In Wake of GIR Defeat, Back to Drawing Board

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: Because of an editing error, an article in Friday's issue about changes to the General Institute Requirements incorrectly stated that faculty voted on changing the GIRs "last week." They actually voted two weeks before the article's publication — on Feb. 4.

President Susan J. Hockfield announced at the faculty meeting on Wednesday that the motion to revise the General Institute Requirements had been defeated, eliminating any lingering uncertainties among faculty about whether the motion had passed by the required margin. Now, faculty and administrators have gone back to the drawing board to craft an improved plan for amending the GIRs.

Faculty voted on changing the GIRs last week and the plan won a simple majority vote. However, a three-fifths majority would have been necessary to make the changes to the rules and regulations of the faculty that some parts of the motion required.

The ad hoc committee that designed the plan to reform the GIRs, the Educational Commons Subcommittee of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, has disbanded. Future discussions and efforts to revise the GIRs, some of which may be based on the subcommittee’s ideas, will be handled directly by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program.

Changes that the motion would have brought forth included the elimination of the HASS-D system and development of new variations on the required science core subjects, as well as the introduction pilot versions of broad-themed humanities courses geared toward freshmen and a class focused on “elements of design.”

The committee is still discussing how best to move forward, said its chair, Professor Steven Hall.

Professor Robert P. Redwine, one of the co-chairs of the dissolved subcommittee, explained the decision not to move forward with any parts of the motion, even though some of its parts could have been implemented without changing the faculty rules: “We always saw it as a coherent, connected package,” he said.

Still, he said, “That doesn’t mean one can’t go forward in various ways with pieces, if not all, of what was discussed.”

Some parts of the original motion; such as the elimination of HASS-D and its replacement with a simpler Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences distribution; received broad support. But, the provision to develop new themed courses satisfying the science and math required subjects as well as the provision to a create an interdepartmental committee-based system to govern these subjects attracted controversy, especially in the School of Science.

Redwine said of this controversy, “In many ways, the most worrisome fact was not that [the motion] lost by a small majority but that the vote was close and with changes of this sort, you’d like to see a strong majority.” He said that the vote had been split “significantly” along school lines.

The defeated motion and disbanded committee represent the second time since 2003 plans to reform the GIRs have been developed but have failed to be approved for implementation. Between 2003 and 2006, a Presidential Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons created a plan that would have changed the GIRs more drastically than the recent motion would have. After the Task Force’s plan failed to reach a faculty vote, the Educational Commons Subcommittee was charged with reworking the Task Force’s plan.

During the February 4 meeting, several faculty and administrators, including Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings, expressed desire to move on from the now over-five-years-long discussion, but, for now, faculty and administrators have gone back to work on the plan.