Honors program to adopt part of 4×4 curriculum

Freshmen in the University Honors Program will adopt a class structure this fall that includes some aspects of the four-course, four-credit plan the University has considered implementing.

Under the new system, program participants are required to take two full-year classes during both their freshmen and sophomore years, and a global issues practicum during their senior year, all worth four credits.

“What we need are students to graduate from college with the ability to confront, analyze and work in teams to solve very important problems of the (21st) century,” said Grae Baxter, executive director of the University Honors Program. “Important problems are not unidisciplinary.”

The revised program has been under consideration for about four years and was finalized after interviews with more than 100 honors students, deans and honors faculty members, Baxter said. The changes will not apply to current students.

All of the University’s individual schools except the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences and the Elliott School of International Affairs have approved the new courses as substitutes for general curriculum requirements. Baxter said she expects faculty committees from CCAS and ESIA to make a decision on whether to approve these classes this spring.

These revised honors program requirements would mark the first successful implementation of a four-by-four curricular structure at GW.

All the schools in the University have been considering a four-by-four plan this year that would require students to take four classes a semester, each worth four credit hours. The plan was met with skepticism and rejected by the Faculty Senate, and the Columbian College and the Elliott School voted to delay their decisions indefinitely.

Some students’ concerns about the new honors program requirements echo those of critics of the four-by-four plan.

“While the objective for the new (honors) program is a broader interdisciplinary foundation for students, it allows less freedom for class choices and furthermore makes it impossible for students in financial difficulty to graduate in less than four years,” Bri Bruce, an honors student, wrote in an e-mail. “While I appreciate the objective intention of the program, overall I feel it is limiting and will negatively affect the honors program and (its) community.”

A year-long course titled Origins of Modern Thought, is expected to replace the University Writing requirement for honors freshmen. A science class that looks at global climate change will also be a year-long required course for first-year students. Sophomores will take full-year classes about self and society, and art and culture.

“Our purpose here is to provide a common, comprehensive and coherent honors general education core,” Baxter said.

These core required classes are expected to meet for three sessions per week for lab, discussion or library research practice. Honors students will be able to take up to 18 credits without being charged extra.

Seniors will be required to take the global issues practicum, in which students from different majors will discuss world problems such as poverty, AIDS and the economic ascendancy of China.

Honors students currently take a year-long proseminar course during their freshman year, which is the only class that is required for all honors students. After the first year is completed, continuing honors students are required to take at least one honors course each semester.

Critics of the new program said its increased number of required classes will be limiting for students.

Baxter said 1,200 students applied to the honors program this year, and GW admitted 300 for an expected class of about 150 students.

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