2011-2012 University Catalog 
2011-2012 University Catalog

University General Education

Rick Davis, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education
Office of the Provost
Phone: 703-993-8722
Web: provost.gmu.edu/gened/

All undergraduates seeking a baccalaureate degree must complete the University General Education Program requirements. Additional requirements for specific degree programs can be found in the college or school chapters of this catalog.

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: A Rationale for General Education at George Mason University

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—this ringing phrase from the Declaration of Independence makes a fine statement about the ideals of general education (or, as it is more classically called, liberal education) as we strive to articulate it at Mason. Let’s take the three parts of Thomas Jefferson’s affirmation of humanity’s “unalienable rights” and see how they apply to the goals of a general, or liberal, education.

Life. A liberal education prepares us for life’s unpredictable, fascinating journey. One sobering truth about formal learning is that no matter how many courses we take or degrees we earn, we can’t master every skill and possess every piece of knowledge that we need to succeed in a dynamic world. A liberal education proposes that the highest value of the college experience is the development of our ability to continue learning, adapting, creating, and responding to an ever-changing society and career environment. A liberal education turns out to be the most practical of all because it never goes out of date; the habits of mind it fosters help us to stay current with our careers and the life of our times.

Liberty. A liberal education takes its name from this part of Jefferson’s phrase; the root word for both the concept we so cherish and the education we practice is the Latin liber, “free.” This kind of education offers to increase our freedom—of thought and action, from prejudice and ignorance. It is the foundation stone of citizenship as Jefferson and his contemporaries envisioned that notion, a liberty built on rights, responsibilities, and respect for differences. A liberally educated person feels free to seek knowledge and wisdom from across the whole spectrum of human experience—free to challenge the assumptions of the past and also, after critical consideration, to accept them.

The pursuit of happiness. The liberal arts tradition provides tools for the pursuit of a happier, more fulfilled life. The definition of happiness is personal; for some, an appreciation of “the best that has been thought and said”—or composed, constructed, painted, danced, or acted—is a necessary condition for happiness. For others, it might be an understanding of the wonder of the natural universe, the ability of humans to create marvelous new inventions, or the complexities of the social fabric in an increasingly borderless world. For still others, it is a call to serve one’s community and world in large and small ways, acting for the betterment of humanity. For most, it is some combination of the above. No matter the specifics; a liberal education offers the joy of discovery and the satisfaction of engagement with the largest questions of our time—and all time.

At Mason, we have created several distinctive ways to experience the excitement and gain the value of liberal education: the University General Education Program, detailed in the following pages; New Century College ’s Cornerstones program; and, for a small group of outstanding students, the Honors College . Though their approaches differ, as befits the creative spirit and diverse nature of our University, they are united in their commitment to the ideals of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Category Goals and Requirements

Foundation Requirements

Foundation requirements help ensure that students master the tools and techniques necessary to succeed in college and throughout their lives and careers. These courses emphasize skills—in writing, speaking, and working with numbers and technology—that can be applied to any major field of study and career goal.

Written communication goal: Students develop the ability to use written communication as a means of discovering and expressing ideas and meanings: in short, employing writing as a way of thinking. Students begin this process at the fundamental level in English 101 (100 for ESL students) and build higher-level skills in English 302. Writing will be emphasized in many courses throughout a student’s career, and at least one course in every student’s major is designated “writing intensive.”

  • Required: English 101 (or 100), 302, and an approved writing-intensive course in the major.

Oral communication goal: Students develop the ability to use oral communication as a way of thinking and learning, as well as sharing ideas. Courses provide opportunities for students to express themselves in public or group settings, apply critical-thinking skills to public messages, and gain understanding of the cultural, psychological, political, and practical significance of communication, with a special emphasis on the role of communication in a free society.

  • Required: One approved course. Students will be expected to continue developing oral communication skills in additional general education courses as appropriate.

Quantitative reasoning goal: Students develop the ability to use and critically evaluate numerical information and create and critique logical arguments using quantitative reasoning. Courses are intended to give students the capability to reason quantitatively through the examination of important problems and ideas. Students must take a placement exam to determine their proficiency before attempting the mathematics courses that satisfy this requirement. Those who demonstrate basic proficiency must satisfy this requirement with MATH 106. Those who demonstrate a higher proficiency may choose from among an approved set of courses that develop quantitative reasoning.

  • Required: MATH 106, or if the student has achieved an appropriate placement score on quantitative skills, one of the following: MATH 108, 110, 111, 113, 115, or 125; or STAT 250. (Students are assumed to have achieved satisfactory completion of the high school math required for admission.)

Information technology goal: Almost no area of academic, professional, or personal life is untouched by the information technology revolution. Success in college and beyond requires computer and information literacies that are flexible enough to change with a changing IT environment and adaptable to new problems and tasks.

The purpose of the information technology requirement is to ensure that students achieve an essential understanding of information technology infrastructure encompassing systems and devices; learn to make the most of the Web and other network resources; protect their digital data and devices; take advantage of latest technologies; and become more sophisticated technology users and consumers.

Courses meeting the “IT only” requirement must address learning outcomes 1 and 2, and one additional outcome. Courses meeting “IT with Ethics component” must address outcomes 1, 2, 3, and 5. Courses meeting the only IT Ethics component must address outcomes 3 and 5.

  1. Students will be able to use technology to locate, access, evaluate, and use information, and appropriately cite resources from digital/electronic media.
  2. Students will understand the core IT concepts in a range of current and emerging technologies and learn to apply appropriate technologies to a range of tasks.
  3. Students will understand many of the key ethical, legal and social issues related to information technology and how to interpret and comply with ethical principles, laws, regulations, and institutional policies.
  4. Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate, create, and collaborate effectively using state-of-the-art information technologies in multiple modalities.
  5. Students will understand the essential issues related to information security, how to take precautions and use techniques and tools to defend against computer crimes. 
  • Required: One approved 3-credit course that meets all IT requirements, or completion of an appropriate combination of courses, proficiency exams, and modules.

Core Requirements

Core requirements help ensure that students become acquainted with the broad range of intellectual domains that contribute to a liberal education. By experiencing subject matter and ways of knowing in a variety of fields, students will be better able to synthesize new knowledge, respond to fresh challenges, and meet the demands of a complex world.

Literature goal: Courses aim to achieve a majority of the following learning outcomes: students will be able to read for comprehension, detail, and nuance; identify the specific literary qualities of language as employed in the texts they read; analyze the ways specific literary devices contribute to the meaning of a text; identify and evaluate the contribution of the social, political, historical, and cultural contexts in which a literary text is produced; and evaluate a critical argument in others’ writing as well as one’s own.

  • Required: One approved course.

Arts goal: Courses aim to achieve a majority of the following learning outcomes: students will be able to identify and analyze the formal elements of a particular art form using vocabulary appropriate to that form; demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between artistic technique and the expression of a work’s underlying concept; analyze cultural productions using standards appropriate to the form and cultural context; analyze and interpret material or performance culture in its social, historical, and personal contexts; and engage in the artistic process, including conception, creation, and ongoing critical analysis.

  • Required: One approved course.

Natural science goal: Courses provide an understanding of natural science by addressing the critical approach of the scientific method, relation of theory and experiment, use of quantitative and qualitative information, and development and elaboration of major ideas in science.

  • Required: Two approved science courses. At least one course will include laboratory experience.

Western civilization/world history goal: Courses aim to achieve a majority of the following learning outcomes: students will be able to demonstrate familiarity with the major chronology of Western civilization or world history; demonstrate the ability to narrate and explain long-term changes and continuities in Western civilization or world history; identify, evaluate, and appropriately cite online and print resources; develop multiple historical literacies by analyzing primary sources of various kinds (texts, images, music) and using these sources as evidence to support interpretation of historical events; communicate effectively— through speech, writing, and use of digital media—their understanding of patterns, process, and themes in the history of Western civilization or the world.

  • Required: One approved course.

Global understanding goal: Courses aim to achieve a majority of the following learning outcomes: develop understanding of global patterns and processes and their interaction with society; demonstrate understanding of the interconnectedness, difference, and diversity of a global society; identify, evaluate and properly cite resources appropriate to the field, such as audio/visual/online/print materials, or artifacts; apply awareness of global issues to a consideration of individual or collective responsibilities within a global society; and devise analytical, practical, or creative responses to global problems or issues.

  • Required: One approved course.

Social and behavioral sciences goal: Courses aim to achieve a majority of the following learning outcomes: Demonstrate understanding of key concepts, terminology, principles or theories within the field; demonstrate understanding of methodological approaches appropriate to the field; identify, evaluate and properly cite resources appropriate to the field, such as audio/visual/online/print materials, or artifacts; explain how individuals, groups or institutions are influenced by contextual factors as appropriate to the field; and use appropriate methods to apply social and behavioral science concepts, terminology, principles, or theories to significant issues.

  • Required: One approved course.

Synthesis Requirement

Synthesis goal: The purpose of the synthesis course is to provide students with the opportunity to synthesize the knowledge, skills and values gained from the general education curriculum. Synthesis courses strive to expand students’ ability to master new content, think critically, and develop life-long learning skills across the disciplines. While it is not feasible to design courses that cover “all” areas of general education, synthesis courses should function as a careful alignment of disciplinary goals with a range of general education learning outcomes.

A general education synthesis course must address outcomes 1 and 2, and at least one outcome under 3. Upon completing a synthesis course, students will be able to:

  1. Communicate effectively in both oral and written forms, applying appropriate rhetorical standards (e.g., audience adaptation, language, argument, organization, evidence, etc.)
  2. Using perspectives from two or more disciplines, connect issues in a given field to wider intellectual, community or societal concerns
  3. Apply critical thinking skills to:

    1. Evaluate the quality, credibility and limitations of an argument or a solution using appropriate evidence or resources, OR,
    2. Judge the quality or value of an idea, work, or principle based on appropriate analytics and standards
  • Required: One approved course.

Writing-Intensive Course Requirement

As part of the university’s commitment to student writers in all undergraduate programs, at least one upper-division course in each major has been designated as fulfilling the “writing intensive” (WI) requirement. While other courses in the major may require written projects, teachers of the designated WI courses will devote class time to instruction on how to complete assignments successfully, assign and grade a minimum of 3500 words, provide constructive feedback on drafts, and allow revision of at least one graded assignment. See the description of each major for the specific course or courses that fulfill the WI requirement.

Approved General Education Courses

The course list reflects approved courses as of press time. For the most current list, go to provost.gmu.edu/gened/approved-course-listing/

Foundation Requirements

Written communication (6 credits: 3 lower, 3 upper)

Oral communication (3 credits)

Core Requirements

Arts (3 credits)

Western civilization/world history (3 credits)

Social and behavioral science (3 credits)

Global understanding (3 credits)

Natural science (7 credits total)

Lab (4 credits):

Synthesis requirement

Total: 40 credits