BA Curriculum Review

In November of 2011, Arts Faculty Council approved a new Academic Plan in which we committed to doing a comprehensive review of the general BA requirements. More than two years have passed since then, so it might be useful to remind ourselves why we are doing the review and what we stand to gain from it.

  1. We are in a new educational environment, as the value of a BA seems to be unclear to many stakeholders. In part, this is because a university degree is now more intimately linked to employment and employable skills. As a result, it has become more difficult for students to justify their choice of Arts, and for others -- government and parents, for example--- to see the importance and usefulness of the BA.
a. We know of course that Arts is more than a set of skills, that this is where you find your passion, your critical voice, learn to think deeply, read closely, communicate persuasively, and to recognize and offer solutions to complex problems that require a broad understanding of the human condition.
b. We need to have a BA that better articulates these aspects, one that helps potential students and their parents have confidence in the degree.

2. During the expansion of the post-secondary sector in Alberta, the Arts area is the one that has grown the most, which means that competition for the best students has intensified.

a. As a faculty, we want to be a destination of choice for students in what the Humanities, the Social Sciences and Fine Arts have to offer.
b. Basing our degree on attributes could help us stand out, and above all, articulate for students what is fundamentally important about our areas of study.

3. Our current BA requirements are difficult to understand for students, and indeed it may be hard for faculty to explain why we have our current requirements. They are based on a
distribution model, where students mainly sample different fields, but it is unclear how they relate to requirements in the majors or how they benefit the students during and after their degrees. In short, the value of the requirements is not clear or articulated.

a. We need to figure out what requirements would be useful for our students, both to develop as engaged and reflecting citizens and to find meaningful work in today’s environment.
b. We need to see whether there are simpler ways to fulfill important requirements, so that there are not expensive bottlenecks for students and departments.

4. We want our students to be equipped to go out into the world and become critical, productive citizens who can make a difference; we want them to have the tools, as well as the language to talk about those tools. Thus, the value of a BA and its constituent parts need to be clear to students, their parents and their prospective employers.

5. To better articulate what the BA means and what it is that makes the BA a valuable degree, there needs to be some guiding principles around which we can structure the new BA requirements. Based on ongoing discussions among faculty members, students and staff, as well as research conducted over the past 18 months, we believe that basing the BA on attributes would best serve the purposes outlined above. Such attributes can be more easily articulated, they can be more readily inter-connected and above all, provide all students with critical skills for their majors as well as for their future careers.

The time to make this change is now. With more post-secondary institutions competing for the same students, and an environment of budget uncertainty and government oversight, we need to make sure that our degree is attractive and attracting students. This is not the time to hunker down and dig in our heels, but rather the time to act, to look forward, to be passionate about the great programs we can offer, and make sure our students are well equipped to lead Alberta and Canada, and to follow their passions.

Lesley Cormack

Dean, Faculty of Arts