The University of Maryland Board of Regents took a major step yesterday toward abolishing the general studies major on the College Park campus, responding to complaints that the interdisciplinary program has allowed students, including campus athletes, to graduate without a coherent education.
Yesterday's recommendation by a regents committee virtually ensures that the full board will kill the program at its meeting next month. Its demise would mark the first time in this decade that the university has abandoned a program because faculty and administrators believed it was weak.
The major, which allows students to create their own combination of courses, has been criticized repeatedly during the last few years. But the complaints intensified after the cocaine-induced death of basketball star Len Bias in June 1986. The disclosure that Bias, a senior majoring in general studies, had not passed any courses in his final semester drew attention to the fact that some basketball and football players appeared to be using general studies as an easy route to a degree.
However, some College Park students and faculty believe that general studies, created in 1972, has been maligned because of its association with Bias. They argue that it provides a valuable way for students to synthesize their interests, and they say it has been strengthened by a recent requirement that students in the program specify two major areas of study and one minor.
In recommending its demise, William A. Kirwan, the College Park vice chancellor for academic affairs, told the regents yesterday, "We have had many outstanding students go through the program. But we do not believe, on balance, it has had the kind of quality control we want."
Kirwan said the campus' nearly 700 general studies majors, or 2.3 percent of 30,000 undergraduates at College Park, have not had enough faculty advice in choosing their coursework, because the program has no professors of its own. He also said that students who wanted an interdisciplinary education could turn to a more rigorous "individual studies" program.
The only dissent among the regents came from a student member, Rodney Tyson, who said "it offered a wide breadth of education for people who are searching for a real liberal arts education."
Tyson, a College Park sophomore, also said that, while some students have abused the program, "in general that is not true." Instead of killing the program, he said, the campus should hire more faculty members to work with its students.