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UW-Green Bay: From the Beginning

Chapter Eleven: 1977 - 1978

“It was clear ... that there was a significant split in the faculty, student body and even in the community between those who wanted UW-Green Bay to be a more conventional higher education institution like other units in the UW System and those who came with the original vision of liberal education and this experimental, problem-focused, man-in-the-environment theme. I saw my task as trying to get all those people working together and going in the same direction, because it didn't seem there was anything intrinsically incompatible in that.” - Dr. George Rupp, dean for academic affairs, 1977-1979, in a 1990 interview.

George Rupp left the chairmanship of the theology department at Harvard Divinity School to come to UW-Green Bay. He arrived with a clear sense of mission: to “marry” the young university's innovative thrust to the land-grant tradition of the UW System. His goal for the institution was equally clear: to provide the kind of broad-based education that could serve the region and at the same time offer a high quality, interdisciplinary education which was then organized around concentrations in problem-focused areas.

“Our problems here are tractable and we have the resources to address them,” he said in a News-Chronicle interview soon after his arrival in July 1977. “I do not believe there has to be conflict between the concerns of a liberal, cross-disciplinary program and the special needs of Northeastern Wisconsin.”

Forrest Armstrong Working with a faculty committee, Rupp and Associate Dean Forrest Armstrong set about reshaping the general education requirements, at the time an 18-credit liberal education program and a distribution requirement of at least five credits in each of the four theme colleges. When the Faculty Senate assembled in November for its second meeting of the year, the University Committee was ready to present a draft proposal for a 30-credit all-university requirement (AUR) that consolidated the two components. Only the three-credit senior seminar would continue from the previous structure. The remaining 27-credit distribution requirement would be divided equally among the three traditional academic domains: nine credits each in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities.

“At least six of the nine credits required would be structured to integrate knowledge with reflection on the value implications of that knowledge, especially as these are illuminated through cross-cultural comparisons,” the proposal recommended. “The remaining three credits ... in each domain of knowledge will be selected from a ‘pool’ of approved courses,” offering choice for students and assurances “that the selection of these credits, along with the six-credit sequences, will lend breadth and achieve the aims of AUR.” Existing freshman and intermediate USP units could provide a resource for the six-credit sequences, and a special AUR committee would oversee both the distribution and senior seminar components. Only the senior seminars would continue in their present form.

Faculty debate erupted immediately and percolated through three more senate meetings during November. Comments and questions from the floor reflected deep divisions and lingering uncertainties: There are those among us who would undermine liberal education, suggested one speaker. The USP program is both a failure and a millstone around our neck, said another. If USP is failing, why do we expect this program to succeed? Is USP really a major contributor to our enrollment problem, or simply a dumping ground for complaints common to any all-university requirements?

Visitors at the senate meetings voiced other concerns: UW-Green Bay requirements have been a double-edged sword, discouraging the entry of transfer students and encouraging the exit of those who have been here for two years without taking USP courses. Adult students are offended by the suggestion—implied by freshman USP—that they haven't confronted value questions. The programs in the concentrations, not USP, are what will keep or lose students.

By the time the dust of discussion cleared and endorsement of the proposal emerged from a parliamentary thicket, the USP director, Charles Matter, had become reconciled to the outcome. In the end, he himself had lobbied for approval of the changes.

“The critical thing was trying to insure that the goals USP had been committed to were preserved, somehow, rather than lost altogether,” Matter said, recalling the turmoil of the time. “The climate following the Logan-Murphy report had gone strongly against USP, and the faculty had backed away. It was just a matter of time—USP was being kept alive by the commitment of a few people, and if there was any wavering in that, it would be down the tubes.

“What I essentially decided, based on discussions with people in the program, was that it was better to negotiate with the dean's office on what the future was going to be than to stand back, sling mud at him, and watch it happen without our having anything to say about it.”

Faculty members involved in the program “recognized the handwriting on the wall,” Matter added. “They realized that this may not be what we had had, but the alternative was far bleaker. And we would be better off supporting AUR than supporting the status quo when it wasn't going to survive anyhow.”

By then, core programs were losing favor on the national collegiate scene, Matter pointed out. And a commitment that had been so strong at UW-Green Bay in the late 1960s and early 1970s—to a problem-solving orientation and a focus on developing skills rather than content area as part of general education—had begun to fade a bit.

“Some of the other experiments in interdisciplinarity around the country had already died or were in the process of dying,” Matter said. “So it was very clear that some of those ideas, so important here, were no longer riding the crest of the front wave, as it had seemed to us in 1972.”

The structure of the new requirement would be better suited to UW-Green Bay students, Matter concluded.

“The courses were more conventional, they were in the students' home academic units and therefore didn't seem so much like a foreign core program. And the number of credits involved was less visible, because they were integrated into courses that could also count for something else.”

After the Faculty Senate approved the all-university requirement at the end of November, Rupp moved quickly to appoint a representative eight-member committee to develop the proposal into a program in place for the fall semester of 1978.

By March 1978 Wava Haney, the chairwoman, could report substantial progress. Separate guidelines had been established for continuing students and transfers. Three subcommittees—one for each academic domain—were putting together six-credit sequences (by now popularly known as “six-packs”) and forwarding them to the full committee for review. General courses to satisfy the distribution portion had been approved, along with a description of AUR for the next general catalog. By April 24, the committee promised, guidelines and course listings would be available to students along with the fall 1978 timetable.

The new requirements represented certainly the most visible revision of the academic program. But other changes, addressed to other concerns, had been pushing forward a quiet evolution well before Rupp arrived on the campus. Consider the evidence of the Facts booklets mailed each year by the hundreds to prospective students:

–In 1976, a ponderous introduction to the academic plan and a section on academic programs occupied more than half of the publication's 32 pages.

–Brief paragraphs about the four theme colleges and School of Professional Studies preceded an exposition of distribution requirements and liberal education seminars.

–Detailed, often philosophic paragraphs described the available majors, then the 11 interdisciplinary concentrations. Listed alphabetically, communication-action to urban analysis, each was identified by college home.

–Disciplinary programs got short shrift, as a list of “options.” Professional programs in education, leisure sciences, environmental education and social services, listed as “collaterals,” received somewhat fuller treatment with descriptive paragraphs.

Yet even that booklet, despite some overblown verbiage, reflected earnest efforts already under way to reform what News-Chronicle reporter Arlene Levinson would disparage as “UW-Green Bay's infamous and often enigmatic terminology, conceived in the late 1960s by professors, some of whom will readily admit they got carried away.” Already expunged from the vocabulary were concentration names like ecosystems analysis, environmental control and analysis-synthesis. And in response to concerns about a “practical” degree, the description of each concentration now included a paragraph about career possibilities linked to the program.

By 1977 the Facts book reflected even more substantial changes. The “programs of study” section had shrunk to four pages of straightforward lists. “Options” had been translated into “disciplinary programs,” which were described as “single subject majors” and grouped under three headings: arts and humanities, social sciences, science and math. Concentrations were similarly grouped; “collaterals” had become “professional programs.” All references to the “colleges” had disappeared. And all-university requirements—the subject of fierce debate even as the booklet was printed—weren't mentioned at all.

By the time Facts appeared the following year, concentrations and disciplines were listed together under each of the three “domain of knowledge” headings. A simple statement provided guidance to the material that followed: “UW-Green Bay students organize their academic programs by choosing from among and combining various components that reinforce each other. The basic components from which students choose are concentrations, disciplinary programs and professional programs.” Examples of possible combinations and a brief paragraph about all-university requirements were included on the same page. And four more concentrations completed the transition to new identities: communication and the arts (formerly communication-action); social change and development (from modernization processes); urban studies (from urban analysis); and humanistic studies (from humanism and cultural change).

The 1978-80 general catalog exhibited the same user-friendly approach:“UW-Green Bay students build their academic programs by choosing from among several components and combining them in ways that best meet their needs.”

Reflecting years later on his role during the period, Rupp said, “When I came, you could major only in a concentration. By the time I left, I think people were thinking much more of the advantages of combining a concentration with a disciplinary major or minor and also, in many cases, building onto that a professional program.

“We did simplify some language, or at least change some into common coinage. It was my view that as long as we were clear about the value of the concept of concentrations, it was a mistake to label them in such a way that people could never get to the point of understanding what they were about.”

Rupp stayed at UW-Green Bay only two years. When he left to be dean of the Harvard Divinity School, he was succeeded in the academic affairs post by William Kuepper of the faculty. Assessing Rupp's contribution well over a decade after his departure, Kuepper pointed to “two very critical steps” toward securing the enrollment future of the institution.

“He began to move it toward a general education structure that was more understandable and one the institution could afford,” Kuepper said. “He began also to acknowledge, to a greater degree than in the past, the significance of the professional programs. We were not a liberal arts college, although George was a strong proponent of the things we did like a liberal arts college. And he realized that the future of the institution depended on integrating the professional programs into the curriculum.”

By the time Rupp left, the changes were not yet obvious. But the turnaround had begun.

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