Chancellor Defends Curriculum Changes

In a guest column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, University of Arkansas Chancellor G. David Gearhart answered criticisms of proposed changes to the curriculum in the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. The column, which appeared in the Sunday, May 23, statewide edition of the Democrat-Gazette, responded to charges made in an earlier column by Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

In his column the chancellor said that “no one at the University of Arkansas is ‘dumbing down’ the curriculum” and he set out to correct “inaccuracies and misconceptions” in Neal’s column. The first of these was her assertion that the curriculum changes were the result of legislative Act 182 of 2009.

“While this played a small part in expediting the review, the truth of the matter is that we have not had a core curriculum review in over 50 years,” Gearhart wrote. “The current core of 66 credits in the university’s J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences is much higher than many of our peer institutions…. The reality is that we were long past due to make a review. In fact, faculty in the Fulbright College started the review process two years ago. A committee was appointed at that time and preliminary recommendations were made.”

The chancellor explained that Fulbright College faculty members have been given the responsibility and authority to make the curriculum changes.

“This empowers faculty to determine best how their departments meet the needs of today’s students as they prepare them to join the workforce and become lifelong learners. This is the best way to get maximum input from the faculty without compromising quality or adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to curriculum development.”

Rather than watering down foreign language requirements, as critics claim, Gearhart pointed out that “almost every department is adopting language requirements as part of their respective majors…. In so doing, they’re creating a stronger, more relevant curriculum that better serves the needs of transfer students as well as incoming freshmen. In fact, it is entirely possible that some departments will adopt more stringent requirements than those previously in place.”

The chancellor also put Neal’s column in context. He said her group rates 125 universities and colleges based on its definition of a “necessary” college curriculum.

“In years past the Council has awarded the University of Arkansas a grade of ‘A.’ Out of the 125 institutions they ranked, only seven others received a grade of ‘A’…. But they also issued less favorable letter grades of ‘D’ and ‘F’ to the following institutions: Vanderbilt, Harvard, University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Virginia. In light of Ms. Neal’s column, it appears we are now in danger of joining the ranks of these institutions.

If so, we are prepared to be judged by the company we keep.”


Steve Voorhies, manager, media relations
University Relations


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