The Student Government Association (SGA) Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday, April 16 offering conditional endorsement of the General Education (GE) Task Force’s proposed GE curriculum. The resolution states that Senate endorsement is contingent on the Task Force presenting their draft to the student body for further discussion.

At the Senate meeting, Ulises Jovel ’20 and Myrto Neamonitaki ’20, the two student representatives to the GE Task Force, presented the proposed OLE Core Curriculum and offered three resolutions asking for the support of the Senate.

Senators raised many questions concerning the proposed First-Year Seminar. Some worried the seminar is too broad to properly encompass all of the goals it hopes to achieve. Many also questioned the exclusion of a stand-alone ethics requirement.

Senators also discussed whether reducing the number of GE requirements threatens St. Olaf’s identity as a liberal arts college. Jovel and Neamonitaki addressed these concerns by noting that the proposed curriculum is comparable to those of other liberal arts colleges in the midwest.

“We are trying to add some excitement back to GEs,” Jovel said with regard to the discussion surrounding the number of required general education courses.

Exclusion of an ethics GE

The Task Force’s proposed curriculum would cut the number of GE’s from 17 to 12 and decrease the maximum number of required courses from 26 to 16. Of the changes presented in the draft, the absence of an ethics requirement, existing currently as the Ethical Issues and Normative Perspectives (EIN) GE,  raised the most concern among senators.

“We are taking the EIN requirement away only because we want to not have it be owned by the philosophy and the religion department … EIN is still going to exist.” – Myrto Neamonitaki ’20

Senators questioned whether the curriculum can ensure proper ethical and normative education for students. Jovel and Neamonitaki assured them that students will still be taught ethics through a more interdisciplinary approach, in upper level courses. 

“We are taking the EIN requirement away only because we want to not have it be owned by the philosophy and the religion department,” Neamonitaki said. “EIN is still going to exist.”

Senators also wondered how excluding an ethics requirement would affect the philosophy department. Jovel and Neamonitaki ensured that they would work to start a conversation about these concerns.

Application Questions

The majority of the questions and concerns raised by senators at the meeting were regarded as “application questions.”

These application questions encompassed logistical concerns that Jovel and Neamonitaki simply didn’t have answers to.

Concerns regarded as application questions included the size of First-Year Seminar classes, the hiring of new professors to fulfill new requirements and the integration of Conversation wwprograms into the new GE curriculum.

Senators also forwarded application questions about the incorporation of religion courses within the First-Year Seminar and how the removal of the Studies in Physical Movement (SPM) requirement will affect the Wellness Center.

While Jovel and Neamonitaki didn’t have concrete answers to many of these application concerns, the Task Force representatives were able to ensure that these questions would be addressed in a revised draft of the Core Curriculum.

“We’re basically proposing the model,” Neamonitaki said. “We’re not giving you guys any of the specific classes; that is not up to us. That is not going to happen for quite some time right now.”

Outcome of meeting

The Senate approved the three resolutions presented by the Task Force regarding their OLE Core Curriculum. These resolutions stated that Senate recognizes and supports the work of the GE Task Force and endorses the Draft of the Core Curriculum.

In addition, the Senate added a fourth resolution asserting that full Senate endorsement of the Core Curriculum is conditional upon presenting the draft to the student body for consideration.

“We want to insure that students are given more ownership into what they want to study in the best way possible.” – Ulises Jovel ’20

The Senate endorsement of the three initial resolutions and one amended resolution passed with an 89 percent majority vote.

Senate hoped to prove they support a change to the current GE requirements at St. Olaf by endorsing the Task Force resolutions. Senate also sought to commend and encourage the work of the Task Force through the endorsement of their resolutions.

The draft of the OLE Core Curriculum will now go to the St. Olaf student body to gauge support for these curriculum changes.

Student Survey

The renovation of general education requirements and the work of the Task Force was done in large part in response to research by the sociology and anthropology department. Their reasearch looked at student opinion regarding the college’s curriculum.

Sumner Pitt ’19 was involved in the research, in which the student survey was conducted. He explained the survey process at the Senate meeting.

“[The survey] was a randomly selected group of St. Olaf students, and out of that group we had close to 600 students respond,” Pitt said. “One theme that came up through the questioning is the student desire for more flexibility within the curriculum.”

Before conducting the survey, the research team created three focus groups. There was one group of seniors, one of all first-years and one of mixed-year students.

“These focused on both students’ responses to the OLE questions and in what ways they could imagine the new curriculum,” Pitt said.

The 600-respondents and smaller focus groups provided conclusive qualitative and quantitative evidence that St. Olaf students want a revised general education curriculum.

The Draft of the OLE Core Curriculum seeks to allow students more time to take courses which aren’t required in the general education curriculum.

“We want to ensure that students are given more ownership into what they want to study in the best way possible,” Jovel said.

marand1@stolaf.edu