Pomona Report Reveals Faculty Dissatisfaction with Current General Education Requirements

Pomona College is in the process of reevaluating its general education (GE) requirements. The Curriculum Committee released a report last week presenting the results of surveys taken by faculty, students and alumni in order to relate the Pomona community’s attitude toward the current GE requirements.

According to the report, the Curriculum Committee, which is comprised of faculty, staff and students representatives, collected information from 105 faculty survey responses, discussions with multiple faculty, 711 student survey responses, 338 alumni responses and transcript data from 2,196 students. The committee also held office hours for faculty and students who wanted to discuss GE requirements.

Curriculum Committee Chair and Associate Professor of Economics Michael Steinberger said that the GE requirements are “central to our purpose as a college.”

“We actively solicited all these different groups because we wanted to have a full understanding of what is going on, and I think sharing that information with the entire community helps the entire community make a better decision,” Steinberger said.

Associated Students of Pomona College Commissioner for Academic Affairs Emily Glass PO ’15, who is on the committee, agreed that the 66-page report was “comprehensive.”

Professor David Menefee-Libey, chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, said that GE requirements are generally reviewed every 10 years. Steinberger believes that GE requirements should reflect the changing times.

“They change as a factor of how we understand our current level of academic knowledge in general,” Steinberger said. “They change based upon the students that are coming to Pomona College; they change based upon the world that the students are graduating into. It seems as though we should analyze what do students need as minimum requirements for a college degree going forward.”

Currently, students are required to fulfill five Breadth of Study requirements, a first year critical inquiry seminar, a physical education requirement and a foreign language course.

“I think that it's good that you are required to take a class in every area,” Jackson Warley PO ’17 said.

According to the report, students are more satisfied than faculty with the current GE requirements. 90% of students are very satisfied, satisfied or neutral about them, while 74% of faculty are very dissatisfied, dissatisfied or neutral. The report also said that “faculty think that the current GE system should be similar in scope or modestly expanded.”  

Professor Eric Lindholm, who serves as the chair of the music department, said that the survey results aren't surprising to him because students and faculty “are coming from much different perspectives” and the faculty might have “some degree of wisdom that students don’t yet have.”

Lindholm said that the current GE requirements could expand in breadth to provide a truly liberal arts education to students but noted that students may not see the benefits immediately.

“They may not even say that when they graduate, and they might not realize those benefits until much further down the line,” he said. “But those of us who have been educators at this institution for a long time, we really should assume some responsibility to make sure that students are getting that kind of potential experience.”

Professor Kevin Dettmar, chair of the English department, said that under the current GE system, students are not being pushed to take many classes outside of their majors.

“With the five area requirements out of 32 classes, it’s still possible to leave here with a pretty narrow experience so I’m a little disappointed about that,” he said.

According to the survey, some students want to decrease the number of breadth requirements further.

“The General Education Requirements are beneficial to me,” Elyza Halpern PO '17 said. “However, I know some people who have some very specific interests who were annoyed that they had to take classes outside of these interests.”

Steinberger said that despite the general consensus among professors that something must change, the faculty cannot agree on what reforms to make.

“Even if there is some agreement that we may want to mildly increase requirements in the faculty, there is not an agreement in terms of which direction to increase,” he said.

For instance, Dettmar said that he would like to see Area 1 renamed Arts and Humanities rather than Humanities. He also said that students should be required to take a class in both areas. Furthermore, many faculty support an increase in the number of writing-focused classes.

Glass said she supports a creation of a Dynamics and Difference in Power (DDP) requirement, which the Pomona catalog currently lists as an “aspiration that all students are urged to fulfill” rather than a requirement. According to the catalog, DDP classes use class, race, sexuality, ethnicity, gender, and/or religion to analyze the effects of power in society.

Dettmar said that the data-based process in the past year has been “deliberate” and “frustratingly slow” for him, even though the committee has been doing an “amazing, conscientious job.” He said that he would like to speed up the process of GE reform.

“I understand the argument that we need to study and good data and all of that,” Dettmar said. “I feel like … you can look at the curriculum and you can talk to students and see that we’re not doing anything to guarantee that students have a well-rounded education in here.”

Lindholm said that he believes the process has been inclusive and systematic in a way that makes the process very neutral.

“I think that [this] process has sort of all but guaranteed that there will not be much in the way of changes,” Lindholm said. “Because we have 200-something faculty here at the college. Any one of them is going to have a different nuanced viewpoint on how to approach this issue.”

Steinberger said that the committee is now collecting proposals for changes from faculty and students. Then, the committee will put together recommendations to present to the faculty for a vote. Menefee-Libey said that he expects this to happen in the beginning of April, with the final proposal being presented in May.

According to Steinberger, any potential changes will not apply to students who are currently enrolled.

“I think the role of general education is to prepare students to bear their added riches and trust for the world,” he said. “You cannot be a well-informed voter; you cannot be a well-informed citizen; you cannot be a well-informed member of this planet if you don’t have a little bit of knowledge in a variety of different areas that are going to affect your life going forward.”