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General Education History at CMU

As we look to the future, it’s essential to understand the past.  The histories can be found in the Gen Ed Basic Documents Set, but here we share a brief synopsis of:

General Education Program History

The General Education Program at Central Michigan University was first implemented in the late 1970s. The program contains a common set of academic skills, referred to as competencies, as well as a broad knowledge base, referred to as the University Program. While the majority of courses in the General Education Program are continuous with the rest of the university curriculum and consistent with a distribution model, one of the competencies employs a common course model.

The General Education Program has undergone some revisions since its inception in 1977. For instance, a Writing Across the University Program policy was implemented in 1987 and modified in 2014. A subgroup on racism and diversity in the United States was added to the University Program in 1992, and a subgroup titled Integrative and Multi-Disciplinary was deleted from the University Program in 2014. Finally, both writing intensive and quantitative reasoning requirements were added to the competencies in 2014.

The General Education Subcommittee of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the General Education Council were initially tasked with overseeing the operation, evaluation, and modification of the General Education Program. With the 2010 revision of the Central Michigan University Curricular Authority Document, the two committees were combined into an advisory and policy-making body, the General Education Committee. The General Education Committee develops, reviews, and evaluates courses and policies pertaining to the operation of the General Education Program. As the primary advisory body for the General Education Coordinator, the committee is tasked with assessing the overall quality and impact of general education in undergraduate education.

History of General Education Program Competencies

The current structure of the General Education Program Competencies took shape in the late 1970s. In November 1977, the Competency Committee submitted a report to the Academic Senate that was reviewed and voted on during the Academic Senate meeting on December 6, 1977. The following motion was approved during that meeting: 

That the Senate receive the report from the University Competency Committee, and take the following action: that until a permanent competency program is established, every student graduating under the 1978-79 Bulletin or subsequent catalogue be required to present a grade of “C” or better in English 101, Speech 101, and a competency equivalent to module “G” in Mathematics 105, and the departments concerned be charged with identifying and developing methods for students to test out of these competencies.

Several changes have occurred since the initial development of the General Education Program Competencies, but the overall structure has withstood the test of time.

University Program History

The University Program took shape during the late 1970s. The following rationale for the structure of the University Program was outlined in a Letter of Transmittal from the University Program Implementation Committee to the Academic Senate dated February 15, 1977:

No grouping or regrouping of specific named courses will guarantee a student a general education, particularly when only thirty credit hours of time are provided in which to do the job. Indeed, the objective of a general education is presumably not merely to convey a body of subject matter, but also to equip a student with the conceptual tools to place the information he or she gathers during a lifetime into a meaningful perspective. With that view, the groups subject to definition (particularly humanities, natural sciences and social sciences) partake of a meaning deeper and richer than that defined simply by content. Instead, content and conceptual approaches blend and inform one another. What differs, for example, in a philosopher’s view of the twentieth century and a social scientist’s, is not only the content of their observations, the kinds of questions they ask, but also the way in which the questions are asked and the use to which the information gained is put. Neither content nor concepts alone are sufficient for defining the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Together, a rational, defensible and educationally sound division may be made. By reason of the above, group definitions were not primarily drawn with disciplines in mind. Indeed...academic units (generally based upon traditional disciplinary lines) may well find that their present course offerings fall within several categories, and may wish to propose courses for the program in several categories. But it must be admitted that, as with any attempt to classify knowledge, the knife does not always cut perfectly cleanly. There seemingly will always be some boundaries of a vague and blurred nature, where reasonable persons may reasonably disagree...

In 1991, the General Education Council identified three desirable characteristics for courses accepted into the University Program. The first proposition was coherence. The University Program is a carefully structured ensemble of courses designed to introduce students to the content and methods of major fields of human knowledge. The group and subgroup definitions are neither wholly subject matter in orientation, nor wholly methodological, but are a blend of both. The second proposition was representativeness. Each University Program course is presumed to be the only course taken by a student within a particular subgroup. Therefore, each course must represent the subgroup within which it is found. The third proposition is completeness. Each University Program course must stand alone as a complete and coherent statement and must be explicitly informed by a central guiding principle. These three propositions - coherence, representativeness, and completeness - ensure that students understand the content of each course, how each course fits into the larger picture of human knowledge, and, upon completion of the University Program, what that larger picture looks like.

Courses in the University Program introduce students to the major fields of human knowledge. A primary goal is to provide students with the conceptual tools necessary to provide order and meaning to the information acquired throughout their lives. Courses included in the University Program were selected to aid students in developing a broad conceptual understanding that ultimately helps graduates function as concerned and thoughtful persons.