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.”

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