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P.E. requirements replaced

| Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Incoming University freshmen in fall 2015 will participate in a new program that will replace the current model, eliminating the physical education courses and swimming requirement, according to an April 17 press release.

News_Graphic_FreshmanClassEmily Hoffman
“On the recommendation of the Academic Council, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, has approved two one-credit courses for first-year students that include components that focus on physical and mental wellness, spirituality, cultural competency, academic success and discernment,” the press release stated.

Hugh Page, vice president, associate provost and dean of the First Year of Studies program, said these changes were recommended by the ad hoc Committee on Physical Education Requirement Alternatives.

“The ad hoc Committee on Physical Education Requirement Alternatives (ACPERA) proposal represents the final phase of a three-year process involving two separate university committees,” Page said. “Input at various stages in the deliberations of both bodies was received from the Faculty Senate, the Undergraduate Studies Committee of Academic Council (USCAC), faculty  and students. Both USCAC and ACPERA had student representation.”

The new classes will enable a wider range of campus educators to aid freshmen throughout the school year, Page said.

“These new classes will allow us more directly to involve a broad spectrum of campus educators in orienting first-year students to undergraduate life and in helping them to acquire the disciplines of the mind and habits of the heart that will enable them to thrive and to take full advantage of the opportunities for intellectual and spiritual development at Notre Dame,” he said. “We also see in them an opportunity to call the attention of first-year students to the educational charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which emphasizes formation of the whole person.”

Page said the new classes are similar to the current Contemporary Topics classes, but will significantly expand the material covered and allow more time for student-teacher interaction.

“The classes will have seven themes as their overarching foci: Orientation to University Life; Strategies for Health and Wholeness; Community Standards and Cultural Competence; Strategies for Success in the Classroom; Discernment (Academic, Spiritual and Vocational); Cultivation of Spiritual Life; and Mind-Body Awareness/Physical Activity,” he said.

“They also provide an opportunity for student engagement in small groups. Some of these issues are addressed in the two-course Contemporary Topics sequence we now have in place, while others are not. A few have been included in earlier incarnations of CT, but were discontinued.

“Our hope is to provide an opportunity for each area to be engaged in a manner that is sustained, appropriately challenging, contemplative and meaningful,” he said.

The new classes will be organized in a variety of ways, Page said, including through students’ residence halls.

“We anticipate using available slots throughout the traditional class day to arrange plenary and small group breakout sessions, in some instances via residence hall clustering,” he said. “At present, logistical details are fluid. Our goal is to organize these classes so as to promote dialogue among the larger first-year student body as well as within residence halls about issues that are crucial to student growth and the strengthening of the fabric of our common life.”

Page said that the changes will result in the closing of the Physical Education and Wellness Instruction Department at the end of the 2014-2015 academic school year.

“We are working closely with faculty and staff impacted to locate other opportunities for employment,” he said. “Our goal is to ensure that the transition is managed in a manner that is at once professional and pastorally sensitive.”

The committee’s plan also includes continuing to offer a wide variety of life, sport and mind-body activity classes through the Office of Recreational Sports, Page said.

“The plan also includes … developing a communications plan that encourages regular physical activity on the part of students and encouraging the use of electronic portfolios on the part of students to log their activities and note progress toward individual wellness goals,” he said. “We hope, as well, to develop a system of electronic badges to recognize student achievement in these areas.”

Diane Scherzer, associate professional specialist in the physical education department, said the 12 instructors in the physical education and wellness department will be teaching physical lifetime activities in the current wellness program for the next school year.

“We have three people who are on a one-year contract, and after the 2015 school year they will no longer be employed, unless they find another job within the University,” she said. “Everybody else who has six years of experience or more, they are going to be given one year in First Year of Studies, in some capacity, for the 2015-2016 school year.

“It is yet to be determined what position they’ll be receiving, and then after that, I do believe they want [Human Resources] to help us find other employment within the University, but that is not guaranteed.”

Scherzer said she is concerned the new classes will not allow for students to learn new sports.

“I’m concerned about the students not having the opportunity to learn how to swim, take dance classes, squash, golf, ice-skating — so they can skate with their kids one day — curling class, fencing,” she said. “RecSports doesn’t offer any of those, as far as learning how to get halfway decent at them. They teach fitness classes, spin classes, but they don’t teach people how to acquire new skills.”

The current physical education courses allow students to try sports they have never experienced before, Scherzer said.

“Basically, every kid that goes through our program is supposed to take something they haven’t had experience in before,” she said. “I’m truly worried about the students. How are they going to learn new lifetime skills and use them for a lifetime, if they are not taught them?”

The changes, which will eliminate the traditional swim test, also take away a learning opportunity for students, Scherzer said.

“Ninety percent of the students who took the swim test and failed were glad that they took swimming, that they learned how to swim and were more comfortable in the water,” she said. “It makes myself, and everybody in the department, disappointed and sad the students won’t have this opportunity anymore.”

Scherzer said she thinks the new classes, which do not provide a time for physical activity, will have a negative impact on students’ health and stress levels.

“Many of my students have told me ‘This is a stress reliever, and I’ve met friends outside of my major, I’ve met friends who are from the other side of campus, and without physical education classes I would have never met those people,’” she said. “A lot of them have said that because of PE class they’ve had a scheduled time to participate. And in doing so, hopefully they will keep that up. Here, it’s a de-stresser, it’s social and they learn an activity.”

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About Catherine Owers

Senior News Writer Catherine Owers is a senior from New Orleans, Louisiana. She is studying English and Theology.

Contact Catherine