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Faculty vote to decide fate of Core program

Amanda Michaels | Tuesday, December 2, 2003

The Core program, a staple of liberal arts studies at Notre Dame, may undergo sweeping changes after faculty members and department chairs that make up the College Council vote on the course’s fate at their Dec. 9 meeting.

The current Core curriculum, offering a two-semester course on one broad topic, finished third of four options in a straw poll taken at the College Council two meetings ago. Based upon those results, the survival of Core in its present form was unlikely, so four new proposals were presented to the group, said George Howard, director of Core and professor of psychology.

The first two choices included a Core based on the examination of classical texts, and one with no requirements. However, Howard indicated that the two most likely options were for a one-semester course during the sophomore year based on material chosen by each faculty member, eliminating the common core of readings, or a one-semester course during the sophomore year, plus a senior capstone course. The latter proposal would maintain the current two-semester requirement, and the capstone section would allow students to delve into more detailed, major-related subject matter.

After Dec. 9, aspects of the winning proposal will be further developed by the Council.

The changes come amid cries of dissatisfaction from students, but, more notably, from members of the faculty.

“It’s not that students have turned more negative, it’s that Notre Dame’s faculty has become less able to teach an intellectually broad course,” said Howard. “We’ve just gone through 25 years of departments being told they have to be better in National Academy Science ratings, and you do that by getting even narrower specialists. Twenty-five years ago, we have faculty members who had the background and intellectual tastes to view things as a generalist, and that is who the Core program most appealed to.”

Li Guo, member of the Core faculty and professor of classics, agreed.

“Actually, I like teaching Core. I’m really having fun, but the younger faculty members don’t like it because they would rather teach something more specific in their own field. That’s the dividing line,” Guo said.

In a memo sent to the College Council committee set up to develop Core course proposals, the Core advisory committee, made up of faculty members with a long association with the program, expressed their displeasure that the changes made to the program.

“For my 40 years at Notre Dame, we have always had in the college a year-long course common to all our students involving writing and discussion and a common set of texts,” said Thomas Scwartz, member of the advisory committee and professor of economics and policy studies. “The proposed changes are radically different, and a radical departure over what we’ve done in my life at the college. I’ll be saddened to see the loss of that common experience for our sophomores.”

The student interests in the ordeal are voiced by the Core Congress, made up of student representatives from each Core class, who were able to meet with faculty members and offer suggestions on how to improve the program.

“The faculty members were very warm and accepting of our opinions,” said representative Ashley Lucchese. “We all want to do what’s best for the University, and our input is just another strong point against Core.”