USP requirements may change for fall 2009

Incoming freshmen in 2009 would have to complete a set of general-education requirements that is a “radical departure” from the current University Studies Program under a proposal that will be released to the public this week.

A draft proposal given to deans Aug. 16 recommends requiring 30 credit hours of courses that, with few exceptions, students will not be able to use pre-major or major credits to complete.

The proposal, written by the USP Reform Steering Committee, splits requirements into two 15-credit-hour halves: Community of Learners, freshman courses focused on the liberal arts and the transition into college, and Community of Citizens, courses to take anytime before graduation that emphasize ethics and critical thinking.

The committee was charged by the provost and the University Senate Council to revise the USP curriculum. Its proposal will be posted on UK’s Web site this week, said Phil Kraemer, chairman of the committee and associate provost for undergraduate education, and the University Senate, which must approve all USP changes, could vote on it as early as December.

The main element of the proposed freshman requirements is a series of six one-credit hour courses, each from humanities, social sciences or natural sciences, called Foundations of Inquiry. Students would take two courses from each of the three categories.

Instead of lasting the full semester, each one-hour course would take five weeks, and freshmen will register for three each semester. Each course would contain about 75 to 100 students, according to the draft proposal.

The proposal stresses that Foundations of Inquiry courses should emphasize the research process rather than specific facts.

“Simply put, it is time recognize that knowing how to learn and think should be the essential goal of a USP program,” the draft proposal says. “If there is an essential base of knowledge that a graduate must demonstrate, it will be defined and cultivated by the major. General education serves a different need.”

Between 120 and 190 full-time faculty would teach Foundations of Inquiry sections, Kraemer said, adding that “those numbers are really soft at this point.”

The Community of Learners requirements would also include a two-credit-hour course based on UK 101.

“It’s going to be preserving what’s good about UK 101 but adding more,” Kraemer said.

The rest of the proposed freshman requirements consist of a four-hour writing course and a three-hour statistical reasoning course.

The Community of Citizens requirements, which students would be able to complete anytime before graduation, deal mostly with preparing students to function in a global society.

“Students must be prepared for the responsibilities of citizenship just as they are prepared for professions,” the proposal says.

Under the proposed requirements, students would have to take three five-week, one-hour courses dealing with ethical dilemmas.

“Our intention is not to offer a moral code for our students; it is to help these students identify ethical issues and think about them, not least by seeing faculty members wrestle with them,” the proposal says.

In another part of the Community of Citizens requirements, students would be required to complete a capstone project, such as a research thesis, performance or portfolio, before graduation. The capstone would fulfill three credit hours.

The proposed requirements also contain a three-hour course each on U.S. culture and global perspectives, along with a three-hour advanced writing course.

The proposed changes, which would not affect current students, are far-reaching because the current USP requirements are outdated, said University Senate Council Chairman Kaveh Tagavi.

“(The requirements have) not been worked on in 20, 30 years,” Tagavi said. “Certainly something that was perfect 20, 30 years ago would not be perfect now.”

The proposal will be posted on UK’s Web site sometime this week, Kraemer said. The only differences between this week’s version and the Aug. 16 draft will be in wording, not substance, he said.

At the earliest, the Senate will vote on the proposed requirements in December, after holding public forums in October and debating the plan within the Senate in November, Tagavi said. If the proposal is approved in December, the Senate would form committees to ready the new requirements by the start of the 2009-10 school year.

The proposal suggests offering some one-hour Foundations of Inquiry courses “on a pilot basis” in fall 2008 that students can take to satisfy current USP requirements.

More full-time faculty would teach general-education courses under the proposed requirements, Kraemer said.

“We want faculty from across the university,” he said. “It allows opportunities for everyone to teach.”

The proposed requirements would provide a coherent undergraduate program that immerses students in the liberal arts, Kraemer said.

“We aren’t a vocational school,” he said. “You’ve got to be trained, and you’ve got to be educated.”

UK will ask faculty for their opinions on the current USP requirements and the draft proposal at forums later this month, after the draft’s public release, Kraemer said.

Student Government will probably hold two student forums in the Student Center, although dates have not been decided yet, SG President Nick Phelps said.

The University Senate meeting in November will allow faculty members to discuss their concerns or suggestions for the new USP courses. Tagavi said the meeting would be mostly dedicated to discussing the new requirements.

“Certainly this is important, if not the most important issue,” he said.