Press Release: General Education Act

National Association of Scholars

New York, NY; November 16, 2023—The National Association of Scholars (NAS), the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and the Ethics & Public Policy Center (EPPC) have published the new model General Education Act (GEA). The GEA reforms and replaces the failed system of cafeteria-style distribution requirements geared to faculty research specialties, rather than to the true requisites of liberal education.

GEA first creates a new, independent School of General Education at the flagship state university, which will assume responsibility for all general education courses, and provides a three-year transition from the old system of general education to the new. GEA then specifies that the general education requirements at the flagship state university will consist of a core curriculum of thirteen courses, including Western History, Western Humanities, World Civilizations, United States History, United States Government, and United States Literature, and comprising 42 semester hours. GEA finally states that the university may add no further general education requirements.

GEA restores a common civic education to the center of American public university education—a common civic education that includes examination of fundamental moral and philosophical questions via a study of the history and the greatest books of Western civilization, and the world. Public universities’ first duty to the citizens who fund them is to educate their children to assume their role as citizens. So too is public universities’ duty to their students. Universities can provide no greater gift to their students than to teach them about their country and its ideals.

“In the past 60 years,” said NAS President Peter Wood, “American universities abandoned traditional general education requirements that gave students shared knowledge of the history, ideals, and institutions of America and Western Civilization, as well as a proper introduction to science, mathematics, and writing composition. The American public rightly has lost its confidence in higher education and its ability to train tomorrow’s teachers, physicians, and leaders.”

The creation of a School of General Education designed to revive the tradition of classical liberal education will constitute, for almost any public university that adopts this program, a fundamental shift in educational mission. This broad strategic reorientation will necessitate the discontinuance of some existing academic programs, including some currently existing tenure lines. It is financially irresponsible to reform general education substantially, by hiring new faculty with the expertise required to carry out that shift, without shrinking a comparable number of existing programs and faculty. The model GEA provides for these necessary staffing changes. The model also provides for some existing faculty to be granted appointments that would allow them to teach courses under the auspices of the new School of General Education. The key consideration in staffing will be expertise and interest in traditional liberal education.

“Traditional liberal education belongs to no single ideology or political party,” said EPPC President Ryan Anderson. “While too many contemporary academics reject this educational tradition, both liberals and conservatives take inspiration from the tradition of classic liberal education. The charter of the newly established School of General Education highlights the value of intellectual pluralism and welcomes the free, fearless, and civil differences of opinion that naturally exist in any university community.”

GEA achieves its goals in harmony with universities’ vital role to prepare students for careers and to ensure American prosperity.

  • GEA’s specified core curriculum only includes 42 semester hours, which is very practicable for a bachelor’s degree. Indeed, public universities that use distribution requirements frequently impose far more onerous general education requirements on students. GEA’s core curriculum will reduce the burden of time and tuition on many students.
  • GEA, moreover, recognizes that students pursuing a Bachelor of Science, as opposed to a Bachelor of Arts degree, frequently need an intensive professional preparation, and often have fewer free classes. We have reduced from 13 to 10 the number of required courses for students seeking a BS.
  • GEA also allows universities to add up to two courses in a foreign language requirement. Universities should be free to add foreign language preparation to general education requirements—and free to decide that it is not necessary.

The three organizations have drafted GEA so that it can be modified to suit different states. GEA uses phrases such as {governing board} to allow policymakers to select between university boards, state boards, or other bodies. The entire governance structure of the School of General Studies should be modified to fit local conditions.

“The School’s success depends on having both a university president and a Dean of the School of General Education who are truly committed to the traditional ideal of general education,” said Martin Center President Jenna Robinson. “Policymakers must ensure that the Board of Trustees (or other responsible authority) rapidly installs a president fully committed to traditional general education, if such a president is not already in place.”

A properly supported School of General Education can remake our public universities into what they once were—the keystones of the American republic.

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at www.nas.org.

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If you would like more information about this issue, contact David Randall, Executive Director, Civics Alliance, [email protected].


Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

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