College finalizes new core curriculum

Katie Armstrong

After a three-year review, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has revised its core curriculum to require five fewer courses beginning fall 2011. 

The core curriculum will be reduced to 16 courses and 50 credit hours, according to Kathryn Szumanski, director of communication for the College, marking a significant reduction from the 21 requirements currently in place. 

The size, restrictiveness and rigor of the core, as well as its reflection of the University’s mission were addressed by the those involved with the curriculum changes.

The science and math departments were subject to alterations under the new curriculum. 

Although the credit hour and lab requirements remain the same, the new Mendel Science Experience course requirements are not restricted to taking two back-to-back, sequential courses within a single discipline. The math requirement has been reduced to one course. 

Diversity requirements also received further focus. Diversity 3 courses will now focus on economic and class diversity whereas Diversity 1 courses will focus on ethnic and minority group and poverty in the United States. 

An additional nuance of the Diversity requirements is that service learning courses, internships and study abroad courses may be applied toward this requirement. 

Philosophy, English literature, history and social sciences requirements each received one course cut. There is an additional proposal to incorporate a literature-specific Writing Seminar into sophomore year classes. 

“Courses will still be dedicated to practicing writing, such as ACS, the new English 1050, and the Senior CAPstones,” said John Doody, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “In addition, there is a plan in place to reduce the class sizes of theology, philosophy and ethics courses, with the understanding and expectation that faculty will require writing enriched exercises within those subjects. So, there will be more writing courses in the new core, but the courses will not carry the ‘writing intensive’ or ‘writing-enriched’ labels.”

The dean’s advisory council envisions that most new core courses will be capped at 22-25 students, will be highly discussion-oriented, emphasize the practice of writing and be seminar-styled. With changing student dynamics over the years, including improved student SAT scores and students’ enhanced secondary educational experiences, the College sought to provide a more rigorous and relevant core curriculum, according to Szumanski. 

 “The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences seeks to become one of the premier colleges among its peers in the nation,” Doody said.”We seek to move away from introductory survey courses and offer courses that challenge our students to think analytically, critically and creatively in meaningful ways.”

Efforts for reconstructing the core began in 2007 with the College’s former dean, Rev. Kail Ellis, O.S.A. With his invitation, seven faculty focus groups were formed in March 2007, followed by the establishment of seven task forces in September of that year. 

Task force committees met throughout spring and fall semesters of 2008, and their reports and recommendations were made available to faculty via the Web in January 2009. Open forums were held in January 2010 to discuss a proposed new core. Both faculty and students actively served on each of the task force committees. 

One task force suggested to eliminate the fine arts requirement from the new core. 

Out of the three open forums held in January 2010, two specifically focused on the fine arts element of a liberal arts education. 

After acknowledging that fine arts courses encourage critical thinking, creativity and particularly unique insights, the dean’s advisory council reaffirmed fine arts as a core requirement. With the new core carrying new structure and depth, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is also enhancing advising services for students.

“Our concept is to create for our undergraduate students a ‘one-stop shopping’ experience for all their questions regarding courses, professional development, study abroad, graduation and so on,” Doody said. “Students who have come to the Dean’s Office in the past will be redirected to the Advising Center for their needs.”

The Office of Academic Advising and Internships Office will move to the first floor of SAC in the former office of the department of theology and religious studies. 

In addition, a new assistant dean for undergraduate students will be hired to provide leadership to the Office of Academic Advising and to serve as a liaison to University offices, such as the Counseling Center, Office of the Registrar, Office of Student Life and others.

“Father Ellis said repeatedly that if students have more choices, then there should be more advice about their options,” Doody said. “The fact that students have greater freedom means that they need to have a strong support system in advising. With that in mind, the advising office is going to be moved from the fourth to the first floor in the St. Augustine Center for the Liberal Arts to make advising opportunities more accessible to students.”

The revisions made to the curriculum are intended to provide a more diverse array of options for students’ educational pursuits.

“The students themselves will choose,” Doody said. “I think I speak for all faculty whose comments and input helped shape this new direction for the core. The faculty want the students in our College to accept the challenge of their greater freedom and to make the best use of their academic freedom.”

This is the third refocus session for the core curriculum in 40 years, with prior changes to the core occurring around 1968 and 1988.  Diversity 2 courses will continue to focus on the role of gender in today’s society.