Council pushes for removal of ‘G’ from GenEd classes

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to many JMU students to overhear another student in the library complain about their workload in a class described as “just a GenEd.” Classes with the scarlet letter “G” sometimes have a bad reputation among those who would rather use that library time and energy on classes pertaining to their major.


The General Education Council has recently been discussing ways to change this attitude toward the core requirements and bring a second life to the curriculum by removing the “G” before the title of GenEd courses.

“It’s been obvious to students, faculty and administrators alike, that there is a sort of negative stigma to GenEds,” Jonathan Walker said. Walker is the Faculty Senate representative on the General Education Council.

Often, Walker said students treat GenEds as “something they shouldn’t have to take, that they should just be focusing on their major programs, or that because they are a GenEd they should be easier.”

The GenEd Council is a team made up of administrators, faculty and student representatives who come together to discuss ideas pertaining to the GenEd curriculum. They are in charge of curricular changes within the program, the language of requirements and the goals and objectives of certain clusters.

When Walker brought the discussion to the Faculty Senate to ask if they had any strong opinions about the removal of the ‘G,’ he received some feedback, but they decided not to handle the issue.

“We took a straw poll vote, and a strong majority of the Senate voted not to take up the issue, but just to leave it to the GenEd Council,” David McGraw, speaker of the Faculty Senate, said.

The final decision is now left to the GenEd Council. It is still in the midst of discussion, but if they decide to go through with it, the change would not happen before the fall of 2015.

“I think the pros and cons are that on the negative side, some people feel like the ‘G’ sort of stigmatizes those courses and makes people perceive them as something that should be easier or less serious or something like that,” McGraw said, “But I think the positive side is it’s real quick and easy to tell what’s a GenEd class.”

The council has spent the past few years providing polls and questionnaires to gather data on how students and professors feel about the matter.

“That’s how we know there’s some negativity toward the idea of GenEds,” Walker said. He explained that getting rid of that designation may have a psychological impact on the way students, faculty and even transcript reviewers look at GenEd classes.

The “G” label could lead students and graduate schools alike to make the assumption the class has less value than one without the “G.”

“Increasingly, graduate schools are looking at the ‘G’ in front of courses and wondering what it is, asking ‘what is ‘GGEOG’’ and if it’s a lesser course than a geography class, when in fact it is not,” Walker said.

Yet Kayleigh Cheripka, a junior communication sciences and disorders major who will eventually be applying to graduate school, would prefer that the “G” stays put, so that while she’s applying to get a master’s in speech language pathology the admission council can differentiate between the types of classes she took.

“I want grad schools’ admissions to see that it was a general education class … that it has no reflection on what I know about CSD-related information … they should understand I didn’t take it because I wanted to, but because it’s part of the curriculum,” Cheripka said.

Alana Pollack, a freshman health sciences major, agrees that there should be a differentiation between GenEd, major and elective classes.

“Taking away then ‘G’ would just confuse people,” Pollack said. “First, because if it was just ‘COM’ instead of ‘GCOM’ it would seem like a whole other major that you’re in. And also, [having the ‘G’ there] puts less stress on freshmen. If I came into school taking communications, physics, calc and ISAT, it would be a lot more intimidating for me.”

Some people might not take GenEd courses as seriously as their major classes but it isn’t necessarily because of their titles.

“My major classes were definitely harder,” Pollack said. “But it’s not because they aren’t part of general education. I took them more seriously because it’s something that I want to do.”

Although students like Pollack may complain that a certain GenEd course doesn’t relate to what they want to do with their future, Walker counters that that is not the point of the GenEd requirements.

“If you look at the mission statement for the university, you’re supposed to be leading fulfilling and productive lives, so what we’re doing is creating educated people,” Walker said. “That education isn’t just a technical vocational skill, but education in a very large sense … As a degree holder, as an educated person, that’s what society expects. And that’s what we expect, as well.”

On the other side of the conversation, some students agree that GenEd courses should have a better reputation.

“I’ve learned some important lessons from my GenEds,” said Cate Jensen, a senior writing, retoric and technical communication major who is interested in the idea of dropping the “G.” “GWRTC was the reason I ended up picking my major, so in my case GenEds weren’t for nothing.”

Jensen doesn’t think that GenEd courses get the credit they deserve. “When students hear a “G” in front of a class name it’s automatically distinguished from other types of classes … no matter how vital the class is for your education here at JMU.”

Dropping the “G” isn’t just a change to repair students’ attitudes, it’s also important on the faculty side. Some faculty have expressed that they don’t want to be referred to as a GenEd teacher.

“Even the faculty can put a negative connotation with teaching a GenEd,” Walker said.

Erasing the “G” would hopefully remove negativity both from the faculty side and the student side.

The GenEd Council is working to reach a conclusion on the matter, but there are a lot of steps that would follow up if they go through with it.

The process includes making adjustments within the system and notifying all of the community colleges in the state so that they know the change is happening.

“If they decide to drop the ‘G’ the entire JMU catalogue will have to be changed, it also has a lot to do with making sure every course is able to be found [and updated so that it all makes sense in the catalogue], and then with the [Virginia Community College System] and other universities in the state,” Walker said.

The GenEd Council also would need to determine where the cutoff point would be for students who have already taken classes with that indicative ‘G’ and how it will be reflected on students’ transcripts.

Overall, the initiative has a lot of potential, as Walker said, “The idea is to take away a negative stereotype that goes with it. Our hope is that more will be recognized for the quality of the course, rather than the manicure of ‘just a GenEd.”’

Contact Stephanie Gross at grosssb@dukes.jmu.edu.

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