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The Kihlstrom Report, 

A Committee Report on Undergraduate Education


DATE: June 1, 1994

TO: Provost Paul Sypherd

FROM: John F. Kihlstrom, Chair

RE: General Education at The University of Arizona

In your memorandum of November 8, 1993, you convened this ad-hoc committee to (1) evaluate the current situation with respect to general education at the University of Arizona, and (2) consider the prospects for a University-wide program in general education.

As we understand it, the need for such a Committee arose because undergraduates are admitted to several different Colleges, Schools, and Faculties within the University (hereafter referred to collectively as "Colleges"), each of which has its own general education requirements. These requirements vary widely both with respect to required credit hours and specific course content. For example, for the BA or BS degree, the College of Arts and Sciences requires, a total of 35 units across four different study areas, plus attainment of fourth-semester proficiency in a foreign language; by contrast, for the BS degree the College of Agriculture typically requires 49 units across nine different areas, with no foreign-language requirement.

In large part, these differences reflect the different missions of the various undergraduate Colleges within the University, and the different academic and vocational orientations of their undergraduates. And to some extent, this diversity is inevitable, and perhaps even desirable, in a large, public land-grant institution such as ours.

At the same time, however, it is clear that this situation does not necessarily work to the advantage of students, many of whom enter the University with unclear educational and vocational goals or revise these goals at some point after matriculation. For example, students who wish to transfer from one College to another may discover that courses taken to fulfill the general requirements of one unit may not count toward the general education requirements of another. A similar fate awaits students who take courses that fulfill the general education requirements of a particular unit outside the College of Arts and Sciences, but who fail to gain admission to that unit. Such students, and they are not uncommon, can experience serious setbacks in their academic careers, prolonging their time to graduation. It is the Committee's view that students should not be penalized with respect to their general education whenever they discover new interests or talents, and thereby change their areas of specialization.

Aside from such practical matters, however, it is not altogether clear that general education requirements should, in fact, differ according to the student's chosen areas of academic specialization. With few exceptions, American higher education is characterized by a balance between generalism and specialism, with the former serving as a kind of counterweight to the latter. General Education gives students a broad intellectual base from which they can view their academic and vocational specialties, and it affords students and faculty across all the University's divisions a sense of common purpose in learning. Precisely because general education is supposed to be general, it seems odd, if not paradoxical, when general education requirements vary depending on the student's area of specialization.

With these considerations in mind, the ad-hoc committee on a University General Education Program presents for your consideration the following conclusions and recommendations. I wish to note, however, that the Committee members are not unanimous on all the points which follow. Moreover, our deliberation of these issues was hampered by the inability of the Committee to meet as a whole at any time during the last semester: too many members, including myself, simply had too many other commitments - - a common problem at the University these days. Where I speak of "the Committee" below, you should understand that I am referring to a majority of its members. For your information, I have appended to this report additional memoranda from individual committee members who wish to record their particular viewpoint.




  1. The Committee agrees that general education is an essential component of the undergraduate experience, and should be part of the undergraduate curriculum in every College of the University.


  2. The Committee has considered whether general education could be provided best by a core curriculum, in which all students have a small set of courses in common that are expressly designed to meet the goals of the program. We have decided that this is simply unworkable in the environment of a large, public, land-grand university. While a core curriculum may be possible in a small liberal arts college, general education at Arizona can best be accomplished through a framework of selected courses within particular study areas.


  3. The Committee has also considered whether all Colleges offering undergraduate instruction should share a single general education distribution requirement in common. There are actually two questions here, one pertaining to particular study areas, and the other pertaining to specific credit requirements. It is one thing to say that general education should over particular topics, regardless of the College in which the student is enrolled, and quite another to mandate specific credit requirements within each of these areas.

      A. The Committee believes that it is desirable, and possible to establish a single framework of basic proficiencies and study areas, held in common by all the undergraduate Colleges.

      B. At the same time, the Committee does not believe it is desirable to mandate specific credit requirements within each of these areas, Because our students arrive with a wide variety of academic interests and vocational aspirations, and they select their undergraduate College accordingly, the precise distribution of courses within this general framework is best determined by the individual Colleges.


  4. At the University of Arizona, general education has two components: basic proficiencies and general education study areas. The basic proficiencies component of general education seeks to insure that every undergraduate is equipped with a set of fundamental college-level skills, in English language and mathematics. The study areas equip students with a common foundation for intellectual dialogue with their peers and other members of the University community, and set the stage for a lifetime of post-baccalaureate learning and citizenship in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing world. They provide students with the opportunity to discover aspects of human concerns, interests, and endeavors, beyond the range of their previous exposure and current vocational interests; and to learn how various academic disciplines define, acquire, and organize knowledge. Furthermore, the study areas complement the basic proficiencies by enabling students to sharpen their skills of critical analysis and expository writing within particular intellectual contexts.


  5. Individual Colleges also have a responsibility to insure, through continued exercise, that the student is skilled in analysis and exposition. Colleges should consider whether the skills required by their majors warrant offerings of special advanced courses for general education that take advantage of these skills.




  1. With respect to basic proficiencies in English language and mathematics, the Committee understands that these requirements are currently under review by the responsible departments, and does not wish to interfere with their work. However, we do have some suggestions about the mechanics by which these requirements are advertised and met.

      A. In addition to English language and mathematics, consideration should be given to the means by which all students can acquire basic computer literacy.

      B. Students should be advised at the time of matriculation that the various Colleges, and the various Departments within them, have different expectations with regard to proficiency in both English language and mathematics. Students who transfer between Colleges may be required to take additional courses in these areas in order to fulfill the requirements of their new majors. Students should bear in mind the requirements of their propective majors, especially with respect to mathematics when choosing the manner in which they will meet the basic proficiency requirements of general education.

      C. In order to facilitate student planning, every instructional unit should specify clearly, in the General Catalog, what its minimum expectations are with respect to basic proficiencies in English language and mathematics.

      D. The Committee supports the University's recent efforts to upgrade the standards for admission. In particular, the Committee believes that students should not be allowed to matriculate at the University with deficiencies in either English language or mathematics. General education courses will assume that students already perform at a level corresponding to the University entrance requirements.




  1. By and large, the general education study areas consist of courses in the fine arts, humanities, natural sciences and technology, and social sciences. However, the goals of general education cannot be served by random selection of courses distributed across these areas. Rather, general-education credit should be allowed only for those courses, whether lower-or-upper-division, that are specifically designed to address one of the following goals. Ideally, we believe that every candidate for the bachelor's degree would benefit by taking coursework on each of the following topics.

      A. the history and accomplishments of Western civilization, including the reciprocal influences between Western and non-Western culture, and the influence of technology on culture;

      B. cultural differences, as afforded by the study of some aspect of non- Western cultural traditions (sometimes called "world culture");

      C. how the natural world works, and the role that technology and computational science plays in the fabricated world;

      D. social structures and processes, including the reciprocal relations between individuals and the groups, societies, and institutions of which they are a part.

      E. the process of literary composition, whether in drama, fiction, or poetry, and the means by which literary works are evaluated and;

      F. the process of artistic expression, whether in architecture, dance, music, painting, sculpture, or theater, and the means by which artistic works are evaluated.


  2. Special concern attaches to general education in science and technology. Although introductory (foundational) courses intended for prospective majors (or for the many other professionals that require similar technical preparation) can serve the purposes of the general education study areas in science and technology, the Committee believes that they are not the only means to this end. Rather, Colleges should be encouraged to devise new course offerings, independent of introductory sequences designed for majors, that are expressly designed to meet the non-technical needs of general education in science.

      A. Although traditional laboratory instruction is a vital part of the introductory sequence designed for science majors, we are not convinced that it is critical for general education. Rather, we encourage Colleges to consider alternate means of insuring that students have practical experience with systematic observation of the world around them, and with the collection and analysis of empirical data, within the confines of the standard lecture course.

      B. If laboratory instruction is required as part of the natural science component, concurrent registration should be required in the corresponding lecture course. At present, students are now permitted to take the lecture and laboratory components of introductory science courses in separate semesters, and even in separate academic years. Such fragmentation of coursework cannot be in the best of educational interests of the students.


  3. As the United States moves into the 21st century, international and multicultural understanding increases in importance. Students should be encouraged to take at least one course which focuses on these issues, or the related topics of gender, race, social class, or ethnicity.


  4. Similarly, issues of ethics cut across all areas of contemporary life, including personal relationships, business, politics, science and technology, and culture. Although, given limitations of current course offering, it does not seem feasible to require all students to have a formal course in ethical decision- making, courses in the liberal-arts that provide detailed treatment of ethics should be specially identified, and appropriate new courses should be developed.


  5. At present, several Colleges require students to demonstrate proficiency in a second language at the level of the fourth semester of college instruction. The Committee affirms that second-language proficiency is a valuable component of undergraduate education, especially in view of the increasing concern for multicultural and international studies, but it does not seek to impose any second-language requirement across the board. Rather, it leaves the matter of second-language proficiency to the discretion of individual Colleges -- or, if a particular College does not have such a policy, to the individual departments. We recommend that each instructional unit be given the freedom to determine the second-language requirement appropriate for its own students.

      A. Some Colleges may determine that students should acquire more then fourth-semester proficiency in a particular language, while others may find it desirable to require their students to acquire more limited proficiency in two or more different languages.

      B. Some Colleges may determine that the second-language skills appropriate for their students may be achieved by intensive, short-term coursework that provides the student with a working knowledge of a second language, but does not yield proficiency at the fourth-semester level.

      C. Some Colleges may determine that it is not necessary for their majors to have second-language proficiency at all.

      D. As with basic-level proficiencies in English language and mathematics, it is our view that mastery of a second language should be achieved in elementary and secondary school, before students matriculate at the University. This would allow faculty in the various departments of language and literature to focus their resources on advanced, college- level instruction in foreign languages, linguistics, and literature.

      E. As with basic-level proficiencies in English language and mathematics, students should be advised at the time of matriculation that the second- language requirements of the various Colleges (and, perhaps, departments within a College as well) may differ, and that a switch in majors may require a student to take additional second-language instruction.




  1. Undergraduate interests and aspirations are subject to change. The University has an obligation to provide students with maximum flexibility if they should choose to transfer from one College to another. Although each College has the right to set its own general education requirements, within the framework described above, a course which fulfills a particular requirement in one College should also fulfill that same requirement in any other College. Each College should review its general education requirements, and reconcile them with the framework described above.


  2. If our recommendations are accepted, a single set of courses will be established that meet the University-wide general education requirements in the basic proficiencies and study areas described above. A University-wide standing Committee on Undergraduate General Education should be convened to develop a list of current courses that meet these requirements, and review the eligibility of new courses as they are proposed. This committee should have broad-based representation from all Colleges that offer bachelor's degree. It should be constituted in consultation with the Committee on Committees of the Faculty Senate and the Faculty Senate Committee on Undergraduate Education. It should report to the Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Education.
  3. The University-wide general education program should be announced at the beginning of the General Catalog, before the descriptions of programs of studies in the various Colleges offering the bachelor's degree. This announcement should include a list of all courses currently meeting each of the general education requirements.
  4. Responsibility for providing general education should not be devolve solely on faculties and departments within the College of Arts and Sciences. Each undergraduate College in the University has a responsibility to contribute to general education. Colleges outside the College of Arts and Sciences should be encouraged to offer general education courses that are accessible to all lower-division students, regardless of College affiliation.
  5. If the University is to require general education of all undergraduate students, it should also provide funding sufficient to enable Colleges to meet this requirement. No mandates should go unfunded. The Administration should insure that each College and Department receives funding sufficient to enable that unit to meet its responsibilities to general education.


For those students whose baccalaureate degree is intended as an entrance to a technical profession, the pressures for balance between specialist education and technical education are acute. There is a severe competition to enter graduate schools in some of these areas that also places considerable pressure on the students and departments to increase their specialist education at the expense of general education. In order to make students and their professional careers economically competitive, colleges and faculties need to keep the graduation unit requirements constant, putting fewer units into general education, and more into specialist education. The proposed new framework for General Education at the University of Arizona provides a reasonable basis for achieving a balance, but only if certain options and lacks are understood.

First, there may be a need to deal with some aspects of general education either in a compressed form, or not al all. The college that so desires would then be in position of requiring NO units of general education in such an area, but possibly INSTEAD requiring a specific course or courses as part of SPECIALIST education. That faculty would itself need to take responsibility for such an offering.

Secondly, while it will in general be easy to transfer out of a specialist degree into a more general program, the reverse will not be true, and for many specialist degrees, entry to university is too late to make such a career decision, particularly if the new career requires an extensive mathematics and science background. On the other hand, switching between programs with similar high school requirements may be possible with at most one year lost, particularly if the colleges coordinate the freshman years of their programs.

For this reason it is suggested that the Colleges of Engineering and Mines, Architecture, Science and Agriculture (for microbiology and biochemistry programs) could usefully get together, to develop a coordinated strategy for:


1) Making students in one area aware of the career options and associated requirements through the other technically oriented colleges.

2) Offering beginning students lectures in which to meet professors of, and to explore options in the other professional technical disciplines.

3) Developing a coordinated approach towards the academic program and student counselling.

There would seem to be a need for strong freshman course emphasis on satisfying technical requirements, and delaying most general education until satisfactory outcome in the lower level technical courses assures the student that he/she has made a reasonable career choice.

N. Woolf Faculty of Science


In recognition of the increasing diversity of American culture, students in the College of Arts and Science are required to take at least one study area course which focuses systemically on gender, race, class and ethnicity. Courses which meet this requirement are specifically designated by the College's General Education Committee. According to the criteria currently employed, courses which meet this requirement should involve at least two, and whenever possible all three, of the following elements:


1. Materials studied in courses identified as meeting this requirement should contain explicit representation of gender or sexual orientation, race, social class, or ethnic grouping.

2. Courses identified as meeting this requirement should systemically employ gender, race, social class, or ethnicity as analytical categories.

3. A substantial quantity of materials employed in courses identified as meeting this requirement should be generated or interpreted by members of the targeted group or groups.

B. Zweig Humanities Program