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Review committee proposes changes to University core curriculum

| Tuesday, December 1, 2015

StaffReport_NewsEric Richelsen

After more than a year of deliberation, the Core Curriculum Review Committee, tasked with evaluating University requirements for undergraduates and proposing necessary changes, released a draft report Monday containing recommendations for certain changes to the courses that currently constitute the University’s core curriculum.

The draft report, which is a preliminary write-up of the committee’s recommendations that will be followed by a final report to faculty and administration in fall 2016, proposes modifications to several of the current core requirements, as well as a reduction in the total number of requirements from 12 to 11 courses, excluding the Moreau First Year Experience course. The decrease in the number of required courses comes from the recommendation of the committee to eliminate one of the four current core requirements in mathematics and the sciences.

“Building on a vision of the Catholic liberal arts, Notre Dame’s own mission and history, the reflections of our faculty, students and alumni, and the University’s existing structures and practices, the committee recommends a new structure for general education requirements at Notre Dame,” the report states.

“In the proposed structure, six courses would be required in the general liberal arts, with more student choice than at present and with the new option of an integration course. Four courses would be required in the explicitly Catholic dimensions of the liberal arts, with the new option of a Catholicism and the Disciplines (CAD) course. Finally, to enhance students’ writing skills, the core would include a second required writing course for all students, including those who test out of the Writing and Rhetoric course.”

The six general liberal arts requirements as outlined in the report consist of three courses taken in the categories of “quantitative analysis” and “scientific and technical analysis,” and an additional three courses chosen from the categories of  “aesthetic analysis,” “social sciences inquiry,” “historical analysis,” “advanced language and culture” and “integration.”

The three requirements in quantitative analysis and scientific and technical analysis — one course taken in each of the two categories and a third in the category of the student’s preference — would take the place of the four courses currently required in mathematics and the sciences, according to the report.

The other three liberal arts courses, chosen from the five listed categories, would replace the three current requirements in history, the social sciences and the fine arts or literature. Two of the five categories — integration and advanced language and culture — do not currently form part of the core curriculum.

According to the report, the integration course would be a brand-new offering at Notre Dame and would be team-taught by faculty from separate departments or academic units.

“Courses in the integration category must have as a primary goal the pursuit of knowledge that integrates and synthesizes the perspective of two or more disciplines to address a particular issue that is too complex to be adequately addressed by a single field of study,” the report states. “They must be interdisciplinary courses whereby each represented discipline makes an explicit and significant contribution to the analysis, and the course activities require the students to identify commonalities and differences, as well as strengths and weaknesses, among the various disciplinary perspectives.”

Concerning the philosophy and theology requirements, the report states its recommendation that the core curriculum should continue to require two courses each in theology and philosophy, with the modification that students may substitute a “Catholicism and the Disciplines” course for their second philosophy requirement. Furthermore, the committee encouraged the department of theology to continue developing a system to allow incoming students with previous coursework in theology to test into a more advanced first course.

“As central threads in the Catholic intellectual tradition, theology and philosophy have played and should continue to play a central role in Notre Dame’s core curriculum,” the report states. “ … In placing theology at the core of its Catholic liberal arts education, Notre Dame is not merely adding another discipline to the existing educational paradigm. Instead, it embraces a paradigm of the intellectual life that posits the complementarity of faith and reason.”

The final core requirement recommended by the report is a Writing and Rhetoric course, which is currently taken during freshman year along with the University Seminar. The report recommends that both Writing and Rhetoric and the University Seminar “continue to count toward the University’s writing requirement” and furthermore, “students who test out of Writing and Rhetoric be required to take not just the University Seminar but also a second writing-intensive course, so designated in the course catalog.”

According to the First Year of Studies website, current students can test out of Writing and Rhetoric by scoring either a 4 or 5 on the Advanced Placement (AP) English Literature or AP English Language and Composition exams. The draft report states “more than 60 percent of Notre Dame students … test out of the current Writing and Rhetoric course.”

“To strengthen the writing requirement further, the Advanced Placement focus group recommended that the University (1) should not allow any AP English Literature exam score to be used to test out of the Writing and Rhetoric course and (2) should consider raising the requirement for credit based on the AP English Language and Composition exam to a score of 5,” the report states.

The report additionally states the committee’s recommendation that students should no longer be able to use AP credit to test out of any of the core requirements.

“The committee … recommends that the University no longer accept AP credit to test out of core requirements,” the report states. “AP credit would, however, continue to be accepted for placement purposes — including in the writing requirement, where students can place out of the Writing and Rhetoric course but would therefore take a second University Seminar or other writing-intensive course to satisfy the two-course writing requirement. AP credit can also still be accepted in lieu of college, school and major requirements at the discretion of the colleges, schools and departments.”

In addition to outlining these changes to University requirements, the report also states the principles underlying the committee’s recommendations.

Concerning the actual delivery of core curriculum courses, the report recommends “that introductory courses in the core curriculum be taught by regular (i.e. tenure-track and special professional) faculty.” This comes as a response to the findings of the Office of Strategic Planning and Institutional Research that “only 37 percent of the first philosophy courses, 31 percent of the first math courses, and 30 percent of the first theology courses in the core curriculum were taught by tenured or tenure-track faculty in the 2013-14 academic year.”

The report further names flexibility as one of the major concerns of the committee in evaluating the curriculum, stating that its proposals are designed to allow students of all majors greater flexibility in choosing courses to fulfill core requirements.

“All students in all colleges will see an increase in flexibility with a greater variety of courses fulfilling requirements in philosophy, theology and quantitative reasoning, and with more choice in other liberal arts courses because of the addition of integration and CAD courses as possible options.”

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