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Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.

UNIVERSITY PRESS

Principles of Sociology proposed removal sparks concerns among FAU community

On Nov. 9, the Florida Board of Governors voted to exclude Principles of Sociology from the general education core course list, causing frustration and strong reactions among sociology professors and associations.
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Erika Fletcher
FAU Department of Sociology

Editor’s note: This story has been updated as of Jan. 8 to clarify and properly attribute information about the current General Education courses offered at FAU.

The Florida Board of Governors voted on Nov. 9 to remove the Principles of Sociology class from the roster of core courses available for the state’s public college students to fulfill their general education requirements, a decision that sparked frustration and strong reactions among sociology professors, students and associations.  

Manny Díaz Jr., Florida’s education commissioner, proposed the removal of Principles of Sociology and the implementation of an American history survey class, which fulfills the updated 2021 Florida state mandate that students must take a civic literacy course and complete a civic literacy assessment to graduate.

Six courses are currently offered under the social sciences category of Gen Ed courses, including Principles of Sociology.

“The revision I’m suggesting would reduce the number of social science [Gen Ed] courses to six, with three of those potentially being options to meet the requirement for civic literacy,” Díaz said when he introduced the amendment.

The social sciences’ faculty committee recommended adding a history course to the list for the civic literacy requirement, which will be voted on in January, according to FAU’s Student Sociology Association (SSA) comment to the BOG.

“As students who study sociology, we are deeply troubled by the legislature’s choice to remove Principles of Sociology as a core class. Many people do not know what sociology is, so by having this class available as a core class for general education, students can be introduced to the subject and gain valuable insights that they can carry with them,” an SSA representative wrote in a statement to the UP.

FAU’s Graduate Sociology Student Association (GSSA) declined to comment. 

Principles of Sociology is also the class where many sociology students first learn about the discipline. 

“Most incoming sociology students don’t really have a sense of what sociology is, and they’re typically introduced to it through the general education requirements. Once exposed to it, it resonates with a lot of people, so they decide to major in the field,” said FAU Associate Sociology Professor Philip Lewin.

Lewin started as a philosophy and political science major at the University of Georgia. During his first semester in college he encountered sociology, drawn to the discipline through the mandatory social and behavioral science requirement needed to fulfill his credits. 

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but if we were removed completely, I think it would have a devastating impact on the number of students who discover this field and decide to major in it,” said Lewin. “Almost all of our majors come from students discovering sociology though the Sociological Perspectives course, so if students stop taking that, I would expect our majors to heavily decrease by 50-80%.”

The 2021 Florida Legislature revised the statute, necessitating students to fulfill a civic literacy course and an exam. 

The civic literacy requirement already had an impact on enrollment in introductory sociology courses, with many students choosing to satisfy both civic literacy and social science requirements with a single class and sociology not meeting the criteria for those requirements. 

As of Fall 2023, FAU had 253 enrolled sociology majors. According to CourseLeaf Section Schedule, the university’s course scheduling platform, the number of FAU students enrolled in Principles of Sociology (SYG 1000) was 1299 in 2021 under the modified civics requirement. Currently, the enrollment in SYG 1000 at FAU stands at 999. 

A lot of students started taking one of those courses to kill two birds with one stone, so once that requirement came about, our majors dropped off quite a bit because we were getting fewer people enrolled in the sociological perspectives course, “ Lewin said. “When the Board of Governors changed their requirements again, where now you have to take the civics test and you have to take the course, that affected our majors even more.”

According to FAU’s Institutional Effectiveness and Analysis (IEA), the total degrees awarded in sociology across all student levels –graduate and undergraduate– in fall 2023 was 163, compared to 337 in fall 2019.

Similar to Lewin, Ann Branaman, professor and head chair of the sociology department at FAU, first discovered the discipline through general education requirements, having initially intended to pursue a major in psychology. 

“I started college with a plan to become a psychology major because I thought that would best help me understand people, their experiences and their troubles, but when I took introductory sociology, I found that sociology provided to me all that I had believed psychology might,” Branaman said. “That [introduction to sociology] course was probably the best class I’ve ever taken throughout my entire career.”

Like many of the state’s sociology professors, Lewin and Branaman argue that upholding the vote will not only impact department enrollments but also be a great disservice to students, who will lose out on the lessons an introductory sociology class can offer.

The UP reached out to multiple students for comment but did not receive any responses.

“For me, what was the most eye-opening is the relevance of sociology for understanding how people live their lives, for making sense of human suffering and for realizing that the way things are in our world(s) is not necessarily the way things have to be,” Branaman said.

Lewin and Branaman express worry over the possibility of job layoffs.

“Without students, this could give the state reason to potentially terminate people in the departments,” Lewin said. 

Additionally, critics of the proposed removal of introductory sociology courses disagree with the notion that sociology does not contribute to meeting the requirement for civic literacy.

The American Sociological Association (ASA), the national professional society representing about 10,000 sociologists around the world –including 245 in Florida–, submitted a comment to the BOG on Nov. 13, requesting the reinstallment of Principles of Sociology on the social science core course list. 

The comment partly reads: “While we do not contest the fact that studying the Constitution and other foundational governmental documents is of critical importance, we argue that such knowledge is insufficient for someone to be fully civically engaged. Sociological knowledge and understanding is a crucial component of civic literacy.”

The Southern Sociological Association (SSA) also released a statement in support of the Introductory Sociology as a General Education course on Nov. 16.

Branaman says people believe there are no jobs in the sociology field. 

“But the ability to understand people from diverse backgrounds, to be able to collect and interpret data, and to be able to provide objective analysis of problems we face in groups, communities, organizations, societies and the world …. all of this is something that’s really valuable to many employers,” Branaman said.

Lewin and Branaman are concerned that the removal of Principles of Sociology could have profound repercussions on students, faculty, staff and sociology departments as a whole. One concern is the potential impact on students preparing for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), an exam students must take to get into medical school, as it includes a sociology section. The Sociology section constitutes 30% of the test, featuring 18 questions out of the total 59 with sociological content. This section is combined with the psychology segment, contributing to 25% of the overall score. 

“Florida students will graduate with a blank spot relative to students across the rest of the country, which could harm their graduate admissions, harm their performance on standardized tests, and it can just leave them with an impoverished perspective on the world that might have been improved had they gone through a sociological perspectives course,” said Lewin.

Multiple sociology professors have also emphasized that there was no need to eliminate an existing course to accommodate the American history course, as the Board of Governors and the Florida Department of Education can approve surpass the Florida law’s maximum of five courses in each general education subject area — mathematics, communication, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences.  

“I think this sends a powerful message about how the people in our departments are viewed by the people in charge of the education system,” said Lewin. “It just creates a situation where the people who work in sociology departments feel highly demoralized because the state is saying ‘we don’t value what you do,’ and ‘we don’t think this should be an important part of students’ education.’”

The UP reached out to SSA, along with the Florida Society of Social Sciences, Association of Black Sociologists and Association for Applied and Clinical Sociology, but did not receive a response to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

Laurie Mermet is a contributing writer for the University Press. Email [email protected] or DM laurie.mmt on Instagram for information regarding this or other stories. 

 

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Erika Fletcher, Lead Photographer
Erika is a junior majoring in multimedia studies with a minor in photography. She loves shooting sports and street photography and in her free time, she enjoys drawing, skateboarding, playing soccer, listening to music, and being with her friends and family. She joined the UP on a whim to make new friends and to get better at photography. In her time here, while not long, she's made connections and learned so much about herself already and can't wait to continue her journey with such great people.

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