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Changes Are Being Considered to the Structure of the General Education Requirements at Warren Wilson College

by Nathan Gower, staff writer

From The News Editor:

Modernizing our general education requirements will be a long, democratic, and probably controversial endeavor. Considering how integral gen-ed requirements are to the Warren Wilson student body’s experience, reform should be nothing but an arduous–though civil–process. This conversation will be difficult because it will bring microscopical focus to our strengths and weaknesses as a college. It will force us to define our academic character and the application of of our ideals. The college is undoubtedly experiencing a reformation, a rebirth. As of now we might end a business relationship with with our current food service provider– this depite data that shows that a majority of faculty, staff and students aren’t ready for a breakup. Our governance system has been remodeled and is being tweaked as it is practiced. Our service requirement is also in the process of being redesigned and of course, by this time next year Warren Wilson College will have a new president.

The college will soon be a different institution of higher learning than the one we all applied to. Although change is frustrating, this reformation presents an opportunity for current community members to contribute to the direction of the college. There are several questions looming above us. For example: how will the new requirements affect currently enrolled students? The following article is a brief introduction to the issue. Updates will soon follow in future editions of The Echo. We invite you to participate in the discussion too as the general education requirements undergo reform.

Warren Wilson College is undergoing a process of reevaluating its general education requirements. Kathryn Burleson, director of the general education program, is supervising the process.

Burleson is not worried about if changes will come to the program, but rather when.

“At this point it’s an exciting phase. There are some people that don’t want to change, but it’s going to happen, even if it’s in baby steps. There is enough momentum,” said Burleson.

The proposal for the new structure will be constructed by a team with representatives from several facets of the institution, including those focused in college composition, first year seminar, assessment, service-learning, and transfer-admissions.

“The heart of the issue is improving what it means to study liberal arts at Warren Wilson College, honoring what that means to be a liberal arts institution. We have to reinforce real world education,” Burleson said.

In the summer of 2010, Burleson undertook a study with Warren Wilson faculty and administration to evaluate the college’s best academic practices.

Burleson’s studies demonstrate that the college already has in place much of what she deems desirable in revising the program, such as capstone courses and internships. However the data also showed a definite cause for concern: the college has been in limbo between two systems.

“Most schools moved away from the model we have in the 1990s,” Burleson said.

Burleson found that most of the basic practices, like internships and capstone courses, are commonplace in general education systems nationwide but are not required here.

In this regard, Burleson noted, “We can do better. We already are doing better, we’re just not requiring it.”

Discussing revision to the general education requirements began in the spring of 2010, to coincide with aspects of the college’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan. The college appointed Jeff Holmes, professor of biology, and Kathryn Burleson, professor of psychology, to oversee the evaluation of general education requirements.

Whatever is decided upon by the General Education Program would have to be proposed and passed, in this order, by the Academic Advisory Committee, Faculty Body, the President of the College, and the Board of Trustees before it could be implemented. Any hiccup in these stages could halt Burleson’s wishes of a speedy implementation. The pace of the democratic process has not swayed her confidence.

Students interested in being a part of the discussions can contact Burleson at kburleson@warren-wilson.edu.


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