Provost eliminates core committees

By Melissa Prentice

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Plans to "re-invent general education" will be taken back out of the hands of UA faculty members.

Last summer a "Big Ideas Group" of about 14 people, including Provost Paul Sypherd, set out to "think broadly" about general education. What resulted was the core curriculum proposal, which would replace various general education programs at the University of Arizona with required yearlong survey courses in natural sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities.

The planning of the curriculum details was handed over to 11 committees, including about 350 faculty members and a few students.

But now Sypherd said the committees will be abandoned and the planning will again be centered in the core group, which has grown to about 35 members.

The previous committee structure was ineffective because of the large number of faculty members involved in the committees and the reluctance of many faculty members to back away from their speciality areas and plan to teach "more broadly," Sypherd said.

He said it is now necessary to "focus all energy on (planning) the core courses and back away from the tangential issues.

"I realize now that we should have started with a better framework for the core (course) groups," he said.

Gene Levy, the chairman of the committee to plan the core course in natural science, said the size of his committee was a barrier to its progress. Since about 100 faculty members wanted to participate, the committee was divided into five subcommittees which have each been studying the same issues, he said. The subcommittees haven't yet met to compare conclusions.

He said the biggest problem facing the committee was the time constraints.

"It was too compressed," he said. "We needed more time to understand the underlying issues before going headlong into producing a curriculum."

He said the committee has more work to do before returning the planning to the central committee.

Sue Brichler, an English senior who participated on the committees, said she didn't think the committees were ineffective.

"It took longer than the provost had thought it would, because of the time necessary to get people to sign up for the committees, planning times to meet and having to explain the background behind the core curriculum before anything could be done," she said. "Then each committee has subcommittees and sub-subcommittees. It's just all the bureaucracy."

Changing from the committee system is necessary, she said, because "the big groups can't go anywhere until the small issues are resolved. We need to figure out the small stuff that makes or breaks the proposal."

Dipankar Chakravarti, the chairman of the faculty responsibilities and reward committee, said he has mixed feelings about eliminating the committee structure.

"There are some cases where things need to be more centralized and other cases where things should be even more decentralized," he said.

"Designing the core courses needs to get very close to the faculty," he said. "This is when it needs to be even more decentralized."

Chakravarti said, however, that the more peripheral committees such as the one he chaired are ready to make their recommendations to a central committee.

In general, Chakravarti said the committee system was a good idea, even though it appeared chaotic.

"A large number of people got involved and got a sense of what is going on," he said.

Douglas Canfield, the chairman of the traditions and cultures core course, said he feels the committee is "ready to move to a second phase."

"My committee is ready to entertain specific course proposals," he said. "We have the framework. It's time for the people who will teach the class to sit down and talk to each other."

After an initial phase during which committee members expressed their reservations with the proposal, the groups very effectively came to a consensus regarding the courses, he said.

"The courses will be as common as they can be," he said. "But they will not each be identical courses. We were able to preserve the best of what was done in traditions and cultures in arts and sciences and extend it to all the colleges."

Chakravarti said he hopes that the core curriculum will be returned to the faculty members through allowing the Faculty Senate to give final "approval or modification."

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