in September.

This prompted remarks from some senators in their November meeting on how arbitrary some grading methods are. However, suggestions for an overall 2.0 GPA might send the wrong message to students, said Sutherland in his presentation to the senate.  These issues, amongst others, will need resolution before the proposal is voted on next Monday.

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