An overview of details and commentary on changes
Notre Dame plans to introduce several modifications to the Core Curriculum for incoming freshmen in the fall of 2018. The impending revisions will alter both university and major requirements.
According to the Core Curriculum Review Committee’s Final Report, the new curriculum aims to address a need for “integrative courses” combining several fields, including theology and philosophy. The final report also stresses the need for a stronger “commitment to Notre Dame’s Catholic character.” Accordingly, the new curriculum will encourage an examination of theology through an interdisciplinary lens by requiring “four courses exploring explicitly Catholic dimensions of the liberal arts.”
Other elements of the revised curriculum include six separate liberal arts courses (three STEM-oriented and three humanities and arts-oriented), and two writing courses (Writing and Rhetoric and a University Seminar or, if a student places out of Writing and Rhetoric, two University Seminars). The Moreau First Year Experience will also remain a staple of the freshman course load. According to the final report, Moreau will be reviewed “within five years, well in advance of the next core curriculum review.”
The new curriculum will not only alter the course listings themselves, but also the fundamental methods by which courses are taught. According to the final report, students will be able to use AP exams solely for placement and not course credit as in the past. Additionally, the report proposes the creation of a theology placement test—no AP exams exist in this subject area—for students who have experience with religious studies. Additionally, the administration plans to phase out graduate student instruction of undergraduate core courses. The final report states that while graduate students can be effective instructors, “our most talented and experienced faculty” should teach “the vast majority of introductory courses.”
The story of the curriculum’s planning and implementation is long and complex. A committee of professors assembled in 2014 to form the the Core Curriculum Review Committee created the new curriculum with the help of surveys and forums calling for student and alumni feedback. This committee contained three subcommittees: Focus Groups for Academic Advising, the Catholic Mission, and Advanced Placement, and Working Groups for Integration Courses, Major Credits, and Writing Skills. The Review Committee published the aforementioned report, which is available online, in November 2016.
The Transition Committee was subsequently created to handle the new curriculum’s implementation and introduce necessary changes. An oversight committee must accept the Transition Committee’s changes before the new curriculum’s initiation. Although two theology professors were included in the Review Committee (along with professors of economics, FTT, engineering, history, finance, biological sciences, architecture, Africana studies, and German), none appeared in the Transition Committee.
The majority of professors that the Rover asked for comments on the new Core Curriculum (many of whom comprised the Transition Committee itself) either did not answer or declined to comment. One professor on the Transition Committee showed reluctance to give an opinion that spoke for the views of the entire committee and, when questioned further, stated that other committee members would probably feel the same way. This professor suggested that questions be directed to a professor outside the Transition Committee.
Professor of Economics William Evans, who is not a committee member, was willing to comment. Evans appreciates the new curriculum’s interdisciplinary take on theology. He said in a statement to the Rover,“enhancing the Catholic nature of the university has to be a collaborative exercise among departments.” Evans believes that by combining theology with other fields of interest, the administration will augment “investment in the Catholic mission for many departments, especially those in Arts and Letters.” He also stated that although his opinion belongs to a “distinct minority,” he wishes the university required a class on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Additionally, Evans supports the move away from graduate-student instruction in core classes. He stated that professors teaching these courses can better focus on broad strokes. In contrast, he said, “The life of a graduate student is to become an expert in a very narrow subject,” rendering graduate students less effective instructors for core courses emphasizing breadth over depth. He also believes that “the use of AP for class placement instead of replacement will enhance educational outcomes,” as wide disparities can be found between high school and university courses.
Finally, Evans does not find issue with theology professors’ absence from the Transition Committee, as several other departments—biological sciences, psychology, history, political science, and mathematics, for example—“are not represented” either. He adds, “More importantly, theology is one of the few departments whose responsibility under the new core has not changed, so maybe there is no reason for them to be on the Transition—they are not transitioning to anything different.”
Alison O’Neil is a freshman biological sciences major. She enjoys reading, running, searching for her stolen scooter, and eating Boston Cream Pie from the dining hall. Contact her at email@example.com.