How to propose a course for LE certification

The instructions on this page give a detailed overview of the step-by-step process for proposing a course and answer common questions related to the requirements, in order to help guide you to a successful outcome.

Questions regarding the review of courses for LE certification, including the meeting schedule of the Council for Liberal Education, should be directed to Katie Russell at

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Step 1: Review the criteria and reflect on your course

Explicitly address the LE criteria in your proposals

The Council's goal in writing clear criteria and specifications was to provide as much transparency as possible, not only to simplify the CLE's process of reviewing courses but also to help students who are taking the courses understand what the course is supposed to do and to help faculty who are developing courses.

Course proposals should address the bullet points that pertain to the specific LE requirement (for example, Civic Life and Ethics, or Historical Perspectives), as well as the the general characteristics that are common to Cores and/or Themes, and the criteria for all LE courses. You might consider listing the required components one at a time along with information explaining how the course meets each point. This will make it easy for the CLE to review the proposal.

Because faculty are crucial in communicating with students about liberal education, the CLE will also be looking for language in the syllabus that explains to students how the course meets the Core and/or Theme, what this means for the students and for the course structure, and why learning about this area is important for students' careers and personal lives. This cannot be a matter of chance or instructor personality—it must be consciously and solidly imbedded in the structure of the course and reflected in the syllabus. This is especially important because instructors may change over time, but the course is approved for liberal education designation based on the course syllabus.

Criteria for all LE courses

The Guidelines for Liberal Education explain that all LE courses should do the following:

  • Explicitly help students understand what liberal education is
  • Be taught on a regular basis
  • Be taught by regular faculty

In addition to these three requirements, each course is also expected to meet the common requirements for the Core or Theme, which follow.

Criteria for all Core courses

Because the Core is the central focus of the University's liberal education requirements, there are some unique expectations and requirements that will be employed in assessing whether courses will be included in the Core. Under the revised requirements, courses that meet the council's standards for approval in the Core have to address the different ways of thinking and doing through which various disciplines arrive at and justify their distinctive results. The courses will reveal the ways in which knowledge is culturally and intellectually constructed and changes over time; and demonstrate that "knowing" is an active, ongoing process.

Courses that meet liberal education Core requirements must contextualize their content so that the value to the student is transparent. They should explicitly help students understand how this course (for example, in economics) can also teach them how we construct knowledge in the social sciences more broadly, and how social scientists ask questions and analyze information, with a specific eye towards helping students gain an understanding of a variety of principles and processes important for their lives as engaged citizens. In other words, in this example, it will not be sufficient for a course in the Core just to teach economics; the course should situate economics in the realm of social sciences and help students understand why it matters for them to study economics specifically as an example of the social sciences in general. The course syllabus, lectures, and assignments should support these liberal education goals.

In addition to the common LE course requirements (listed just above), all Core courses will also meet the following requirements:

  • They employ strategies that engage students with doing with work of the field, not just reading about it;
  • They include small group opportunities (including, but not limited to discussion sections or lab) and use writing as appropriate to the discipline to help students learn and reflect on their learning.

Criteria for all Theme courses

With their emphasis on compelling contemporary issues, the Themes should offer opportunities for students to consider timely and engaging questions in all of their complexity; 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.

Theme courses have the common goal of cultivating in students a number of habits of mind, including:

  • 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

Faculty proposing Theme courses should consider how their course meets these goals. When reviewing courses, Council members will evaluate these general criteria as well as the Theme-specific criteria.

Criteria for courses that meet a Core and a Theme requirement

Theme courses focus on contemporary issues of lasting importance for our nation and the world, and offer students opportunities to explore the connections between formal study and the obligations of responsible and ethical citizenship. In contrast, Core courses focus primarily on discipline-specific perspectives and "ways of knowing." Combining a Core and a Theme allows students to explore discipline-specific content through both a disciplinary and a personal lens. Previously, a course could satisfy a Theme if approximately a third of the course material related to the Theme. This is no longer sufficient. If you are submitting a course for a Theme designation, your proposal and syllabus should illustrate how the Theme is interwoven throughout the course. As it does the reviews, the council will evaluate each component of the course independently. We will ask, for example, "If this course did not meet the Biological Sciences Core requirement, would it clearly still meet the Environment Theme?" Evidence of a fully-integrated and sustained Theme would include opportunities for Theme-related discussion, assignments, readings.

Include student learning outcomes in your proposal

The University is moving forward with implementation of the Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) that were approved by the Faculty Senate in May 2007. The SLOs are now policy on the Twin Cities campus, and must be incorporated into the undergraduate curriculum. They are meant to be a framework for the undergraduate educational experience that ties together many of the other components, including liberal education, the Writing Enriched Curriculum and courses within the major. The SLOs state:

At the time of receiving a bachelor's degree, students:

  1. Can identify, define, and solve problems
  2. Can locate and critically evaluate information
  3. Have mastered a body of knowledge and mode of inquiry
  4. Understand diverse philosophies and cultures within and across societies
  5. Can communicate effectively
  6. Understand the role of creativity, innovation, discovery, and expression across disciplines
  7. Have acquired skills for effective citizenship and life-long learning.

Beginning in late February, 2009, the ECAS course proposal form will include checkboxes with which to identify the SLOs that each course addresses. The ECAS form will include space for faculty to briefly explain how the work of the course is linked to the outcome and how the learning that is associated with the outcome will be assessed. ECAS will require, for Fall 2010 and later, that all Twin Cities undergraduate courses meaningfully address at least one of the SLOs. Faculty will be expected to incorporate a paragraph on the syllabus about the SLOs addressed in the course. Prior to late February, 2009, when ECAS is changed, courses proposed for LE recertification must contain language about the SLOs on the course syllabus alone.

Although every course is different, we expect that Core courses, as they explicitly address "ways of knowing," are likely to contribute to at least two of the Student Learning Outcomes (identify, define, and solve problems; locate and critically evaluate information), acknowledging that there are multiple ways of knowing and that knowledge may be socially constructed. Theme courses, like Core courses, are likely to contribute to the first two Student Learning Outcomes and they may also address the final SLO, which requires that students, by the time they graduate, have acquired skills for effective citizenship and life-long learning.

Which courses can have prerequisites

Because Theme courses deal with issues that may require a higher level of knowledge or specialization, they may have prerequisites. However, prerequisites are generally discouraged for LE Core courses, except those that represent the foundation for a major (for example, the introductory biology course for College of Biological Sciences [CBS] students has a prerequisite of general chemistry). In general, Core courses are expected to be accessible to the vast majority of our undergraduate students. If you are proposing an exception to this expectation, please address the rationale in your course proposal.

Courses taught by non-regular faculty

In the course proposal, the course coordinator (faculty sponsor) should describe how the liberal education goals will be met across different sections and how teaching assistants/non-regular faculty will be trained to effectively contribute to the liberal education mission of the course. This might involve discussions/training in workshops or teaching retreats, and assessment of the LE across sections using (for example) surveys, discussion forums or assignments. One way we propose to assure that goals are being met is to require that evaluation forms for all courses that meet liberal education requirements include explicit questions about the extent to which students perceive the course as having met the goals of that particular liberal education requirement. We are working on assessment strategies.

More about special courses: service-learning, learning abroad, freshman and honors seminars

Theme courses offer fertile opportunities for interdisciplinary inquiry, problem-based learning, and community engagement and service learning. Activities such as these are important to the development of students as active and engaged citizens, and we encourage their implementation in the context of LE. By providing students with the opportunity to engage actively with the community at large and in learning activities that involve participation, we encourage them to connect their formal knowledge with the world in which they live.

The council has also recommended that all learning abroad experiences for which students earn at least three college credits should fulfill the Global Perspectives Theme requirement. The designation is not automatic, so these should be submitted for approval.

Freshman seminars and honors seminars may be proposed to meet an LE Theme and/or the Writing Intensive requirement, but not a Core.

Courses are commonly rejected for lack of clear information

While there is no single problem with course proposals, perhaps the top three reasons proposals are not approved are:

  • The syllabus does not explicitly state how the course contributes to a liberal education. In some cases, this material is evident in the course proposal, but the syllabus itself lacks the self-consciousness about LE that the council expects in order for a course to meet the new guidelines.
  • A proposed course only partially meets the criteria. The specific criteria for each of the 12 LE requirements were crafted as essential course components. Courses are also expected to conform to the general guidelines for LE courses and have the characteristics that are common to all Cores and/or Themes.
  • A course proposed for a Theme does not fully integrate the Theme into the course.

Step 2: Write your proposal

Review past course information (if applicable)

If you are re-certifying an LE course:

  • Log in to the Electronic Course Authorization System (ECAS) and enter your course number to see your current course description.
  • Read the current LE guidelines for specific Core and Theme courses and pay attention to the general characteristics that are required of all LE courses. Rewrite your ECAS entries and reconsider your syllabus in light of the new guidelines

Courses are proposed and approved through the Electronic Course Authorization System (ECAS). In most cases, your department administrator will enter your updated information into the system. However, you can review your current course information in ECAS, and use a Word document to prepare your proposal.

Remember your audience(s)

You will need to submit a narrative proposal and an electronic syllabus. Members of the council read both the syllabus and the proposal. Some redundancy is encouraged, but students are the intended audience for the syllabus, whereas members of the council are the sole audience for the proposal. Both the narrative proposal and the syllabus must demonstrate in explicit terms that the course fulfills the specific requirements for the Core and/or Theme for which it is being submitted.

Faculty members submitting courses for recertification should not assume that the goals of their courses are obvious. A proposal for a course on Shakespeare submitted for the literature Core, for example, should not assume that it is "obvious" that this is a literature course. Rather, it is important to explain in both the syllabus and the proposal how the course fulfills its mission as a liberal education course about literature as described in the guidelines. It may be helpful to remember that Council on Liberal Education members, 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.

Components of your proposal

Narrative proposals should explain how the course meets (1) the general requirements of liberal education courses (see the general aims of LE courses, above). Provide concrete examples from the course syllabus, student assignments, detailed outlines, laboratory material, student projects, or other instructional materials or methods.

As well as describing the content of the course, the proposal should explain how the course meets (2) the common goals for all Core or Theme courses, as well as how the course meets (3) the specific goals for whichever Core or Theme the course is meant to address, as described in the guidelines (available as a printable PDF, or on these Core and Theme Web pages). Proposals should explicitly address all bulleted points found under the headings and respond to the prose descriptions under the Core or Theme title. Effective proposals will provide concrete examples from the course that illustrate how the course meets these goals.

Step 3: Create or update your course syllabus

As a part of your proposal, you must include the course syllabus. According to Senate policy, each offering of a course is required to have a syllabus in order to inform students about course requirements and scope.

Liberal education statement required

Syllabi should include a statement that explicitly describes how the 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 liberal education guidelines is one efficient way of doing this. The statement should explain how the particular course fulfills the proposed Core and/or Theme.

This information may be taken from the narrative proposal you compose for the council, but it should be crafted with the student audience in mind.

This statement is required because LE courses are often taken by freshmen in their first semester at the University. Many of these students have no understanding of what liberal education is, other than a campus-wide curricular requirement. Specific details and objectives are useful to students and to the CLE members who evaluate the syllabus.

Other required components

As well as listing readings for the day, the syllabus should provide information about the exercises and activities (small group discussion, debates, revision workshops, and so on) that will be employed in the course. Active student engagement is one of the primary goals of the LE revision; it is helpful to identify how such engagement will take place in the classroom.

Step 4: Submit for review

How to submit your course for your review

In most cases, you will send your proposal to your department administrator, who will enter it into ECAS. The CLE will then review your proposal and inform you of its status.

What happens if your course is not approved

If a course is not approved by the CLE, the proposer will receive comments reflecting the discussion of the council. Often fairly cosmetic changes are needed, such as including statements in the syllabus about why this particular course will enhance a student's liberal education, or making these statements more prominent. Proposals of this sort may receive "Provisional Approval." Other times the CLE may have concluded that one of the required general or specific aspects of Core or Theme courses has not been fully met, or that a Theme is not integral to the course and does not merit Theme designation. Revised courses may be resubmitted for Council review in a later round.

When a course should be re-certified

To keep the ECAS LE course database up-to-date, modified course proposals and syllabi should be submitted in the event of changes that impact the LE criteria. These would include:

  • adding prerequisites to a Core course
  • decreasing the number of credits or the number of lab hours
  • significant restructuring of small group experiences
  • changing to an adjunct faculty or other "non-regular" instructor
  • substantially changing the course focus (for example time/assignments devoted to a Theme in a course that meets both a Core and a Theme)

A number of these changes can still be accommodated in the LE curriculum. Obviously, courses that meet both a Core and a Theme should be also be resubmitted if they have changed in ways that leave unaddressed one or more of the Core/Theme criteria for which the course was originally approved.