LAS dean: Preserving gen ed goals more important than preserving credit hours


Khánh Nguyễn

Liberal arts and sciences dean Andrew Hippisley speaks at the rededication of Fiske Hall on May 3, 2019.

When Wichita State’s Faculty Senate first heard a proposal last month to reduce the general education credit hour minimum from 42 to 33 hours, Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Andrew Hippisley posed a question to senators: 

“Are we underselling students in terms of a well-rounded education?”

Originally from the U.K., Hippisley told The Sunflower he has a unique appreciation for the American university system.

“We’re always talking about educating the whole, and I think that’s the great power of the American university system,” Hippisley said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s picking at people’s different compartments of their intellect.”

The proposed gen ed change would retain a 12-credit-hour minimum for basic skill subjects but reduce the number of required fine arts, humanities, social sciences, and math/natural sciences classes to one each. All undergraduate degrees at WSU require students to take at least 120 credit hours.

Hippisley said he’s most concerned about preserving WSU’s general education goals.

“People should have an informed appreciation of the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences,” Hippisley said. “They should be able to intelligently follow and participate in current events and be sensitive and tutored in their appreciation of diverse cultures and ways of living. They should be able to think critically, independently, and they should write and speak effectively.”

Hippisley acknowledged that LAS would bear the brunt of a gen ed reduction, but maintained that his focus is not self-interested as dean of the college. Many LAS graduate teaching assistants instruct Comp 101 and 102 courses, he said, both of which are foundational and would not be affected by the reduction.

“Does LAS lose out on credit hours? I think that’s very much a secondary or a tertiary point of view, because that gets away from the students,” Hippisley said.

“A student may not take an advanced philosophy class that they used to take. Is that going to be a credit hour impact? Not a huge one. To me, the big impact will be, what a shame that the student didn’t take that course.”

The proposed reduction would be most beneficial to the College of Engineering and the School of Music, both of which have had to trim degree programs to meet the Kansas Board of Regents’ new maximum of 120 credit hours.

Hippisley said he has been heartened to speak to engineering professors who say they’re committed to preserving students’ well-rounded education.

“They don’t want engineers who can’t write. They really don’t. They want engineers who can have empathy and they can communicate,’ Hippisley said. He said he’s intrigued by the idea of incorporating more interdisciplinary components into WSU’s gen ed curriculum. For example, sections of basic English courses could be geared towards students in specific colleges, he said.

“Can we maybe think of customizing [Comp] 101 and 102 to make that goal more contextualized for engineers and business majors and health professions majors? Maybe 101 could have a technical writing flavor to it just for those students,” Hippisley said.

“That’s a great opportunity that we have ahead of us — to be more interdisciplinary.”

But he acknowledged the value in getting students entirely out of their comfort zone in the classroom too.

“You want them to sit down and do a creative writing class, learn how to write a poem, learn about history — that’s another area of gen ed, which, that’s the bit that needs to be preserved too,” Hippisley said. 

“We never want to take away that opportunity that they could blunder into something that they love.”

Hippisley said gen eds should never be dismissed as mere requirements to be met.

“The most depressing thing for me is, ‘Now this is how you get through your gen ed. This is how you check off the list of your gen ed. Let’s see if we can get you through,’” Hippisley said.

“That’s the onus on good advising — advisors say, ‘You know, you’re going to be a great engineer. To be the brilliant engineer, do these other things.’ In 33 credits, there’s still scope to do all of that.”

Faculty Senate will continue debating the Gen Ed Committee’s proposal at future meetings, the next of which is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 in Clinton Hall Room 126.