From the president: A message concerning the math competency suspension - The South End: Perspectives

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From the president: A message concerning the math competency suspension

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Posted: Friday, June 24, 2016 2:16 pm

Editor's Note: This message was sent out to Wayne State employees via a campus-wide email on June 23. 

Recent media reports have created some confusion around Wayne State University’s decision to temporarily suspend its uniform math competency requirement, and have erroneously conflated that decision with our ongoing proposal to develop a new core curriculum. Unfortunately, some media have tried to simplify and politicize these issues by reporting that the university is replacing its math class requirement for one in diversity. This is not accurate. We are not trading one for the other.

While it is true, at least for the next two years, that each undergraduate program or major will set its own mathematics requirement based on the program of study, math remains a critical component of the majority of our degree programs. Our future engineers, nurses, business leaders, pharmacists and those in many other fields of study are still required to take the same demanding math classes. However, other disciplines now have greater flexibility to offer classes that may be more appropriate in providing quantitative knowledge and reasoning skills.

Wayne State is not alone in re-evaluating its math requirement, or for certain majors not requiring it. For example, my daughter is a double major in theater and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California. She does not have a university math requirement. This is true at schools like Brown University and Johns Hopkins University. Across Michigan and the nation, students are satisfying these requirements by demonstrating skills in computer programming, linguistics, finance, logic, statistics, general STEM courses, and the applications of data to the social sciences, in addition to the traditional algebra-calculus sequence.

As a physician and scientist I appreciate the importance of quantitative skills for an informed citizenship. Our purpose is not to help students avoid a difficult subject, but to provide them with courses that enhance their preparedness for the world to which they will graduate.

To that end, ensuring that our students receive a rich and full academic experience is why we have been re-evaluating our general education requirements for the last year and a half. In addition to including an explicit quantitative reasoning requirement, the proposal builds upon and strengthens current requirements by including signature courses, first-year communities, community engaged learning, and diversity and inclusion learning (including multicultural learning, global learning and ethics courses). 

It is certainly legitimate to question whether the math requirement should have been suspended, or whether a certain level of math should be required of all students. Earlier this week one of our students, Andrew Malec, was interviewed on Fox News, and very effectively articulated his view that math should remain a requirement for all students. He represented Wayne State well, and I commend him for expressing his views on national television with poise and conviction. 

Unfortunately, I do not believe that this important question is the real issue for some. Rather, our draft proposal to include diversity-related courses to our new core curriculum has agitated some in the media. Diversity is viewed by some as a subject that is divisive or unworthy of attention. But diversity, and importantly, inclusion, are paramount if we are to understand each other and find common ground in our multicultural, and often fractured society.

As an urban research university located in the heart of Detroit, diversity and inclusion are part of the fabric of Wayne State. They are among the values that guide our university’s strategic plan and are rooted in our history. We value all people and understand that their unique experiences, talents and perspectives make us a stronger organization, and better people. 

In today’s global society, having an appreciation and understanding of other people and cultures is critical to being a well-rounded and successful citizen. Today, employers expect students who are ready to work in a changing and interconnected world, and our goal is to ensure our students are ready for that challenge.

At Wayne State University, we live with diversity every day, and continuously and intentionally strive to build a community that is inclusive and welcoming of all people. It is important to discuss, understand and teach issues related to diversity and inclusion, and we are unapologetically proud to do so. The proposal to require one of these courses as part of our new general education has nothing to do with the evaluation of our math requirement.

The suspension of our math requirement and the ongoing discussion of our core curriculum are all aimed at creating clear academic pathways that support the differentiated needs of our students and enhance student success. In the end, this will strengthen the value of a Wayne State degree.     

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2 comments:

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