New core curriculum set in place for incoming class of 2022
Kelli Smith | Friday, August 17, 2018
The most significant changes to Notre Dame’s core curriculum in over 40 years are officially in place for the class of 2022 and all future classes. These changes alter the number of courses required, grant students more academic flexibility and introduce integrative courses.
According to the 2016 core curriculum report, the University reviews its curriculum every 10 years. Following more than 50 meetings, open forums, information sessions and surveys, the Core Curriculum Review Committee came up with a proposal of changes that received unanimous approval from the Academic Council in 2016.
Michael Hildreth, co-chair of the Core Curriculum Review Committee, said the new core is centered on three themes: a ‘focus’ on broadening everyone’s perspective, increased ‘flexibility’ in student control over core courses and ‘innovation’ with the introduction of new courses.
“I think we can all agree that the world has moved on since the 1970’s so I think it was time for an update,” Hildreth said. “[Students] wanted integration in what we call a general education requirement and we also think that the new wrinkles that we added really do deepen the engagement of the core curriculum with the Catholic mission of the University.”
The new curriculum was constructed to emphasize the Catholic liberal arts education of Notre Dame, the 2016 core curriculum report said. The new requirements now correspond to one of nine “ways of knowing” — quantitative reasoning, science and technology, art, literature, advanced language and culture, history, social science, theology and philosophy.
”At any university, the things that students are required to take are an indication of that university’s values — what sorts of things do we expect students to know, what areas of inquiry do we expect them to investigate to be citizens of democracy and the United States?” John McGreevy, co-chair of the Core Curriculum Review Committee, said.
By minimizing the amount of University requirements, students have more room to experiment in their first year, McGreevy said. In addition, fewer courses will be taught by graduate students to allow departments more ownership over courses and limits were placed on the number of courses required within a major.
“[The changes] clear up more space in the first year curriculum so students can dabble a little bit and try to figure out what major they want to choose as opposed to being locked into something quite early,” McGreevy said.
Hildreth said all old courses were grandfathered into the new core without revision to ensure a smooth transition. However, courses may fall under new categories — for example, math is now considered ‘quantitative reasoning.’
“Most of the categories are pretty similar to the old core and so it was easy to move them over,” Hildreth said. “But we still want to go back and look at them to make sure that it should be a core course or maybe we should rethink why this is being taught in the core as opposed to just a regular discipline-specific course.”
New courses include integrative courses, which will be team-taught by scholars in various academic disciplines, and a Catholicism and the Disciplines course, which is offered to students as an alternative for their second philosophy requirement.
Since the previous core curriculum was “owned by departments and not faculty,” Hildreth said a major goal was to break down the walls of the core requirements to allow faculty to teach subjects or courses that may not be in their given department but can still satisfy a core requirement.
“I’m hoping that as we work with more and more faculty we can get them to appreciate that focus as opposed to ‘this is the introduction to my discipline, I’m teaching you a bunch of facts, and whatever,’” Hildreth said. “I really think that it’s up to the faculty to show the importance of the discipline and how it can engage.”
The desired impact of the changes, Hildreth said, is that students will come out of the University with a “greater sense of maturity, independence and fulfillment.”
“I am hoping that [students] will value this newer sense of independence that they have in terms of their self-determination of their trajectory through the University,” he said. “People are not telling them when to take stuff anymore so they have to figure out what classes they would like to take, when makes the most sense for them to take them and so they’re more self-determined in some sense.”
Though the response to the changes has been “genuinely positive” so far, the committee will be observing the faculty and student response throughout the academic year. One of the committee’s main concerns, Hildreth said, involves class enrollment.
“[For example,] we don’t know how many freshmen are going to sign up for math and science courses if they don’t have to take them as freshmen,” Hildreth said. “So there’s a whole question of how many seats should we reserve next year for the people who didn’t take the courses this year, and then how does that work two or three years out?”
To avoid mass confusion and allow a smoother transition, the core will be fully-implemented throughout a “four-year roll-out” and first-year advisors are “well-versed” in the new requirements to assist students, Hildreth said.
“There may be some strange dialogue when [freshmen] start talking to the upperclassmen because the upperclassmen don’t have any idea what’s going on with the new core,” he said. “I’m hoping that the new people coming in will just see this is as ‘Well, this is the core and this is how I need to thread my path through the University.’”