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Subject: Protest
Date: November 30, 2006 8:14:58 PM CST

This is a protest to the Motion to Change the Degree Requirements for All Undergraduate Students at UT Austin (D 5155-5163), approved by the Faculty Council on November 20, 2006.

In my opinion, the legislation leaves too many details undetermined, fails to address the issue of cost and its effect on other parts of the University, raises serious questions with regard to TAs, is biased toward the liberal arts at the expense of science, unwisely ignores the study of foreign languages, and has an aura suggesting that it began from an emphasis on method rather than content.

In its preface, the motion quotes the following statement from the Commission of 125:

“But the Commission believes that while the current system offers students myriad courses of study, it fails to equip undergraduates with a core body of knowledge essential to a well-balanced education. For too many degree plans, the current curriculum resembles little more than a vast a la carte menu.”

However, the motion does not provide a true core, and it adds to the “a la carte menu” with its list of possible signature courses. To me, the conjunction of the quotation and the legislation suggests a lack of critical thinking.

Too many details are left to the proposed new administrative unit or the Educational Policy Committee or Faculty Council, including approval of signature courses, the list of courses to receive flags, and how science and technology are to be treated. Many of the signature courses look important and central; others, interesting as they may be to some, seem to reflect mostly the interests of individual members of the faculty, not things that belong in a core curriculum. In addition, we should not confuse learning a subject with learning to talk superficially about the subject.

Many students, as well as prospective students and their parents, would find confusing the combination of signature courses, flags, strands, state-mandated core curriculum, and college and department major requirements. I do. Surely we should be able to come up with a simple, concise core curriculum that would be easy to implement without more specially trained advisors.

Trying to change our foreign language requirements would be controversial and likely impossible. But a document addressing our core curriculum for the first time in 25 years should not completely fail to mention foreign languages. It should be obvious, for example, that this country needs more people proficient in Arabic and Chinese. We should at least encourage such training.

The committee looking at our core curriculum just over 25 years ago invited input from all members of the General Faculty very early on, and it involved the faculty throughout the process. Regrettably, the first version of the current plan, which involves a radical change, was created out of sight of nearly all members of the General Faculty. The procedure has been awkward since the beginning.

John R. Durbin
Professor of Mathematics


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