What’s the Deal With General Studies Courses? Guest Blog by Peter Buker

Student Stories

July 4, 2016

Written by Erin Hatfield

To students and faculty focused on their core programs of study at Yorkville University, General Studies courses can seem like an irrelevant distraction from their first passion. But, in fact, our General Studies courses are key to the broader goals of an undergraduate education. Although these courses may not relate directly to your field of study they are important and here are just a few reasons why:


It’s Tradition: The Liberal Education Tradition

General Studies is part of a tradition of a liberal education, and without it, people are not considered to be well rounded and properly educated. The tradition comes from classical antiquity but has a very real contemporary meaning as well. In both classical and later medieval times, a liberal education denoted a free person possessing the intellectual ability and knowledge to fully participate in civic life. Liberal studies were, and still are, contrasted to practical studies of applied skills, and still indicate that you are a “free person” because of the critical thinking engendered by a liberal education. Our General Studies Program fosters a broader understanding of the world; this is in keeping with the timeless tradition that liberal studies are pursued as ends in themselves.

The Legal Side of General Studies

Because government educational policy recognizes the benefits of degree programs that advance free thought and critical thinking abilities, our university is obligated by government-appointed accreditation bodies to ensure there is a “breadth component” in all of our undergraduate degree programs. A minimum of 20 per cent of each program must, by law, contribute to a student’s breadth of understanding of her or his world. Our degree programs are frequently and rigorously reviewed by accreditation bodies; not only are our undergraduate degrees required to have General Studies courses, but regulations stipulate that these courses must have nothing to do with the core curriculum pursued by students. Thus, our General Studies courses are deliberately different from those in our core programs – both for reasons of our accreditation requirements and for the reasons of promoting a liberal education.

Complementary Abilities

Despite regulator’s insistence that our General Studies courses be unrelated to students’ core programs, General Studies courses do contribute to a student’s abilities to function in her or his professional world. Our General Studies Program has a three-tiered course architecture that progressively builds a student’s intellectual capabilities. Tier I courses emphasize foundational skills and competencies; Tier II courses are breadth of knowledge courses in subject-specific areas, designed to encourage students to analyze concepts, build analyses and arguments, and to undertake research particular to established academic disciplines; Tier III courses are interdisciplinary and require students to integrate skills, competencies, and knowledge. Students are taught to transfer generalized principles and ideas from a specific instance to real-world issues, synthesizing and evaluating knowledge. All of these abilities provide for intelligent, creative, and innovative approaches to any and all tasks in a student’s future life, including the student’s core professional activities.

It’s Fun and Exciting!

It is universally true that the more understanding and knowledge you have, the more interesting your life becomes. By honing your critical inquiry skills, your world expands to present opportunities and insights that are part of your pleasure in living. Many studies asking “what makes people happy” conclude that continuous growth does. To grow as a human being, you need to know many things, and know not just in the sense of information and practical skills, but also with understanding, insight, and ultimately wisdom. Our General Studies Program is meant to broaden these. General Studies courses are exciting and matter because one of the greatest pleasures you can have is the pleasure of exercising your own mind. In the words of Sir Edward Dyer (1543-1607):

My mind to me a kingdom is;

Such perfect joy therein I find

That it excels all other bliss…

Expanding our understanding through General Studies is quite simply fun!

Peter picturePeter Buker is the Chair of General Studies and an Instructor in Yorkville University’s General Studies Program He holds a Ph.D. in Political Studies from Queen’s University at Kingston, an M.A. in Economics from Queen’s, and an M.A. in Economics from The University St. Andrews, Scotland. He lives in rural Prince Edward Island and has taught extensively at seven different Canadian Universities.