Bringing physical education back to universities


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Conflicting beliefs about physical-education requirements linger on campus to this day.

The University of Iowa shed its physical-education requirement in the 1990s. A few years ago, such classes stopped fulfilling any general-education need entirely.

Faculty wanted to refocus and prioritize what they thought was a need in a general-education requirement,” said Kathryn Hall, the senior director of curriculum and academic policy at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Though the UI still offers physical-education courses in the Health and Physical Activity Skills Program, but university health officials say it’s not the same.

“A requirement would bring kids who otherwise wouldn’t take physical-education courses,” said Heidi Bohall, a UI behavior health educator at Student Health Service.

She said she believes that it is a very important tool that not a lot of schools require anymore.

“There are already a lot of students who aren’t comfortable participating in physical activity,” Bohall said. “Health/physical-activity classes allow students to expose, practice, and educate themselves to activities that they would typically not do if they didn’t take these courses.”

Students who are enrolled in such courses say they find themselves enjoying them.

“I signed up for [Flexibility] because it sounded interesting, and I needed an extra credit,” said UI freshman Allyson Bingham.

“It takes you away from sitting in a classroom,” said UI freshman Sadie Crees. “The class is definitely more than an elective credit; I’ve learned lessons that I’ll use for the rest of my life.”

However, some students don’t find the idea of physical-education requirement appealing.

“I am paying lots of money to get an education, not to get a work out,” said freshman Amberlynn Stowers. “Working out is great, but I shouldn’t be forced to do it so I can get a degree.”

Helena Dettmer, the associate dean of the liberal-arts school, said general-education programs focus on academics and a phys-ed requirement did not meet the academic standard.

However, American studies Professor Susan Birrell, who studies sports, disagreed.

“I think there was a misunderstanding about what a physical-education requirement is and how it fits into a liberal-arts education,” she said. “There was some sentiment on campus, perhaps through the dean’s office, that it doesn’t have the same stature as the other requirements.”

She pointed to phys-ed courses that require research and academic writing.

Bradley Cardinal, a professor at Oregon State University who conducted a study examining 354 randomly selected four-year universities and why they cut their requirements, said he believes now to be a pivotal moment to bring back such stipulations.

“We’re at this interesting point of history where we get to see the value of the health education,” Cardinal said.

Health/physical activities coordinator Andrea Short said she would like to see a renewed focus on physical education at the university level.

“I would love to think the [health/activity] courses would be at the forefront of every students’ agenda,” Short said. “[I would like to see health/activity] with a strong, universal focus on health and wellness throughout Iowa and beyond.”

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