Completed proposal advocates integration, flexibility
In a recent announcement issued at the end of August, the Core Curriculum Review Committee (CCRC) unveiled the final proposal for the revision of Notre Dame’s fundamental course requirements.
The proposed curriculum consists of 13 courses within the general categories of liberal arts, “Catholic dimensions of the liberal arts,” writing, and the Moreau First Year Experience Course. If approved by the Academic Council and University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, the new core curriculum will first be implemented in the fall of 2018.
The committee, which Fr. Jenkins and University Provost Thomas G. Burish established in 2014, serves to examine the core curriculum every ten years. Currently, it is co-chaired by John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters and Professor of History, and Michael Hildreth, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies in the College of Science and Professor of Physics. Fourteen other faculty and staff members also serve on the committee.
This final report is the culmination of two years of research, surveys, and forums, which engaged students, faculty, staff, and alumni. The product of these discussions, as the CCRC’s website states, “reflects a shared vision for strengthening Notre Dame’s Catholic liberal arts education while providing our undergraduates the knowledge, dispositions, and skills that will prepare them to become the professional, community, and Church leaders our world needs.”
Hoping to dispel the average student’s impression of requirements as disjointed, remote obligations, the CCRC stated its attempt to build both unity and flexibility in the curriculum through nine categories entitled “ways of knowing.” These categories include quantitative reasoning, science and technology, art and literature, advanced language and culture, history, social science, theology, philosophy, and writing. In the same section, the document also discusses an “integration” course, meant to accommodate for a widespread call for more communication across disciplines, as well as “Catholicism and the Disciplines” (CAD), meant to connect Catholic thought to various areas of study.
If approved, students would take six “liberal arts” classes; the first three would fall under the “quantitative reasoning” and “science and technology” categories (with one course in each and the third as an option between the two). The second three liberal arts courses would have even more flexibility: students would choose between “art and literature” and “advanced languages and culture” for one, between “history” and “social science” for another, and finally choose among various “integration” courses. Integration would be co-taught by professors of different disciplines in order to “address a particular issue that is too complex to be adequately addressed by a single field of study,” according to the final report.
In the second portion of the proposed core curriculum, students would continue to take two theology courses, as well as one philosophy course. The second philosophy requirement, however, could be fulfilled either by another philosophy course or the new CAD course.
Another significant shift from the current system would be that students would not be able to test out of the Writing and Rhetoric course completely. Rather, in addition to taking the customary university seminar due to Advanced Placement (AP) credit, students who would currently test out would still take an additional writing-intensive course, either within the core curriculum, within their major, or as an elective.
Finally, the Moreau First Year Experience Course remains a part of the revised core curriculum, although the CCRC did not include it in its review. The report explained Moreau’s exemption by citing “its early stage of development,” having been established in the fall of 2015. According to the report, the new course will undergo its own review in five years.
Building upon various documents for context and guidance—including the Academic Council’s list of learning outcomes for students and a 2014 faculty committee report—the CCRC investigated five questions related to the purpose and framework of a core curriculum at a Catholic university. These questions, listed in full within the document, inquire about the characteristics and skills of a Notre Dame graduate, how the curriculum facilitates the formation of such a graduate, how it can uphold and strengthen the university’s Catholic identity, and what kind of a relationship it should have with Advanced Placement and major requirements.
The CCRC’s decision regarding AP credit marks one of the most substantial shifts from the current core curriculum. Under the new system, students would not be able to receive credit from any AP tests but would rather be placed into a higher level of the corresponding course.
To defend this decision, the report notes the currently sporadic nature of how students can use their AP credit, for such decisions are left to individual departments. For example, a student may earn credit for a mathematics course but cannot for a history course. To establish consistency, the document states, “It seemed AP credit should either be accepted for all core requirements for which there is an AP course that is sufficiently aligned with the requirement’s learning goals, or it should not be accepted for any courses in the core.” The former option, the CCRC argues, would enable students to test out of many courses and thus “limit the University’s ability to ensure a broad-based liberal arts education.” Furthermore, the committee expressed a desire to sufficiently challenge the highly qualified incoming students, many of whom reported in surveys that their core requirements resembled high school courses.
The proposal does allow for AP credit to count for courses outside the core curriculum “at the discretion of the colleges, schools, and departments.” Despite this significant change in AP policy, the report claims that the new core curriculum will in fact increase students’ flexibility of schedule, as it decreases the overall number of required courses by at least one in all colleges and schools.
The CCRC also recommends that each major program allot three elective classes for students (either within or outside of their department), and if the programs adjust accordingly, the report states that students in the College of Engineering could have up to three fewer courses.
As a foundation to the work, the CCRC expresses a commitment to the distinctly Catholic liberal arts education. Quoting Pope St. John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae as well as writings from Pope Francis, the committee recognized the importance of fostering a bedrock of Catholic ideology even amidst growing diversity.
To accomplish this, the document states, “Four aspects of the Catholic liberal arts tradition seem to us relevant. They are the search for the unity of knowledge across disciplines, the prominence of philosophy and theology, an ethos deriving from Catholic social thought centered on promotion of the common good, and the intellectual resources of a religious and cultural tradition stretching back to the first Christian communities and now unparalleled global reach.”
The Rover has reported on the multiple steps of the curriculum review process over the past two years, from the committee’s formation and various forums to the draft report issued last November. In addition, the Rover featured a faculty forum last February, which concentrated on the meaning of a core curriculum at Notre Dame. Now in the final stages of confirmation, the final report will be presented to each college and school within the university, as well as to the Faculty Senate and Academic Council. According to the announcement accompanying the report’s release, the CCRC expects the Academic Council to vote on the final report before the end of this fall semester.
The final report is available in its entirety on the website of the Core Curriculum Review Committee.
Sophia Buono is a junior majoring in PLS and minoring in ESS. She enjoys having a picture of her little brother on her desk, whose beaming, two-toothed face keeps her going during long nights of article writing. Contact Sophia at firstname.lastname@example.org.