Core Curriculum to Change

Meaghan Haire

The Core Curriculum is an area of study that has affected every Colgate student since the 1920s. Western Traditions, The Challenge of Modernity, Core Cultures and Scientific Perspectives are all terms that we, as Colgate students from class years 2009 to 2012, are familiar with. However, if all goes according to plan, the class of 2014 will see a different set of Core requirements, and students in the classes of 2012 and 2013 will also likely see changes.

Over the past two years, Colgate has been working to revise the current Core Curriculum.

“We have been in the practice of taking a serious look at the Core every 10 years,” Provost and Dean of the Faculty and Professor of Physics Lyle Roelofs said.

This includes bringing in outside groups of scholars to share their thoughts on the Core and organizing a group of faculty to work on orchestrating any refinements or enhancements necessary.

The last time that a new Core was set into place was 1996 when, among other changes, Scientific Perspectives became a part of the required Core Curriculum.

A draft proposal was presented to the faculty on January 26. The revision was proposed by the Core Revision Committee, which, according to Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Women’s Studies, Director of the Division of University Studies and Chair of the Core Revision Committee Marilyn Thie, consists of professors who chair the separate Core components, known as University Professors, and a few other members of the faculty who were either elected or are experts in the field.

The changes to the Core Curriculum will come in several forms, but according to Roelofs, the overall goal of the changes is two-fold: “To pay a lot more attention to a broader view of global issues…[and to] think of distribution requirements in a different way.” The first aspect, a globalization of the Core, will be applied first as an attempt to remove what Roelofs and Thie call the “boundary between the West and the rest,” through the installation of a fifth Core course, known as Global Engagements.

Under this proposed revision, Core courses 151, Western Traditions, and 152, The Challenge of Modernity, will “move toward a much more frank inclusion of what is going on in other cultures in those time periods,” Roelofs said.

“[The Core Cultures courses] will connect to 151 and 152 in many more apparent ways and will no longer have to be just the Third World,” he said. “We will look at other cultures and developed nations all over the world.” Thie noted that the revisions would ask professors to “try to include [non-Western] parts of the world.” She believes that changes to Scientific Perspectives will probably be subtle and not as “obvious” to students.

The fifth course, Global Engagements, would likely be taken in the junior year after the other four courses are completed. Global Engagements, unlike the current four interdisciplinary Core courses, would be assigned to specific departments. The course would be similar to electives that students are currently taking within their concentrations, but would be “an upper level course that takes the issues of difference seriously,” according to Roelofs.

Another visible change that will occur, should the proposal be ratified by the faculty, will be in the names of the courses. What is currently known as Western Traditions will become Legacies of the Ancient World. The Challenge of Modernity will become simply Modernity. Core Cultures will change to Communities and Identities. Scientific Perspectives will remain as is.

“What we attempted to do was make the Core more global in emphasis and to emphasize diversity more than it has been emphasized in the past,” Thie said.

They have also internationalized the curriculum, so for Core Cultures, the revisions will allow courses on the United States, Western Europe or Canada, “provided they emphasize the multiethnic makeup and diversity [of those regions],” Thie said.

The Core Revision Committee has come a long way in this process, and they and Roelofs hope to see the proposal ratified this semester. The next step includes presenting the proposal to the Academic Affairs Board (AAB). The AAB is composed of members of the faculty and administration and four students. The AAB will discuss the proposal, and if they accept it, it will then be put to a final vote by the faculty. If a “solid majority” of the faculty vote yes to the proposal, then Thie says, “the whole program would not be implemented until 2010,” so it would be in effect for the class of 2014.

However, if all goes according to plan, changes might be introduced as soon as next semester. The revision plan calls for the creation of “clusters” of courses. Thie mentioned that she had often heard students say that the Core courses had a particular emphasis depending on who taught the course. The cluster idea will allow students to take Western Traditions with an explicit Political Science emphasis or Arts emphasis, for example.

“The registration book will indicate when there is a theme, and what the theme is,” Thie said.

The Core Revision Committe became “more conscious of making sure that [diversity] was emphasized after the Diversity Proposal,” according to Thie, “[But] we had diversity in from the beginning. That was the goal – to be global and show more diversity.”

The Diversity Initiative Proposal was drafted by the Unity Coalition Task Force shortly after the solidarity events of last November. The Diversity Initiative is composed of a variety of different task forces, one of which is the Committee to Amend the Core Curriculum. That committee is headed by junior Kyle Blum, who came up with the idea for a new Core course dealing with diversity. While this course will not be included in the proposed changes to be made to the Core curriculum, Roelofs said that “the group has been working with Marilyn Thie,” and while logistically, the course cannot be added at this time, “there has been good dialogue” as a result.

Roelofs also confirmed that the Core Revision Committee “had already moved determinedly in the direction of adding diversity and global perspectives to the Core,” so “it was fortuitous, in a way, when the diversity issues became much more urgent and timely, that we were able to fairly quickly make some contact between the two.”

The Core revision process is a long and time-consuming one that the members of the Core Review Committee have spent considerable time and energy on. They believe it is important to reassess the Core on a ten-year basis, because, as Thie pointed out, the world has changed dramatically since the Core was last changed in 1996. They have come a long way with their proposal and now await the decisions of the AAB and faculty.