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University-Wide BU Hub on Track for 2018 Launch

Leaders of the general education program task force provide update


What does it mean to hold a Boston University degree? What skills, knowledge, and habits of mind should every BU graduate develop, regardless of college or major? What do today’s students need to thrive in their personal, professional, and civic lives?

The BU Hub, Boston University’s first-ever University-wide general education program, is being designed to answer these questions. When it goes into effect—with the freshman class entering in 2018—the new program will replace the current individual gen ed programs in each of BU’s 10 undergraduate schools and colleges. It will ensure that all undergraduates develop skills in each of the following capacities: communication; philosophical, aesthetic, and historical interpretation; social and scientific inquiry; quantitative reasoning; and diversity, civic engagement, and global citizenship. Students will further develop their intellectual toolkit with expertise in teamwork, research and information literacy, critical thinking, and life skills.

Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English, and Bruce Schulman, William E. Huntington Professor of History, chair the 21-member implementation task force charged with implementing the BU Hub over the next two years and beyond.

“The active participation of our outstanding faculty and staff is absolutely critical to the success of this process and to our ability to create something truly unique in the undergraduate education and experience Boston University provides its students,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. “As we begin this next phase of implementation, I am excited for the creativity and collaborative spirit our campus community will bring to this process and extremely confident in the program’s trajectory.”

Harold Cox, an SPH associate professor of community health sciences and associate dean for public health practice, sits in a meeting

Harold Cox, an SPH associate professor of community health sciences and associate dean for public health practice, speaking at a meeting of the general education satellite committee on September 12.

Loizeaux and Schulman recently discussed with BU Today the implementation of the BU Hub and the shape of things to come.

BU Today: How does the BU Hub differ from traditional general education programs?

Schulman: The program reflects BU’s size and diversity, its distinctive combination of the liberal arts and sciences with professional education. The Hub is just what its name implies—not a specific set of courses or a particular number of credits, but a set of expectations for all BU graduates that they will pursue along many different pathways. Unlike many general education programs, it’s not separated from the skills and knowledge students pursue in their majors, but is central to them; in fact, students will develop some of the core capacities while completing their major. The goal is to make every student’s education an integrated whole.

The new program will be part of all four years of the undergraduate experience, is that right?

Loizeaux: Traditionally, general education has been thought of as foundational—the first two years and then you choose your major and move on. The BU Hub is explicitly not that. It will be integrated, and it will be across the four years. And it will be not just courses, but cocurricular experiences as well.

Schulman: It won’t be: take three courses in column A and three courses in column C and that’s gen ed, separate from everything else. Every student’s general education program will be a little bit different.

Who makes up the new implementation task force? Is it the same 14 faculty who were on the initial task force that created the vision for the general education plan?

Schulman: It’s different, but there is some overlap. The last task force was entirely faculty. This has a lot of faculty, but also people who have the kind of operational expertise you need to implement the program. So we have the registrar, the director of admissions, the head of information services and technology, the dean of students.

How do you take this sweeping vision of transforming undergrad education and turn it into the nuts-and-bolts of curricula and schedules for 2018?

Schulman: The task force will pursue its work in part through 10 satellite committees involving more than 100 faculty and staff. Six satellite committees, one for each of the aforementioned areas in the BU Hub, are charged with fleshing out what a course or cocurricular activity has to do to qualify as satisfying our expectations for general education. That will signal what faculty members need to do if they want their courses to qualify as general education. This will also be a signal to our students and their parents and the world at large of what kind of knowledge and skills and experience we expect every BU student to have.

Loizeaux: There’s also a satellite committee for advising, one for operations, and one for the Cross-College Challenge, the proposed signature program of the BU Hub, where students from different colleges will engage in collaborative projects that address contemporary issues or enduring human questions by producing a tangible product such as a written report or work of art. [Read about the Cross-College Challenge in the first general education task force report, pages 19-20.] And there is the Undergraduate Council, which is a standing body already. Part of their work this year will be to serve as liaisons to the schools and colleges as the schools and colleges consider what they want to contribute to the BU Hub and how the Hub will articulate with their students’ experiences in their majors.

What work will be necessary during the next two years to implement this undertaking?

Schulman: A lot of things are going to have to happen. For instance, the information technology people have to figure out how our systems are going to keep track of this. And Admissions is going to have to figure out how to present the BU Hub to prospective students.

On the purely academic side, there will be a new standing committee of the University Council—a faculty general education committee—whose job will be to approve courses and cocurricular experiences to count for the BU Hub. At the same time, there will be the development of some new curricula. Some fairly substantial resources have been set aside to seed the development of new courses and new experiences.

Loizeaux: The six outcomes satellite committees have already begun fleshing out the areas of the BU Hub. More than 60 faculty members and staff from around the University held a morning-long working session on September 12 to start the central work of defining the intellectual goals of the courses and cocurricular activities in the BU Hub. There was a lot of very animated talk. The teams have been working individually since then and will come together again for another joint working session.

How will the rest of the University community be involved?

Loizeaux: All of these satellite committees will also be going out into the broader community, and the Undergraduate Council will be going back to the schools and colleges to talk. The implementation task force will also be consulting and will be talking to students. There will be lots of consultation. This is the crucial stage of developing the BU Hub, and we need lots of people’s good ideas.

Current students will not be affected by the change?

Loizeaux: That’s right. But starting in 2017-18 academic year, current students will have the opportunity to participate in some of the elements of the BU Hub that we hope will be exciting and new to them. We will offer some of the classes and cocurricular activities and pilots of the BU Cross-College Challenge that current students may take on an elective basis. They will be able to participate, they will get credit, but those courses won’t be required. Their degree requirements will not be affected at all.

How are you preparing for the Cross-College Challenge?

Schulman: What we’ve decided to do is to pilot it and to pilot it in various different forms. What the Cross-College Challenge satellite committee is doing is to design those pilot programs. A limited number of teams will try it in a variety of different ways, and we’ll see what works.

It’s a lot of moving parts to bring together.

Schulman: I assume that there will be problems we don’t anticipate. That’s one reason we will be piloting parts of the program and asking students and faculty for their feedback. As we launch the program, we’ll be watching closely to see how it’s working and we’ll will need to be prepared to make adjustments.

Loizeaux: That’s in part where the assessment plan that we will develop will come into play. One of the things we’ve said constantly—this is Bruce’s line—is that this may be BU’s first general education plan, but it certainly won’t be the last.

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Joel Brown, writer, BU Today at Boston University
Joel Brown

Joel Brown can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.

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