BU Today

Campus Life

Innovative University-Wide General Education Program Proposed

BU Hub, Cross-College Challenge, would begin with 2017 freshmen


BU’s undergraduate education would be transformed by a newly proposed University-Wide General Education Program. The proposal calls for BU undergraduates to develop core skills, knowledge, and habits of mind through both course work and cocurricular programs that will prepare them to succeed. Called the BU Hub, the proposal is the work of a 14-member faculty task force that solicited input from hundreds of members of the University community in dozens of meetings over the past 15 months.

Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer, says the new program has the potential to “make a Boston University undergraduate education uniquely valuable. The combination of this innovative general education program with the high-quality programs in which students both major and minor will make BU an excellent place for talented, ambitious students.”

One fundamental change is the inclusion of the Cross-College Challenge, a collaborative project by students from different colleges that will address “contemporary issues or enduring human questions” by producing “a tangible product,” ranging from a written work to a circuit board to a work of art. Other parts of the program will involve new classes and cocurricular programs and will first apply to freshmen entering in fall 2017.

“The Cross-College Challenge is extremely ambitious,” says Morrison. “But it is something that virtually every constituent group the task force consulted, from our students to future employers to faculty, asked for. Our students need more experience working in groups and working on teams where team members have completely different experiences and skills. This would be a unique and really significant experience that will distinguish our graduates as being particularly well prepared for a whole range of 21st-century engagements.”

Task force cochair Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English, says the new program will enable us “to go forward and say, this is what BU understands to be its core. It says who we are at BU.”

In the next step, the proposal, which is posted online, will be considered by the University Council—the University’s faculty governing body—for approval. If the University Council approves the proposal, a separate task force will be established to implement the program over four years, beginning with the fall 2017 incoming freshmen. Current students would not be affected.

General Education is the common core required of undergraduates in all academic programs. It includes a minimum of 40 credits of course work, and is required for University accreditation. Currently, each of the 10 BU undergraduate schools and colleges has its own general education program, and all of them would be replaced by the University-wide BU Hub.

Elizabeth Loizeaux and Bruce Schulman

Elizabeth Loizeaux, associate provost for undergraduate affairs and a CAS professor of English, cochair of the General Education task force with Bruce Schulman, William E. Huntington Professor of History. Loizeaux photo by Vernon Doucette. Schulman photo by Kalman Zabarsky

The task force report notes that the BU Hub is intended to “encapsulate an approach to education designed to equip students to engage with complexity, diversity, change, and with enduring features of human cultures.” It is based on a set of core capacities—“areas of knowledge, skills, and habits of mind”—to be acquired by BU graduates, equipping them to thrive personally, professionally, and as citizens.

Core capacities are: philosophical, aesthetic, and historical interpretation; scientific and social inquiry; quantitative reasoning; diversity, civic engagement, and global citizenship; written, oral, and multimedia communication; and an intellectual toolkit that includes critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.

The proposed toolkit encompasses life-skills education, as requested by many students and some parents—likely a course for freshmen in campus life and academic skills and one for seniors in outside world skills, such as interview techniques and personal finance.

Because the task force members agreed that a one-size-fits-all plan would not suit the distinctive character and history of the University, students will influence the charting of their own paths. Among the possible pathways would be new and existing classes, internships, research projects, and student affairs programming, as well as faculty-led cocurricular activities and engagement with Boston cultural institutions.

“It’s a really substantial change, but it’s also a way for the University to put a stamp on what we are and what we think is essential,” says task force cochair Bruce Schulman, William E. Huntington Professor of History. “It will give people on the faculty an opportunity to do new types of teaching, which in many cases they want to do. It will give students a variety of different kinds of courses and experiences outside the classroom that will immerse them in the city of Boston and other kinds of communities as well.”

Because current University bylaws and the University Council Constitution do not address governance of undergraduate academic programs that span schools and colleges, the Board of Trustees and the University Council are considering appropriate amendments. The proposal will be considered by the standing University Council Committee on Undergraduate Academic Programs and Policies this month and by the full University Council in April and May.

If it passes both, Morrison says, she will appoint a task force of faculty and staff to implement it. “There’s a tremendous amount of work to do if the proposal is approved,” she says. “We will be calling on faculty and staff of all the schools and colleges to help with the effort of thinking through what is the best process for implementing the new general education program.”

“It’s a tall order,” Loizeaux says, “but it’s important to remember that we’ve conceived of General Education as something that happens over a student’s four years, so this will be a four-year rollout.”

Joel Brown, Staff Writer for BU Today, Bostonia and BU Today Marketing & Communications
Joel Brown

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

20 Comments on Innovative University-Wide General Education Program Proposed

  • Student Curriculum Committee on 03.14.2016 at 7:40 am

    We would like to know when these meetings of the governing bodies addressed above will be taking place.



  • Logic Rules on 03.14.2016 at 8:20 am

    It sounds like something to keep the self-serving academicians busy. The bottom line: will produce a more competent graduate? The first students, who are subjected to this change will be subjects, for something that is untested and unproven.

    • Another Person on 03.14.2016 at 12:55 pm

      I would like to express that I wholeheartedly agree with what Logic Rules has posted. This article seems to believe that just because changing the general education requirements students are required to take naturally results in changing everything about the students taking them. Students are coming to learn, and are expected to bring the motivation with them. All this program does is make the students who know what they want waste more time on classes with no relevance to their pursuits.

      • Person 3 on 03.14.2016 at 3:15 pm

        Well said! The Gen Ed program each school has in effect now is channeled at what students in those schools are studying. There is no reason that a student studying in CFA should have to waste their time taking classes similar to those in SMG, and vice versa. This will especially be detrimental to undeclared students who already have enough on their plate trying to figure out what to study, without having to worry about4 years of Gen Eds taking up time they could spend taking courses they may actually be interested in that coul help them determine their major.

      • Logic Rules on 03.15.2016 at 7:47 am

        Thanks Another Person. I received a BS more than 40 years ago and a Ph.D. more than 30 years ago….I have seen many students flustered because of their wasted time and money taking classes for the exact reason you’ve quoted “no relevance to their pursuits”. What I learned in some classes that I took as a MA and Ph.D. student, should have been offered to me as an undergrad. This “General Education” is similar to what colleges touted as a “Liberal Arts” core in essence that it ensures that students takes courses in areas that the institution needs more student enrollment. Academicians are often self-serving. I really have embraced this university but often I seen the administration as being in their unique little microcosm that does not mimic the real world. After my Ph.D. and postdoc, I was a tenured faculty member, in addition to having worked in the private sector. I challenge any provost or administrator to debate me on these issues. (Who knows if they even read or will react to this POV.) Don’t waste the students’ time and money on something that is an experiment!

    • Nathan on 03.14.2016 at 1:08 pm

      Some people are threatened by change and improvement. Some people embrace improvement.

      When it comes down to it, the students won’t see it as change, although they may have a more positive experience. The parents won’t see it as change, although their children may have a more positive experience.

      Some faculty and staff will put out work because they believe in the potential for improvement.

      Most of the rest of us will be unaffected.

      – –

      I for one support General Ed planned by one group instead of planned by many separate groups alongside planning within their specialties. A group of professors invested in General Ed will almost certainly do better than many different groups of professors more focused on planning and teaching within their specialty.

      • Smarter Child on 03.14.2016 at 2:51 pm

        Well said!

      • Zachary W Bos on 03.14.2016 at 3:04 pm

        “When it comes down to it, the students won’t see it as change, although they may have a more positive experience.”

        I think you may be right there. Can I ask, Nathan, are you a student, alumnus?

      • Yet Another Person on 03.14.2016 at 3:49 pm

        I am concerned about the programs that General Ed will make redundant — the Core programs in CAS and SMG, and the College of General Studies in particular. Will they continue to fulfill requirements, or will they be rendered useless and no longer be funded due to lack of interest? These are important and beneficial programs, and it would be a shame to lose them.

  • Alina Chenausky on 03.14.2016 at 3:35 pm

    As a current BU student, I think this is an absolutely terrible idea. All the classmates I have talked to have agreed with me when I say a general education requirement would completely ruin the appeal of this school. I thought this school was a school that moved beyond trying to force students into taking irrelevant and completely pointless classes. As an engineering student specifically, I would much rather spend my time taking classes to enhance my future career, like I am with the engineering general education requirements currently in place, then be forced to take irrelevant classes that potentially inhibit my ability to get an actual engineering job in the future. Instead of filling my schedule with important engineering concepts like computer programming or product development, I would then be filling my time with more general education classes which supply no real benefit to my professional development. If I wanted to be at a school that gave me little to no professional development courses I would repeat high school. I’m in the college of engineering for a reason; to become an engineer. And I, along with many many others, would not be pleased with this new program.

    • AM on 03.14.2016 at 4:44 pm

      The opposite would actually be true. Employers across industries want students coming out of BA/BS programs to have a breadth of background. It teaches you to think in ways you are not used to thinking. Courses in the social sciences and humanities make you a better engineer. In fact, there are many papers available for free download from the American Society for Engineering Education that support adding more writing, communication, and other liberal arts into the undergraduate degree. http://www.asee.org/search?q=humanities

    • ENG Senior on 03.15.2016 at 10:36 am

      As an engineering student, you already do face general education requirements very similar to the ones this new program proposes: 1 social science, 1 humanity, 1 social science or humanity, Writing 100/150, and a general education elective that must be from a college outside engineering. The same “irrelevant” courses.

      If the idea of this Cross-College Challenge sounds offensive and alien to you, I’d say you should revisit the idea of the Societal Engineer. The entire mission of ENG is to output competent engineers who are great at groupwork, communicate effectively, and understand the world well enough to be able to put any problem into context.

    • Logic Rules on 03.16.2016 at 7:25 am

      Alina, You are correct. This general education requirement is a scheme. it is unproven. it has not been tested or proven to be successful. It is an experiment that students will be used as “test subjects”.

  • Student on 03.14.2016 at 9:34 pm

    BU is a liberal arts university. This isn’t changing anything, it is just unifying what each school already requires. If students don’t want a liberal arts education, they chose the wrong place to study. It’s about time the classes became unified if they are all so similar. However, I hope that doesn’t diminish the choices available to students. Unifying should not mean taking away options.

    On another note, I hope early decision students were given an option to opt out! Can’t change the rules in the middle of prime application/acceptance season.

    • Fact Check on 03.15.2016 at 10:45 am

      BU is a research university, not a “liberal arts” university. We do contain a liberal arts college (CAS), but we are clearly not an entire university dedicated to liberal arts.

      • Student on 03.15.2016 at 4:51 pm

        Yes, but it is clearly stated to be a proponent of liberal arts. People’s reaction of shock that BU is not purely a technical/trade school is unreasonable. Per the mission statement,

        “Boston University comprises a remarkable range of undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs built on a strong foundation of the liberal arts and sciences.”

      • Logic Rules on 03.16.2016 at 7:27 am

        According to bu.edu Boston University is a leading private research institution

        • Student on 03.18.2016 at 9:11 pm

          Please read above. I know it’s a leading research institution but what’s also in the same mission statement is their dedication to a strong foundation of liberal arts. If you sign up for BU, you know you will be learning with a liberal arts component. Should not come as a surprise that BU is implementing this program.

  • An Evergreen Student who Prefers Anonymity on 03.15.2016 at 1:12 am

    As an elderly man, who is not likely to be affected by any decision, I am both saddened and appalled by the many negative comments to this promising proposal regarding general education.
    First, this idea is hardly new: it goes back at least to 1919 when Columbia College introduced the practice. Since I have never studied the history of education, I may be unaware of even earlier precedents. Similarly, the idea of learning to work in groups goes back at least one hundred years to the work of John Dewey and Abraham Flexner and was put into experimental practice at a high school connected with Teachers College of Columbia University. I attended both that high school and Columbia College. Not even for one moment have I regretted the general education that I was privileged to receive, even though it had little or nothing to do with my chosen profession. On the contrary, I feel that that was the most valuable part of my education.
    Already two hundred years ago, the historian and poet, Friedrich Schiller deplored the existence of so many Brotgelehrten [literally “bread scholars,” referring to those university students and graduates who were only interested in learning useful to their narrow careers – See Ziolkowski, T.: “German Romanticism and Its Institutions.” Princeton University Press, 1990. P.239]
    From an economic perspective [Economics being one of the subjects I have studied at BU], using one program for all ten schools promises an economy of scale that might be useful in holding down tuition costs.
    From another perspective, the very high tuition costs and the burdensome debts with which current students are forced to graduate do make comprehensible the interest of many students to get on with their careers as quickly as possible. I had the good fortune to live in a time when even students of very modest means could graduate from college and professional schools with no debts, except debts of honor [i.e. scholarships] and when education still could be regarded as part of a human being’s personal development, rather than as now, when even many educators speak in terms of capital investment in an individual and stress the increased earning capacity of college graduates.

  • Jose Artigas on 03.25.2016 at 5:01 pm

    Schiller is great — a most humane thinker & person. Thanks to Evergreen for adding some valuable historical perspective.

Post Your Comment

(never shown)