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Faculty Panel reexamines Core Curriculum

| Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Every 10 years, the University of Notre Dame undergoes a rigorous review of its core curriculum, the set of courses that every student is required to take in order to establish a common foundation in learning, according to the Core Curriculum Review website.

This year’s review process launched with University President Fr. John Jenkins and University Provost Thomas Burish appointing John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and Gregory Crawford, dean of the College of Science, as co-chairs of the Decennial Core Curriculum Review Committee in August 2014, according to the Core Curriculum Review website. The committee includes 12 additional faculty members from multiple departments of the University.

In order to engage faculty in the inspection process, the Committee hosted open faculty forums throughout the academic year, per the website. The most recent forum was held in the McKenna Hall auditorium Tuesday night. McGreevy began the meeting by outlining the purpose of the Review Committee and the importance of faculty feedback in the process.

“One thing to observe about these requirements is that they haven’t changed in forty years,” McGreevy said. “These are the requirements that came into being at Notre Dame and also, roughly, at Boston College and Georgetown [University], in the early 1970s.”

The core curriculum is the foundation of the Notre Dame education, McGreevy said, and thus, the review of the curriculum is crucial.

“If I were to characterize [the committee’s] conversations … I think the things we have talked the most about are, ‘What is it that we want students to have when they graduate? What knowledge, dispositions and skills?’” McGreevy said.

McGreevy said students may need a range of particular courses that fine tune writing and oration skills.

McGreevy said the University needs to examine “how best can [courses] be substantiated — incorporating certain requirements and organizational structures — from academic advising to the relationship between [the] First Year of Studies [program] and the colleges and schools.”

Other questions under consideration by the Committee include how to sustain and deepen the University’s commitment to its Catholic character and how to integrate core curriculum requirements with major requirements, McGreevy said. Faculty members were then invited to share their thoughts on these questions.

Associate professor of political science Debra Javeline proposed a sustainability requirement for the core curriculum.

“We are all deeply concerned about the sustainable issues of environmental change and whether our students come out of Notre Dame to participate in the conversation,” Javeline said.

While review of the curriculum is a beneficial activity, it also runs the risk of losing sight of what the University already does well, said Jean Porter, John A. O’Brien professor of theology.

“Notre Dame is an institution that prides itself on giving our undergraduates a first-rate, humanistic education,” Porter said. “We initiate them into certain critical thought, we initiate them into the learnings of the Church, and I think we do it at a very high level.”

Theology professor Gary Anderson called for reforms to the structure of introductory classes so that students not be required to take as many beginning classes with graduate students.

“When I arrived in 2003 and began teaching the intro course, I was told I had to do the University seminar with 17 students because we have to have senior faculty members teaching those seminars,” Anderson said. “Plus, the University requires us to fund our fifth-year graduate students by putting them in these classes, so we are forced to do this.”

Elizabeth Mazurek, associate professor of classics, spoke on the importance of languages being included in the potentially new core curriculum.

“I think that if you were to explore a thematic requirement of diversity, foreign language would be perfect,” Mazurek said. “You would not be forcing all students to take so many semesters of a language requirement, but it would be an option for diversity exploration.

“… The Catholic Church is a world church and if we are to talk about ecological literacy, I think we also have to talk about world language literacy.”

Other topics discussed at the forum included the election of faculty members to the Committee, rather than the current system of appointments, and the integration of different disciplines within the core curriculum.

The Committee will open up to student feedback beginning next week, as there will be an open discussion on the place of theology in the core curriculum at 7 p.m. Monday night in Geddes Hall.

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About Kayla Mullen

Kayla is a senior political science major and the Managing Editor of The Observer. She hails from Philadelphia, PA and was previously a resident of Howard Hall.

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  • Is it that time again already for this “rigorous review” of the “core curriculum”?

    As a “double-domer” alum, two items:

    1.) Contrary to Dean McGreevy’s assertion, the “core curriculum” has changed in the last 40 years. The “idea”, or “ethos”, of what a “core curriculum” is hasn’t changed much but what that core curriculum is – the nuts and bolts – certainly has evolved. Numerous examples: “core” to “college seminar”, language-other-than-english requirements, etc. etc.

    2.) Instead of all the rhetoric — the hang-wringing and proclamations — over “humanistic education” and “‘Catholic’ ‘character'”, how about some discussions of things like why are there so few spaces in upper-level electives in many majors for sophomores and juniors? Heck, for seniors, too? Why do departments clog electives at the same times? Why are intro-level major courses at the worst times of the day/week? Why is it that athletes get to pick classes first before “regular students”? Why do some first-year students get to start their majors during first year while other students in other majors don’t? Why do professors teach so many graduate courses so close together? Why does one department allow a study abroad course to apply towards a major while another doesn’t? If a student in the business school takes different kinds and numbers of classes from a student in science, why do the students receive the same degree when the requirements for one degree are much easier than the other? Why are the professors with the worst people skills the ones who teach intro major-level courses? Why do some departments have wait-lists for courses and others don’t? Why do 1/2 of the professors in one department keep “wait lists” for courses while the other 1/2 doesn’t – how can this be in the same department #1? Why do some professors in a department actually hold advising sessions while other professors simply sign forms and leave them in envelopes outside their office doors so students can pick them up without even meeting with students – how can this be in the same department #2? Eliminating AP credit (which were joke classes at my high school which we all relieved credit for)? The list could go on and on.

    I’m sure if students were consulted about “curriculum” issues, there’d be a lot of topics brought to the table that many professors and administrators probably wouldn’t want to hear because the comments would be in direct opposition to the oft-touted admissions’ and brand/marketing/pr department’s “high quality undergraduate education” mantra. Yeah, if you can get the classes you need and want, with a faculty member who actually wants to teach undergraduates, without everything being taught through the lens of Catholic teaching…………..perhaps.