University initiates core curriculum task force

Courtney Scrib

Last Friday Dr. John Johannes, vice president of academic affairs, took the first step in the development of a “true” University core curriculum.

Johannes organized a committee of thirteen administrators, faculty and students and charged them with the task of answering the question, what is the purpose of a core curriculum?

“Most everyone agrees that efforts to enhance the (cultural and academic) climate and student engagement should begin in, but not at all be limited to, the freshman year,” Johannes said. “Obviously, among many strategies currently in use or proposed to stimulate intellectual engagement, curriculum stands at or near the top of the list.”

The initiative has been broken down into a three-step process. Step one involves determining whether Villanova should have a universal core curriculum.

If the committee decides a core curriculum is necessary, the members then will decide what its purpose should be and if it is feasible. By January the committee is expected to report back to Johannes with its decision. Assuming this step yields a clear answer, a second committee will be formed to determine the specific content of the core curriculum.

Serving as the chair of the Core Curriculum Task Force is Dr. Jack Doody, associate dean of Arts and Sciences core curriculum.Before reaching a decision, Doody and the other committee members will look at what peer schools do and may even go on site to visit schools that have the same colleges as Villanova, which includes arts and sciences, business, nursing and engineering.

Because each college within the University has its own unique requirements, the feasibility of a universal core curriculum is placed into question.

As Johannes explained, the core curriculum can be divided into an inner and outer core. The inner core curriculum cuts across the University and unites all students, whereas the outer core is used to compliment the professional studies.

Students enrolled in the colleges of nursing and engineering are required to follow a particularly strict professional accreditation program that leaves little leeway for other courses. Thus, Johannes has encouraged the committee to think outside of the box and beyond just courses.

In order to design a common curriculum, both administrators believe it is necessary to know who the students are and what they are bringing to Villanova from high school, which is different than it was 15 years ago. Given the number of different backgrounds students come from, Doody realizes it is impossible to create a curriculum that is perfect for everyone.

Like Johannes, Doody also understands that a common core curriculum should focus on the development of the individual.

“It involves not just thinking about courses but what students should be learning, and more so, learning at Villanova,” Doody said. “What does Villanova want for Villanova students, in light of the professional standards of accreditation?”

The task of creating a University core curriculum y supports many of the points made by Villanova president Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A. in his inauguration speech.

Donohue stated that “Villanova should be Villanova” and called for the enrichment of the educational experience offered to students.

“A core curriculum defines the educational experience, which is unique to every school,” Johannes said. “It speaks to (Donohue’s) vision.”

However, before they can help actualize the president’s vision, both Doody and Johannes recognize the challenges that accompany a task of this nature and admit that the establishment of a common core curriculum will take time. Based on his previous experiences, Johannes said the actual implementation of a new curriculum could take as long as three years.

Johannes also noted that the process involves s lot of passion and “turf battles” in which every academic department wants and has its reasons why certain classes should be included in the core curriculum.

In addition to Doody, the University core curriculum committee includes Dr. Betti Bruderle, Dr. Robert Caverly, Dr. Andrea DeMaskey, Dr. Amy Fleischer, Dean Melinda German, Dr. Fran Keen, Dr. Jeanne Heffernan, Dr. Emmet McLaughlin, Dr. Vincent Sherry, Dr. Kel Wieder, Alex Zozos and Tom Nardi.

All of the members bring knowledge and experience with core curricula, which they will rely upon when wrestling with the tough questions the initiative presents.

“We should be focused on what the students should be learning, not what department gets a piece of the pie,” Doody says.

The committee’s final report is due on Jan. 31, 2007.