Civic Life and Ethics theme proposals

Course proposals for the Civic Life and Ethics theme should describe how your course fits within the theme, and how this theme is situated within the purpose and values of liberal education.

Components of your proposal

Your proposal will include both a narrative description and a syllabus.

As you develop your proposal, you should not assume that the goals of your courses are obvious. It may be helpful to remember that the members of the Council on Liberal Education, like students in liberal education courses, come from units across the University. The council's aim is to ensure that liberal education courses meet the University's goals and that these goals are clear to students and to faculty members.

Narrative proposal

Your narrative proposal should explain how the course meets:

  1. The general requirements of liberal education.
  2. The common goals for all theme courses.
  3. The specific goals for the Civic Life and Ethics theme.

Effective proposals will provide concrete examples from the course that illustrate how the course meets these goals, e.g., from the course syllabus, detailed outlines, course assignments, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or methods.

Your proposal should also include two brief statements that address:

  1. How your course addresses one or more of the University's Student Learning Outcomes.
  2. How the learning associated with this outcome will be assessed.


Because it is written for students, your syllabus should contain the following elements.

Language to help students understand what liberal education is and how this course fulfills its mission as a liberal education course. A course description at the head of the syllabus followed by a paragraph describing the precise aims according to the guidelines is one efficient way of doing this.

A clear explanation of how the particular course fulfills the Civic Life and Ethics theme, so that students are aware of how and why the course meets LE requirements. This can be done through the stated course objectives, course topics, writing assignments, and required readings. You may also include supporting materials, such as lab manuals, sample assignments, or handouts, or descriptions of small group discussions, debates, revision workshops, and so on, that will be employed in the course.

A brief paragraph describing the Student Learning Outcome(s) the course addresses, how it addresses these outcomes, and how the learning that is associated with the outcome will be assessed.

Additional syllabus guidelines:

  • For existing courses, the syllabus must be for a term within the past two years.
  • For courses under development, the syllabus may be provisional but still must document how the course will meet the LE requirement(s), as indicated above. A list of lecture topics or discussion topics should be included, with the understanding that dates, schedules, and readings may be tentative.
  • The syllabus needs to conform to the University Senate Syllabi Policy, approved December 6, 2001. It should be in English, or with an English translation provided.
  • Formatting is often lost when material is copied and pasted into the system. Try to keep formatting simple.


All liberal education courses must:

  • Explicitly help students understand what liberal education is, how the content and the substance of this course enhance a liberal education, and what this means for them as students and as citizens.
  • Meet one or more of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs). In the syllabus you submit, specify which of the SLO(s) that the course meets, how it addresses the outcome(s), and how the learning that is associated with the outcome(s) will be assessed.
  • Be offered on a regular schedule.
  • Be taught by regular faculty or under exceptional circumstances by instructors on continuing appointments. Departments proposing instructors other than regular faculty must provide documentation of how such instructors will be trained and supervised to ensure consistency and continuity in courses.
  • Be at least 3 credits (or at least 4 credits for biological or physical sciences, which must include a lab or field experience component).

Guidelines for all theme courses

All theme courses have the common goal of cultivating in students a number of habits of mind:

  • Thinking ethically about important challenges facing our society and world.
  • Reflecting on the shared sense of responsibility required to build and maintain community.
  • Connecting knowledge and practice.
  • Fostering a stronger sense of our roles as historical agents.

With their emphasis on compelling contemporary issues, the themes offer opportunities for students to consider timely and engaging questions in all of their complexity; to reflect on ethical implications; to discuss and to debate; to formulate opinions; to have their opinions respectfully challenged and to respectfully challenge the opinions of others; and to connect what they are learning to their own lives and to the world around them. Courses in these areas offer students a sustained opportunity to engage in difficult debates around moral, legal, and ethical issues that require critical inquiry from a variety of perspectives and the cultivation of independent thinking.

To meet more than one requirement:

  • A course may be approved to meet one core or one theme or both a core and a theme. In the latter case, the theme must be fully and meaningfully infused into the course (the old standard of "one-third of the course" will no longer be sufficient).
  • Courses may be submitted for both LE and WI designation.

Civic Life and Ethics objectives and criteria

Education in civic life and ethics will help students as they continually shape their identities and character in the context of civic life and public engagement. Civic life and public engagement is not simply political activity; it inevitably encompasses the everyday actions that individuals take in their personal, professional, and public lives. Ethics involves acquisition of insight into experiences that help us to make decisions about what is good or bad, right or wrong, just or unjust—and to recognize the ambiguity inherent in many public problems.

The Civic Life and Ethics theme explores the social construction of ethics and the role of ethics in decisions that affect the general population in their everyday lives. It also explores how decisions are made or influenced by public engagement. Students will be best equipped to manage contemporary problems if they learn how civic and ethical principles have been historically developed, critically assessed by individuals and groups, and negotiated within specific cultural settings. It is desirable but not required of this theme that students have opportunities to apply their knowledge and skills to contemporary problems in civic life.

Courses must meet these criteria:

  • The course presents and defines ethics and the role of ethics in civic life.
  • The course explores how the ethical principles of a society or societies have been derived and developed through group processes, and debated in various arenas.
  • The course encourages students to develop, defend, or challenge their personal values and beliefs as they relate to their lives as residents of the United States and members of a global society. 
  • Students have concrete opportunities to identify and apply their knowledge of ethics, both in solving short-term problems and in creating long-term forecasts.