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Bachelor of Arts to possibly cut basic requirements, faculty to discuss BA at Town Hall on Friday

The University of Alberta’s Faculty of Arts is considering sweeping changes to its Bachelor of Arts degree, as the BA program is up for renewal. While the current proposal, which was circulated publicly early January, contains recommendations and no concrete decisions, the Dean’s Executive Committee could be facing impending conflict and pushback from academic staff.

The Dean’s Executive Committee has proposed that the BA program sever its core requirements, a total of 36 credits, and the requirement of a minor for graduation.

Allen Ball, Associate Dean (Teaching and Learning), who has been leading the BA curriculum renewal since July 2015, said the removal of the basic requirements means those credit requirements would be moved down to the departmental level, depending on which program and major undergraduate students choose to pursue.

Those requirements could also depend on what the Ball calls a “set of (five) key attributes,” which includes analysis and interpretation, research, creation and inquiry, communication and culture, global citizenship, and lifelong, adaptive and engaged learning. The idea arose after the Dean’s Executive Committee examined how the United States and Australia organized their BA requirements around the concept of attributions. Ball said it is currently unclear what requirements these pathways would entail, but said the committee aims to make those pathways more flexible than the current BA model.

Carolyn Sale, English & Film Studies professor and General Faculties Council member, said she’s “quite opposed” to the committee’s current recommendations, and that the thematic pathways are one of her biggest concerns about the BA renewal document.

“It’s very odd they’re not telling us what these pathways are, even with a brief description,” Sale said. “I believe these should be referred to as the five core rubrics.

“My general feeling is that we need core requirements. I don’t agree with the simple proposition of simply eradicating the core requirements to make our BA more attractive, and in theory, ‘more competitive,’ than the University of Calgary or MacEwan University.”

The removal of the minor, which currently requires a minimum of 12 credits and a maximum of 42 credits, would provide students with an opportunity to apply to more certificate programs to gain more credentials when they enter the workforce, Ball said.

Another point of contention the current proposed model faces is the removal of the Language other than English (LOE) requirement. Removing the LOE requirement could cause attendance in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies to decline.

“That’s an understandable concern,” Ball said. “Any change to that model would affect in some ways attendance and enrolment in the first year of programs.

“But the question at the same time is we have to decide whether the faculty collectively thinks that’s a good idea or not. Other institutions, and other schools in Canada, have the option for students to make those decisions themselves.”

Bismillah Kiani, President of the Organization for Arts Students and Interdisciplinary Studies, said she agrees with the removal of the basic BA requirements, as the U of A’s current core requirements of 36 credits is amongst the highest in Canada.

Kiani, who transferred to the BA program from the Bachelor of Sciences program to work towards a major in political science, said the basic core requirements could provide a rough transition for students such as her who decide to transfer to a BA.

“We like the idea that this will allow students to determine the flexibility to how the BA is going to look like,” Kiani said. “If (students) feel like certain courses will help them in the future as opposed to taking some fine arts requirement they may not see value in, then I feel like as adults, they should have the choice to do so.”

But Kiani said she had concerns about the possible removal of the English requirement, and said the faculty should consider including it in the BA renewal.

Carolyn Sale, who has been teaching English courses at the U of A since 2006, agreed.

“There should be a general agreement, that one of the core requirements, and core needs, that will support any student exiting the BA should be exiting as accomplished writers,” Sale said. “They will do better across their entire degree if they get that writing foundation from the start.”

As she’s opposed to the proposed “free-for-all,” Sale said she’ll be present at the upcoming BA Renewal Town Hall on Friday, Feb. 5 to pitch her plea to keep core disciplinary requirements.
Allen Ball said he welcomes all critiques and feedback, as the proposal, which has been discussed at the administrative level since 2011, is currently a “theoretical framework” and the first time the document will be discussed publicly.

“We’re really waiting on that feedback,” Ball said. “We’re going to collect those and respond to them. There will be other drafts to come, and its critical that we’re all part of this process.”

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