General Education Task Force - Humanities - Institutional National Setting


A liberal education is “an education conducted in a spirit of free inquiry undertaken without concern for topical relevance or vocational utility. This kind of learning is not only one of the enrichments of existence; it is one of the achievements of civilization. It heightens students’ awareness of the human and natural worlds they inhabit. It makes them more reflective about their beliefs and choices, more self-conscious and critical of their presuppositions and motivations, more creative in their problem-solving, more perceptive of the world around them, and more able to inform themselves about the issues that arise in their lives, personally, professionally, and socially. (Report of the Task Force on General Education, Harvard University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 2007, p. 1)

Institutional and National Setting

The impetus for the formation of the task force was the Report of the Task Force on Undergraduate Education.  Two dissatisfactions with the current general education requirements in particular motivated a reexamination. The first is that the current general education requirement does not provide students at the University of Florida with any common educational experience. The second is that many students satisfy a significant number general education credit hours before enrolling at the University of Florida, either in high school or at community colleges, and in consequence miss out on an important component of what should be the shared experience of education at the University of Florida.

At the same time, nationally many universities are emphasizing the importance of a first year experience, the importance of providing a common educational experience for students, and the importance of a liberal education.  Examples of programs that address these in various ways are UNC’s first year seminars, the University of Michigan’s LSA Theme Semesters, and UC Berkeley’s American Cultures Requirement, UC Irvine’s Humanities Core Course, and Columbia University’s Core Curriculum.  In 2005, the Association of American Colleges and Universities launched a decade-long initiative, Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP).  The 2009 report of the National Council on Liberal Education and America’s Promise, College Learning for the New Global Century, identifies the following key goals of a college or university education: knowledge of human cultures and the physical and natural world, with a focus on “engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring”; intellectual and practical skills including inquiry and analysis, critical and creative thinking, written and oral communication; personal and social responsibility, including civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural knowledge and competence, ethical reasoning and action, and foundations and skills for lifelong learning; and integrative learning across general and specialized studies.   The NEH has recently instituted a grant program to “foster intellectual community through the study of an enduring question” that will “encourage undergraduate students … to grapple with a fundamental question addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.”