U considers grand topics for curriculum

Let’s think big. Alex Friedrich/MPR News

The University of Minnesota is considering changing its undergraduate core curriculum to focus on three of the world’s great issues.

Campus leaders say the Grand Challenges initiative would add interdisciplinary instruction in climate change, food-supply security and the challenges of urban life.

Provost Karen Hansen says the initiatives gives a way to take what they’ve learned in various fields and apply it to one of those areas.

“This will be a way in which they can begin contributing to solutions to the world’s problems while they are students,” she said.

President Eric Kaler said a sociology student with an interest water, for example, could take a political science course on global water conflicts. Engineering could teach him about the limitations of water filtration. A health class could focus on water-borne disease. And a communication couse could address the discussion of clean water and sanitation across cultures.

“And those four courses together would, I think, make a very interesting student highly attractive to a worldwide company [such as Ecolab] who was interested in water,” he said.

Kaler said the three topics are the U’s initial choices, but those could change in coming years. The president said he’d like at least part of Grand Challenges to be a requirement, but said faculty control  the curriculum.

The initiative is part of a strategic plan that regents will vote on next month.

  • Concerned Professor

    What about pre-requisites for courses like global warming and water-borne disease? How can a student gain the depth of understanding of water born disease without first knowing water quality and water Chemistry?

    • MACGrandGradMN

      As an incensed graduate student, I must sadly agree.

      I’m sure the Deanling or two (or ten or twelve knowing the U’s bloated administration) that advocated for this , who in addition probably do not hold terminal degrees in any academic discipline, overlooked that “tiny” problem of pre-requisites. I wouldn’t expect the administrators making these decisions to understand water quality or chemistry, especially when that would require additional financial investment that the U would rather put into its social media platforms. #hashtagforeverything
      More specifically, It is utterly shameful that the University of Minnesota is being administratively directed by those who believe that its mission within higher education does not entail a rigorous liberal arts curriculum for undergraduates, much less one that requires hiring additional faculty members, promoting and supporting research initiatives, and advancing the pedagogical resources to do so in order to train graduate students in these disciplines. How the U can call itself a flagship research institution without this is laughable. But as long as Land O’ Lakes can be called a philanthropic organization, and we all remain #UMNproud, we should be fine…
      How laughable to hear Dean Hansen mentioning interdisciplinarity, or President Kaler’s hollow “water” example. I have never heard a more simple description of these issues than what he is indirectly being quoted as saying. It looks like he is in desperate need of liberal arts training, also (unsurprisingly). “A student with an interest in water [what does that even mean?], could take a political science course on global water conflicts.” What? Does he mean taking a survey course? How could such an issue be adequately presented in such a generic way to students who are supposedly going to tackle these issues after obtaining a degree? Hiring more adjuncts or non-TT facult to teach Water 1001 will not provide top graduates for any field.
      Also interesting is President Kaler’s Reagonomic-esque motion of turning to the faculty who “control the curriculum” (meaning, if this doesn’t happen it is their fault and not his — a perfect scapegoat to distract the public from the real problems at hand). When the faculty have, after seeing ever-decreasing financial allocations to their departments from the university, they are still being blamed for lack of course offerings or curricular restructuring under Kaler’s nonsense. As many departments are strapped for resources in CLA for example (where many of these core requirements sound like they would be offered — Political Science, Sociology, etc.), I wonder how Hansen or Kaler expect that to happen. Again, this is just another ploy to keep undermining academic rigor at the U for the sake of quick $$$$ when higher education’s mission with a more important return — inquiry and advancement on a personal and societal level through academic pursuits — is being ignored and cannot be measured through maximizing profit.
      This sounds like just another way for Kaler’s administration to ultimately close departments that he sees do not fit in his corporate view of higher ed. I shutter to think what Minnesota’s public university system will look like in a decade or so. To look back at what the U was producing ten years ago in the form of scholarship and graduates, and to compare it to now, is heartbreaking.