Here at the English Department Blog, we would like to congratulate Dr. Paul Ranieri on his appearance in the New York Times article, “General Studies Moves to the Mainstream,”  by Eric Platt.  Dr. Ranieri was quoted in his role as the Executive Director of the Association for General and Liberal Studies. According to the AGLS website, “the association works by providing models of teaching and leadership to develop and enhance programs of general education and liberal studies.” I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Ranieri and talk about the New York Times piece, his role as the director of the association, and the importance of a strong liberal education.

As Executive Director of AGLS, Dr. Ranieri is responsible for what he calls, “making sure the trains run on time.” He oversees everything the organization needs to carry out its mission, from maintaining the website to organizing conferences and meetings for the entire Executive Council.  His involvement as the director began nine years ago, when the previous director, who was a friend, thought he would enjoy the opportunity to lead a national organization that encourages strong general education at the university level.  “Currently, there are very few national organizations on general and liberal education,” said Dr. Ranieri. “AGLS is the only organization that deals with both program directors and faculty who teach classes.”  For example, here in our very own department, AGLS would work with our Director of the Writing Program, Dr. Jackie-Grutsch-McKinney, and with the faculty who actually teach the courses that are a part of the Writing Program, such as English 103 and English 104, classes that are required of every student who attends Ball State University.  AGLS would also have an interest in courses beyond the first year that apply to our core program, such as ENG 213 and ENG 444.

These general education courses are a part of the curriculum at Ball State University, and there are similar core programs required at most universities around the nation.  Universities are under increasing pressure to standardize programs of study and raise graduation rates. “Standardization of core courses across an entire state often results in the lowest quality of programs because a standard core needs to be applied to so many types of universities, thus eliminating the ability an institution might have for addressing the needs of its own student body,” said Dr. Ranieri.  In addition, many attempts to push students to complete their degrees have little to do with the quality of those degrees.  They are only meant to improve the number of students who reach graduation.

Dr. Ranieri expressed disappointment in the article in that it, “expressed a narrow definition of general studies. It’s a complex concept,” he said, “and I was glad the  New York Times focused on it.” However, “the author seemed intent on discovering how some general and liberal education programs might allow underprepared students to enroll in a college or university. AGLS supports general and liberal studies practices that ensure students have foundational knowledge outside of their major curriculum and ensure that those core skills are well integrated into students’ majors and minors.  Core programs are, not about ‘back-dooring’ into college.  The real role of core programs at the post-secondary level did not come through in what was published.” Dr. Ranieri is currently finishing his ninth and final year as Executive Director of AGLS.  He plans to remain active in the organization because he “likes what they stand for and what they do.” After his term is over, he will continue to work with the association’s digital communications program.

–Rhiannon Racy