Re-Evaluating the General Education Requirements: Sustainability and the Future


As Colorado College’s Curriculum Executive Committee approaches the deadline for creating a new format for CC’s general education requirements, a group of students raised concerns over the lack of a general education requirement that is connected to climate change or sustainability.

During Block 4, economics professor Mark Smith, brought a group of students to Katowice, Poland, to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference. President Jill Tiefenthaler, provost Alan Townsend, and members of the Board of Trustees also attended the conference alongside the students, engaging in numerous conversations about transferring the urgency of climate change into action back on campus.

Cartoon by Lo Wall

The idea of a general education requirement surrounding climate change arose, and upon returning to campus, several students have engaged in conversations with each other and campus leaders about the idea. Cait McHale ’19 became a leader in this discussion after hearing about the idea at a Sustainability Council meeting.

“As a liberal arts college, it is important for the school to create a curriculum that is applicable not only in learning about the past, but also in how to adapt and respond to the future,” said McHale. “Climate change is clearly a global issue, and creating a climate change or sustainability requirement only reinforces CC’s dedication to creating global citizens.”

However, the increased enthusiasm for bringing climate action to CC is taking place at a difficult time. Though the Curriculum Executive Committee will be finalizing a new implementation plan for the general education requirements by the end of this year, CC faculty have already voted on a proposed framework for the general education curriculum, which passed at the end of Block 5. Therefore, an implementation of a climate change requirement would need to pass a vote by faculty members, which is unlikely to take place anytime soon.

There are also some logistical obstacles that accompany implementing a general education requirement that is focused on climate change. Chris Maurice ’20 is one of the student representatives on the CEC, and pointed out that a climate change or a sustainability specific requirement would need about 20 courses towards that requirement to be offered during a given academic year, if about one-fourth of the student body (500 students) completed this requirement each year.

Additionally, most of the current curriculum development resources are being used to develop new courses aimed at diversifying the general education curriculum as part of the school’s Anti-Racism initiative. The importance of the Anti-Racism initiative and the strong need for its implementation should not be redirected, especially with the extensive effort that CC community members have directed towards it already.

Despite this, it is still possible for CC to incorporate sustainability into the liberal arts experience. The Office of Sustainability offers sustainable course designation, where professors can register their courses either as sustainability-focused or sustainability-related. While these courses do not necessarily bring CC closer to carbon neutrality, a goal we set out to reach by 2020, they do establish a commitment to educating students on global and intersectional issues as a true hallmark of the liberal arts experience.

While it is important to focus on the commitments that the CC community has already set out to achieve, the increasing sense of urgency brought about by students advocating for greater climate action on all sides may be the missing link to ensuring that our goals are met, and, perhaps soon, in establishing a curriculum mandating a stronger focus on more of these key issues.

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