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Newly-proposed curriculum under the microscope

The College may see its first undergraduate curriculum change in 40 years

<p>Faculty members will vote on a proposal for new College&nbsp;curriculum May 4.&nbsp;If passed, the curriculum will go into a two-year testing period before being implemented in the 2018-19 school year.</p>

Faculty members will vote on a proposal for new College curriculum May 4. If passed, the curriculum will go into a two-year testing period before being implemented in the 2018-19 school year.

Last month, the College’s Committee on Educational Policy and the Curriculum unanimously passed a new curriculum plan, an initiative that has been led by College Dean Ian Baucom since he came to the University in 2014.

Now, the proposal has to go through the entire College faculty before it can be tested at the University. If the new plan is accepted, it will be the first time the College’s curriculum has changed in almost 40 years.

The need for reform

The question of curriculum reform has been developing since the 2010-11 academic year, when former College Dean Meredith Woo — Baucoum’s predecessor — created a faculty committee to discuss the need for potential changes to the curriculum.

Changes discussed in this committee would only affect 5 percent of the student population, German Studies Prof. Michael Wellmon, chairman of the Curriculum Planning Committee, said. To capitalize on these changes, Baucom wanted to form a new committee focused on more comprehensive reform.

The Curriculum Planning Committee met frequently during the 2014-15 academic year to discuss the need for reform and how might they might implement changes. English Prof. James Seitz, who serves on the committee, commended its inclusivity of the faculty.

“In 25 years as a professor, I’ve never served on a committee that met so extensively and that kept the faculty so informed throughout the entire process,” Seitz said in an email statement. “Faculty have had several opportunities to respond to the proposed changes at town hall meetings, department meetings and meetings with individual members of the committee, and the proposal has been altered in several ways as a result of faculty feedback.”

Over the past year, the committee has held numerous public forums for students and faculty to express their concerns or ask questions about the new curriculum. The responses have helped to reshape what the committee had already proposed.

The change to the curriculum is a comprehensive one that will affect all future students in the College if implemented, College Council President Emily Vaughan, a second-year student, said in an email statement.

“As the governing body of the College, it is our duty to both inform students about this potential transformation and give faculty members a chance to assess and respond to student concerns and suggestions,” Vaughan said.

Since the revised curriculum has already been passed by CEPC, it will be voted on by the entire College faculty May 4. If passed, the curriculum will go into a two-year trial and beta-testing phase. If this is successful, changes will go into full effect during the 2018-19 academic year.

Curriculum components

Intellectual studies will be the new focus of the proposed curriculum, which will be organized into three sections: engagement courses, literacy courses and discipline courses.

“Engagement” courses account for eight credits of the new curriculum, with offerings in Aesthetic Engagement, Empirical and Scientific Engagement, Engaging Difference and Ethical Engagement. These classes, which make up the core of the proposed curriculum, would provide a shared educational experience for all first-year students.

“The Engagement courses would provide students with a framework to help guide them through their subsequent studies,” Baucom said in an email statement. “By looking at the world empirically, aesthetically, ethically and with a focus on diversity, they would have a great platform to think critically and to make informed decisions in their lives.”

These engagement courses would be taught by a group of faculty members who design lectures and discussions together through a new program called College Fellows.

“To me, one of the key differences is that before, as our students didn’t share a primary curriculum, there was no institutional structure for the entire faculty to take responsibility,” Wellmon said. “The idea was to establish a college-wide society of fellows, a group across departments, to design, cultivate and teach a first-year experience for all College students.”

Literacy courses proposed by the new curriculum would include an intermediate language proficiency requirement, six credits in an area called “Rhetoric for the 21st Century” and six credits in an area called “Quantification, Computation and Data Analysis.”

The last part of the new curriculum is comprised of seven discipline courses for a total of 21 credits. Classes will be offered in the following categories: Artistic, Interpretive and Philosophical Inquiry; The Chemical and Physical Universe; Cultures and Societies of the World; Historical Perspectives; The Living Universe; Social and Economic Systems and Science and Society.

Students would be able to opt out of these discipline courses with AP or Dual Enrollment credit, though they would not be able to opt out of the engagement courses.

“Students would still be able to count equivalent external credit taken prior to matriculation toward world languages and the proposed new quantitative literacy requirement, as well as toward the courses offered under the Disciplines category,” Baucom said.

The new curriculum requirements would not negatively affect potential double majors, Seitz said.

“We have studied all potential double majors and have found that every one of them can still be completed in four years with the new curriculum, even if the student arrives without any AP credit,” Seitz said.

Public feedback

As members of the committee developed the proposal, they worked with College Council and Student Council to incorporate student opinion and public feedback, Henry Reynolds, fourth-year College student and former College Council president, said.

“I think it is the right time to [implement changes] because we are hiring so many new faculty … about 50 percent of the college faculty will be new in the next 10 years,” Reynolds said. “Now, those professors can start on a new curriculum instead of fitting into a curriculum retroactively.”

Leading up to the proposal, some students expressed concerns that the College’s current curriculum is burdensome and noted their desire for a curriculum which would allow students greater freedom in choosing classes, Vaughan said.

“Multiple students expressed concern over, specifically, the ‘non-Western perspectives’ requirement, saying that both the name itself and the classes that satisfy the requirement are problematic,” Vaughan said. “Students also voiced the opinion that the current curriculum does not adequately address the academic study of marginalized communities. Additionally, multiple students discussed their concerns over the efficacy of the current ENWR requirement. From this, I think it’s fair to conclude that many students are dissatisfied with the current curriculum and are in favor of some type of reform.”

In previous Cavalier Daily coverage, Economics Prof. James Harrigan stated his opposition to the proposal, arguing it is both too vague and that faculty members have not been fully informed about the proposed changes.

However, none of the professors contacted for this article who oppose the changes were willing to speak on the record, out of fear of publicly opposing the dean of the College.

The new courses aim to fix problems in the existing curriculum by providing classes which are more relevant and applicable for students of all majors, Vaughan said.

“The categories themselves are broader and the themes that they address are more universal than those that students might encounter in the current curriculum,” Vaughan said. “I am especially supportive of the expansion of the literacies requirement. The Rhetoric and Quantification, Computation, and Data Analysis requirements will undoubtedly serve College students well as they advance through U.Va. and out into the job market.”

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