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Enhancing your core curriculum

| Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Every 10 years, the University president and provost ask the faculty to review Notre Dame’s core curriculum for undergraduates (your general education requirements) and make recommendations about if and how it could be improved. Since the beginning of the fall 2014 semester, a committee comprised of faculty from across campus and charged with leading our latest review has been doing just that.

Many of you as current students participated in this process last academic year when members of the Core Curriculum Review Committee (CCRC) consulted with students, alumni and fellow faculty to assess the core and consider possible revisions.

Our goal? To identify how our general education program might better fulfill its goal of identifying and developing “the knowledge, dispositions and skills every Notre Dame undergraduate student should possess upon graduation.”

Yesterday, the CCRC presented a draft report to the faculty for comment, opening up another phase of conversation and deliberation that will last through the rest of this academic year.

We encourage you to read the report, too. (It is available for download on curriculumreview.nd.edu.) After all, this report is in large part the result of your questions and feedback.

More than any previous review, the process led by the CCRC included outreach and activities designed to engage the entire Notre Dame community. We surveyed all current undergraduate students (thank you for the impressive response rate of 45 percent) as well as a selection of alumni from various years. We invited a wide range of student groups, faculty and staff to participate in meetings, focus groups, open forums and information sessions. And we found this process of gathering responses both stimulating and inspiring.

The charge to the committee from President Jenkins and Provost Burish was wide-ranging, and the breadth of the committee recommendations in the just-released draft report reflect this.

That said, our recommendations are preliminary. We plan to invite the Notre Dame community to discuss the draft report in various venues and ways over the next semester. Following this period of formal faculty comment and broader community discussion, the CCRC will gather all suggestions and decide what changes might be warranted in the draft report before presenting a final report to the University’s Academic Council for approval.

Already, however, we think our findings are significant. We emerged from this initial period of reflection on the core curriculum convinced that the current structure has many strengths — but also contains opportunities for improvement and innovation.

In the draft report, we make a number of proposals for change intended to provide an even richer educational experience for all Notre Dame students. These proposals include:

Enhancing faculty ownership of the curriculum and increasing student flexibility by framing the core around “ways of knowing” and related learning goals, rather than by individual courses in a limited number of departments. For example, we propose that instead of simply setting a “math” requirement to be satisfied by faculty in one department, the requirement be reframed as “quantitative reasoning” so that courses from multiple departments that satisfy the learning goals associated with this way of knowing would be able to fulfill the requirement.

Recommending that a new type of “integration” course be allowed to count for core credit. Inspired by your request to have more of your classes connect across disciplines, these courses would be team-taught by faculty from two disciplines and would tackle pressing contemporary issues and enduring questions from a multidisciplinary vantage point. Already, faculty have come forward with ideas for course proposals covering topics and problems in both the present and the past, from human development to the environment to diversity.

Deepening our Catholic identity by cultivating a renewed appreciation of required courses in Theology and Philosophy, as well as introducing a second new type of course called Catholicism and the Disciplines. The new “CAD” course would explore how dimensions of Catholic thought are integrated into areas of study across the University.

Diminishing the number of core curriculum requirements for many students. At the same time, we encourage departmental programs to place upper limits on major credit hour requirements. Our goal is that every student entering Notre Dame should have at least three free electives before graduation.

Ensuring that our most experienced faculty teach a much higher percentage of introductory courses in the core. Especially in the first year, taking classes from accomplished teachers can be a transformational experience for students.

Encouraging academic advisors across campus to work together in a more collaborative fashion. Increased coordination among advisors can also help students schedule core classes across their entire four years at Notre Dame, not simply their first year.

Eliminating the use of Advanced Placement credit to test out of core requirements altogether. We believe college courses typically do not and should not simply replicate a student’s high school experience — but strongly encourage the use of Advanced Placement courses and high school records for appropriate placement.

The report contains other ideas and proposals, and we look forward to discussing any and all with the Notre Dame community as the core review process continues.

We leave the initial phase of this process impressed by the energy students and faculty have already put into this effort and heartened by what we saw as a campus consensus around the shared value of a Catholic liberal arts education. We are particularly proud of the idealism Notre Dame students display when discussing their highest intellectual aspirations.

In that spirit, we look forward to resuming the conversation next semester.


Michael Hildreth
professor of physics
College of Science

John McGreevy
I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean
College of Arts and Letters

Nov. 30

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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