4-year plan threatened by University Curriculum

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Pillars.jpg
The pillars of the University Curriculum have caused trouble for students trying to graduate in four years. Photo credit: Ryan Miller

 

SMU has long been advertised as a university where students have the ability to pursue more than one degree, minor in several fields, or take extra classes simply because they seem interesting. But with the new University Curriculum (UC) four semesters into its implementation, many students are worried that they may not be able to achieve their goals. Sophomore Blake Barnett, who wants to double major in biology and business, doesn’t know if he will graduate in four years.

“The new curriculum is incredibly hard for me because none of the classes for my majors count toward the UC,” he said.

The UC is a program of core studyin the liberal arts and sciences required for any SMU degree. One of the goals was for divisions across the university to offer courses to fulfill UC credit. Students would then be able to double or even triple count certain classes, which would help them move simultaneously through their major and the UC.

But that’s not always happening.

The UC is experiencing the most problems in three schools: Meadows School of the Arts, Lyle School of Engineering and Cox School of Business. In Meadows, certain programs require students to take so many classes for their intended majors that there’s no time to fulfill the UC requirements. Lyle has a similar problem, with most degrees requiring more than 100 hours of engineering, science and math courses. Finally, Cox has few classes that offer UC credit, requiring students to look outside of the business school to complete the curriculum.

SMU must comply with rules and regulations set out by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, otherwise known as SACS, in order to be an accredited university. For this purpose, the individual components of the UC must fulfill different pieces of the SACS rules. SMU has run into problems with making sure all of the accreditation requirements are met, specifically with the Individuals, Institutions, and Cultures Level 1 (IIC1) Pillar. SACS requirement 2.7.3 states that all students must take at least one course in the social or behavioral sciences before graduation.

Individuals, Institutions, and Culturesis the place where social science fits in most tightly,” said Joseph Kobylka, a political science professor in the Dedman School.

Kobylka served on a committee of social and behavioral scientists that reviewed 39 IIC1 courses for the Council on the University Curriculum (CUC), which oversees the implementation of the UC. The committeerecommended that 18 of the courses have their IIC1 pillar credit removed. Kobylka said SACS was the reason for the recommendation.

“They’re not social scientific classes,” he said.

The 18 courses recommended for removal of pillar credit came from a number of departments including advertising, history, journalism, engineering, communications, theatre and gender studies.

There is disagreement behind the scenes on how SACS would handle courses under the IIC1 pillar. At least one university official, who would not speak on the record, said he thought SACS may ultimately allow those courses to count.

The university has not yet approached SACS about the issue, said Patricia Alvey, who serves on the CUC.

The CUC, in fact, voted March 26 to restore the classes to the list of IIC1 pillar offerings. Alvey said the decision was made after students reported they were struggling to complete their degrees.

The decision was, “just SMU trying to help our students while continuing to consider all issues related to the rollout of a new curriculum,” she said.

The committee will reconsider whether the courses should remainon the IIC1 pillars list at a later time, Alvey said.

The decision to restore those classes comes on the heels of a report from Vicki Hill, Assistant Dean for the University Curriculum, which details some of the issues with the UC. According to the minutes from the Feb. 5 meeting of the CUC, Hill’s report states that “we do not have enough course offerings to allow all students to graduate on time.”

Hill declined requests for an interview.

To help aid students worried about graduating on time, Meadows Dean Jose Bowen wanted to integrate Meadows with the UC as much as possible.

“We worked hard to find appropriate overlap between our programs and the UC,” Bowen said.

Meadows houses dozens of courses that offer pillar credit, and many courses offer credit for multiple pillars at the same time. But this still may not be enough for some students.

“Right now, I’m paying extra tuition to take 21 hours,” said Hannah Hess, sophomore dance and management double major.

Even though she’s taking so many hours, Hess finds it difficult to complete UC requirements on top of her majors.

“We’re not getting to take classes we’re interested in because we’re worried about fulfilling pillars,” she said.

Emma Schultz, sophomore dance and psychology double major, believes SMU may be too ambitious in telling prospective students that it’s possible to double major.

“This is one of the only schools that offers a double major with dance, but they make it impossible,” she said.

Lyle faces a similar problem to that of Meadows, as most majors require more than 100 hours of strictly engineering, science and math courses. However, Betsy Willis, Director of Advising and Student Records for Lyle, believes that the average engineering student can graduate in eight semesters.

“We have developed semester-by-semester degree plans for all of our engineering majors, picking specific UC courses, looking at what requirements are not fulfilled by the Lyle requirements, picking what could fulfill the remaining ones,” Willis said. “And can it be done in eight semesters? The answer is yes.”

In fact, Lyle’s website advertises that students, “have a wide breadth of majors and minors you can pursue in addition to your engineering major. We even have a Medieval Studies major!”

But many Lyle students disagree. Sophomore Sam Gibson believes the UC is causing major issues.

“I have to take so many hours for engineering that there’s almost no time to finish my UC credits,” Gibson said. “I’m only going to be able to graduate on time if I take summer classes.”

First-year Haley Stutts, who enrolled at SMU for premed and mechanical engineering, abandoned her pursuit of the Lyle major because of the UC.

“I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill my mechanical engineering, premed and UC requirements without doing summer school, instead of important internships,” Stutts said.

The committee that reviewed the IIC1 pillar classes recommended thatpillar credit for two Lyle courses be removed. Next to both courses, the document stated: “This needs to be part of a larger conversation about Lyle students and the UC.”

Kobylka clarified what that larger conversation was.

“[Lyle] is so credit heavy for all the majors that they have such a hard time wedging in general curriculum classes,” he said. “The question is can the general curriculum apply to [Lyle students] in the same way that it does to everyone else.”

A monitoring committee was set up March 4 to review the implementation of the UC. The members are tasked with reporting the issues that have arisen from the implementation of the new curriculum.

Harold Stanley, Associate Provost and chair of the monitoring committee, did not want to be interviewed about the UC until the committee completes its full report in late June or early July.

For now, one of main problems with the UC implementation is that departments have each approached the curriculum in different ways, said Kobylka.

“Some have lag and some have taken the bull by the horns,” he said.

A lag exists in Cox, which currently offers only two courses that fulfill pillar credits. Right now, Cox students have to look toward other schools at SMU to complete their UC requirements. Jim Bryan, Assistant Dean for Cox Admission, serves on the monitoring committee charged with addressing these problems. Bryan declined requests for an interview, but said in an email, “there just isn’t anything to share yet.”

Reed Westerman, a sophomore majoring in finance and computer science, didn’t expect to encounter curriculum problems when he arrived on campus.

“Freshman year, I didn’t know how hard it would be to complete the UC,” he said.

Alvey couldn’t comment specifically about Cox, but she explained why it might take longer for some divisions to integrate the UC.

“With a new curriculum as modern and deep and broad as the UC, those colleges, schools, departments that were not previously involved in the GEC may need more time to understand how to best weave into the UC,” she said.

The General Education Curriculum (GEC), the university’s previous core curriculum, was in place from 1997 until 2012.

On the other hand, Westerman doesn’t believe that any department should need more time.

“They should’ve had [the UC] planned out more before we came to SMU,” he said.

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