CU students received an e-mail sent from the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s office on Jan. 14. It informed students that any undergrads planning on graduating after May 2010 are no longer required to complete the previously mandatory critical thinking core requirement.
The dean of Arts and Sciences, Todd Gleeson, said he attributes this change in curriculum to a shortage of faculty.
“Given the likelihood of stable enrollment, the college will be faced with the obligation of teaching as many or more students as last year, but with fewer instructional faculty members,” according to a statement released by Gleeson on Thursday.
Adjustments to the critical thinking courses were necessary to avoid a crisis related to the student-faculty ratio, Gleeson said.
“In order to address an anticipated shortage of qualified instructional faculty members in the coming year, the College of Arts and Sciences has found it necessary to relax course size and other limitations on our critical thinking courses,” according to a news release from the Dean’s Office which was included with the Jan. 14 e-mail to students.
There was much deliberation with the faculty budget committee, Arts and Sciences Council, departments and faculty chairs to reach the solution of relaxing the critical thinking requirement, Gleeson said.
Bronson Hilliard, CU spokesperson, said that because the critical thinking requirement was most closely related to class size, it was the most expensive to teach.
“In the critical thinking courses, the nature of Socratic method that is employed is dependent on a small-class environment,” Hilliard said.
Gleeson said that the critical thinking core requirement was especially demanding of resources, because it required a limit of 25 students per class and was restricted to being taught by tenured and tenure-track faculty.
Gleeson and Hilliard both emphasized that CU is not abandoning the incorporation of critical thinking skills into CU students’ education.
“We still have about 150 critical thinking courses available to students every semester. A liberal arts education is committed to teach critical thinking,” Gleeson said. “A lot of departments already require a critical thinking course [as part of the major-coursework]. This changes very little in the menu of courses students will take.”
John Schumm, a 21-year-old senior English major, said he feels like he is receiving adequate critical thinking instruction in the majority of his classes.
“Critical thinking is involved in everything you take here. As long as you’re pushing your mind, you are thinking critically,” Schumm said.
Gleeson said that whether the critical thinking requirement will ever be reinstated as part of the Arts and Sciences core in the future depends on the budget development.
“I would advise students to build it into their plans. It’s an important part of education. This isn’t a message to abandon critical thinking. We’re still teaching these skills and classes,” Gleeson said.
Hilliard also said it has yet to be decided if critical thinking will be restored as a part of the Arts and Sciences’ core.
“If reinstated, it would apply to the next year’s incoming freshmen,” Hilliard said.
CU’s 2009-2010 course catalog offers an explanation of critical thinking courses’ purposes.
“Courses in this area encourage the active practice of critical reasoning, evaluation, and discussion … Students learn how to construct, defend, and criticize arguments; identify and assess tacit assumptions; and gather and evaluate evidence … In addition, they may subject arguments within the discipline to scrutiny from competing cultural, social, or methodological perspectives,” according to the catalog.
Man Quyen, a 21-year-old senior Biochemistry major, said she already completed the critical thinking course requirement.
“The course was required for my major in addition to filling the Arts and Sciences core requirement,” Quyen said.
Quyen said she found the critical thinking course very practical.
“I work in a lab, and in the critical thinking course I took I learned skills that I could apply to my job right away,” Quyen said.
Michael Tooley, a professor in the philosophy department and named a College Professor of Distinction, stressed the value of critical thinking courses.
“When receiving a liberal arts education one should be thinking critically about their most basic morals and values,” Tooley said.
Tooley said he believes students should be dissecting arguments about moral issues. He said issues such as abortion, the existence of God and the question of immaterial minds should be exposed to students in all disciplines.
“It’s completely unacceptable to go through a university and not be confronted with these topics–these are the things critical thinking courses provide. There are important topics that can make a difference in one’s life and also society,” Tooley said. “You need to get your priorities right. This is high priority.”
Claudia Mills, an associate professor in the philosophy department, said she also values the skills taught in critical thinking courses.
“I think it’s extremely important that students leave CU with strong critical thinking skills. It’s the foundation for a strong liberal arts education,” Mills said. “The whole role of a liberal arts education is to question how we live, how we ought to live; that’s the whole point.”
Mills said she doesn’t believe that the suspension of the critical thinking core requirement will necessarily prove to be detrimental to CU students’ education.
“The loss [in deleting the critical thinking requirement] is to lose the format of a small class size and the chance to work more closely with students,” Mills said. “We aren’t losing the ability to teach critical thinking skills. Within the philosophy department as well as in other disciplines, students are being taught to create good arguments and think critically in many of their classes.”
Tooley said the suspension of the critical thinking requirement could be avoided.
“You could change the format by making the classes larger,” Tooley said. “I think that would be just as successful if not more.”
The suspension of this requirement will only affect those students needing to fulfill the Arts and Sciences core in order to graduate. Additionally, any students graduating in the spring of 2010 will still need to complete a course that is approved to fulfill the critical thinking requirement.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Mary Rochelle at Mary.firstname.lastname@example.org.