Getting To The Core Of The Issue: Revising The Curriculum

David Simon

Prefer Eastern Traditions to Western Traditions? Felt you have lost your Scientific Perspectives? The time for students to make their voice heard has come, as 2007 will mark the year of the complete revision of the Core curriculum and the distribution requirements. Students, faculty and alumni together will decide how to improve the skills all Colgate students will have to acquire by graduation. Colgate had been trying to design courses specifically aimed at introducing students to different ways of thinking since 1920. Survey courses were the attempt then until the Core curriculum was instituted in 1940. As of now, more than three quarters of Colgate faculty participate in teaching the approximately 70 CORE courses offered each semester. No one has serious doubts that the Core curriculum plays an important role in the Colgate experience. “[The program is] one of the most elegant and long-standing cores of the country,” Thomas A. Bartlett Chair and Professor of English; Acting Director of the Picker Art Gallery Jane L. Pinchin said. Associate Professor of Art and Art History Rob McVaugh agreed. “The Core has done a great deal of good for many generations of Colgate students and faculty.” “The courses allowed me to examine texts and views that are not similar to mine, and forced me to think about other views,” President of the Student Government Association (SGA) Ram Parimi said. “They gave me a sense of roundedness that allowed me to decide on my Political Science major.” The Core curriculum is tweaked every year in order to better suit it to present needs, but the first comprehensive external review of the program was completed this spring. “The review showed that the program is in good shape,” Director of University Studies Lourdes Rojas said. The committee put forward several recommendations as well, such as improving dialogue between the different components of the CORE program and involving globalization issues within the Core Cultures component. Several committees are working together to outline the strengths and weaknesses of the present program, and there is plenty of time left to explore the various possibilities. All comments and proposals for change are appreciated from the student body. “We really want to make students feel that it is their own program and we welcome their input,” Professor of Philosophy Anne Ashbaugh said. One of the possibilities presented to the SGA Senate was the introduction of “life skills courses” to the curriculum. These courses would present students with skills that will help them in their professional career, such as work ethics, e-mail etiquette and interview skills. At present, the integration of Career Services into the curriculum will take a different shape and offer workshops for gym credits. “We have made a list of skills we want graduating students to have,” Rojas said.””Some of it, like public speaking, are not covered by specific departments.” Some of the SGA Senators did not appear to be very enthusiastic about the idea and worried that this addition would reduce the amount of “real” academic subjects taken. “I believe that life skills do have a place in the real world education,” Tri-Delta Senate Representative, junior Erin Grundy said. “However, I do not believe that they belong in the academic course load. “I feel that an ability to think critically and analytically is as much, if not more, of a ‘life skill’ than any of those listed,” senator of East Hall first-year Nikhil Fernandes said. Implementation of partial credits looks like a reasonable solution to most. Students could take advantage of opportunities and not significantly reduce their academic course load. Another initiative has been to introduce non-Western aspects to the curriculum. Some students feel that Core does not give enough perspective on the development of Eastern thinking. “The Challenge of Modernity and Western Traditions should have more of a world, rather than a western focus,” sophomore Kartikeya Misra said.”America is the center of the economic and the political world; however, I think, students at an elite liberal arts college should learn about the world as a whole rather than a narrow aspect of it.” According to Core faculty, Misra and others do not have to wait for long to get the complete picture. “Some progress has already been made,” Assistant Professor of University Studies Robert Figueroa said. New texts have been introduced, and experts have been invited to discuss the non-Western aspects of Modernity. “We can always work harder to discuss the non-Western perspective of this period,” he said. Other students pointed out that the scope of the Scientific Perspectives and the natural science distributions are almost identical. “My Core Scientific Perspectives was very interesting and I learned a lot,” Fernandez said.””However, I do feel that it would be best served as a an option for one of the natural science distributions.” Colgate’s Core Curriculum has been under severe criticism from outside. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) gave 50 colleges and universities an A to F grade in April 2004 based on how many of the seven subjects the council considered essential to a liberal arts education. Writing, literature, foreign language, U.S. government or history, math, natural or physical science and economics were required. Colgate was given a grade of F in the survey, since only the language requirement is impossible to escape. Yale, Harvard and Princeton got away with Ds, while the only A was awarded to Baylor University. “I don’t think this survey is really relevant,” sophomore Abhinav Maheshwari said. “The Core courses are reading and writing intensive, so they surely prepare students for academic writing. And I’d like to see a student who can fulfill his Natural Sciences distribution requirements without a solid knowledge of mathematics.” “I think [the survey’s] views are incorrect because they don’t address the kind of education that a student receives in everyday class,” Parimi said. “Any class that a student takes at Colgate requires them to think and analyze, not just regurgitate. This is the true meaning of a liberal arts education.” While Rojas does not consider the report to be an important piece of criticism, she agrees that when students read The Wall Street Journal, they should be able to understand what the numbers mean. “The reform of the Core curriculum and the distribution requirements should provide students with a broad base of knowledge, but they also have to be allowed a great deal of flexibility,” she said. Despite the criticism, Colgate still has one of the more rigorous core curricula among liberal arts colleges. Most top schools in the”US News rankings, such as Williams, Cornell, Brown or Vassar, do not assign any required general courses to their students. Some larger universities are notorious for their extremely demanding core requirements, such as University of Chicago and Columbia. At University of Chicago, until 1999, half of the entire undergraduate course load consisted of required courses. Now, it is down to 19 courses out of 42. At Columbia University, the list of requirements is only one class shorter.