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Where did ILA come from?

April 12, 2013

Introduction to the Liberal Arts has become so synonymous with Monmouth College, it’s hard to believe that in the college’s nearly 160 year history, ILA, as current students understand it, has really only been around for approximately 34 years, at most. Despite the rather docile acceptance of the program by Monmouth College students, the issue continues to create disagreements between faculty members.

The original graduation requirements, that would later become Integrated Studies, originated in 1979-80 during the college Presidency of Bill Amy, according to a historical document provided by Professor William Urban, Lee L. Morgan Professor of History and International Studies and author of the book “History of Monmouth College.” The idea (largely constructed by faculty at the time) was to create not just an intensive freshman experience, but create a common experience through sophomore, junior and senior year.  When Amy was replaced by Bruce Haywood as president of Monmouth College, Haywood immediately set about turning the idea into practice, hoping to create a unified set of offerings that would put a “Monmouth stamp” on graduates.

“We’ve been trying to figure out how to deliver this project for years,” said Urban, who has been teaching at Monmouth since 1966. “Not just the president but a good numbers of supporters see this [INTG] as the heart of the Monmouth College program.”

While the creation of a four year program helps ease some problems, such as seniors loading up on introductory courses to devote less time to class work, the change put a new strain on faculty. Urban recalls in an aide-memoire supplied to The Courier, “Monmouth, too, backed away from its early ambitions. Declining enrollments in the 1980s led to a reduction in the size of faculty.” Trouble came again, “when the economic recession [in 2008] undercut hopes for funding the science/business building; also, the enrollment seemed stalled at 1350 in spite of steady freshman enrollment and much improved retention.” These factors meant, among other things, that “Theory and good intentions were running up against budgetary/staffing realities.”

Kenneth McMillan, Pattee Professor, Department of Political Economy and Commerce voiced his approval of the early Freshman Seminar course introduced during President Haywood’s era, which he felt was a course, “structured to meet students where they were and move them into becoming serious college students.” However, McMillan added, “we have moved away from that.”

“When I started teaching you used to have two social science requirements. One could be a social science class such as a history, sociology, or economics course, but the second had have a non-western component, such as Modern Japan. Students were getting comparative classes taught by professors teaching in their specialty. That’s a global perspective.”

Now however, “Our devotion to the Integrated Studies program has become a cancer on our curriculum. We’re trying to get students to integrate stuff before they’ve mastered it separately. You can’t bring faculty together from different disciplines and expect a common experience. For students, the only common experience becomes frustration. If you have professors teaching from a book picked by a small committee that they aren’t passionate about, students are going to get something less than what I would consider a sound education.”

The idea of a shared freshman preceptorial is not new or unique to Monmouth College. “Knox copied our program at one point,” said Urban “and the students just said ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’ and so they got rid of everything except their freshman preceptorial.” Other colleges share a Great Books course among faculty or a freshman seminar course.

While Urban did add that he wasn’t sure dissent was an issue among students, there are students who are less enthusiastic about the curriculum. “The freshman ILA class is a great idea,” said senior Political Science major Joe Florio, “but the global perspectives and reflections classes are kind of a Russian roulette. You don’t know if you’re going to get a professor who cares, or a professor who knows nothing about what they’re teaching. Instead of taking a reflections course, why shouldn’t I be required to take a philosophy course or a history course if the intention is to create deep thought?”

As explained in the March 22 article “Professors win grant for ILA makeover,” professors are working to create a shared experience among freshman that will help students transition from high school level learning and cultivate high-order critical thinking skills. However, the new 4-4 system has added more challenges to the INTG program, and many graduation requirements of the old system have been dropped, such as one of the two science requirements. As the curriculum continues to change, and faculty members remain in flux, what exactly is supposed to be “stamped” on Monmouth College graduates?

Sarah Zaubi

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