HESS: The New College Curriculum is not the answer

The New College Curriculum provides nothing new for students — continuing it is wasting University time and resources, as well as students’ time and opportunities.

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The New College Curriculum hinders students from venturing outside of their comfort zones and trying new things.

Daryn Govender | Cavalier Daily

Last semester, I wrote a column highlighting the issues of the New College Curriculum, a program that joins the Traditional and Forums Curriculums. Viewpoint Writer Noah Strike published a response in defense of the curriculum, and even called for its adoption across the College. While the curriculum may offer a new take on fulfilling general education requirements, it provides very few benefits to students. Instead, it causes scheduling issues and it forces students to enroll in unfulfilling engagements. The New College Curriculum is supposed to allow room for creativity and exploration in academics, but instead it hinders students from venturing outside of their comfort zones and trying new things.

On October 18th, the College Faculty will vote on the fate of the New Curriculum — adopt the curriculum across the College or end its three year run with the class of 2023. The New Curriculum came into fruition as the class of 2021 was entering the University, making it a relatively new program. This program revolves around two basic components — the Engagements and the Literacies and Disciplines.The Engagements are four half-semester courses that students must take throughout their first year. These classes are supposed to be active, innovative, and exciting and the Literacies and Disciplines are very similar to the area requirements in the Traditional Curriculum. While the intention here may be to require students to take classes in each area, it becomes very difficult when you consider the addition of Engagements within the curriculum. 

Adopting the curriculum across the entire College would be a huge mistake, forcing every student into an unorganized and limiting curriculum. Coming into the University, I was excited for the New Curriculum — but after my first year, it was very clear to me, and many others, that I made a mistake by not choosing the Traditional Curriculum. 

The Engagements provide very little academic value to students. They must enroll in one course in each of the four Engagement fields — aesthetics, difference, ethics and empiricism. While they might have interesting names, there are usually very few differences in the structure of these courses compared to other College courses. The short nature of these classes often force professors to rush through topics, leaving students with a very low-level understanding of the subject or forcing professors to assign an excessive amount of readings per week since to cover an appropriate amount of material.

Apart from the issues with the course material itself, the classes also pose a big scheduling issue. Since they are only half-semester courses, students usually must schedule each Engagement course at different times, barring students from two seventy-five minute blocks in their schedule where they could be taking other courses that interest them or fulfill the other program requirements. These four credits devoted to the Engagements each semester take away valuable time that could be used to explore the College’s wide variety of classes and force students to take classes that are short, lackluster and altogether disappointing. These courses also do not help students with undecided majors since the topics are often so abstract and broad, that they cannot really grasp the subject at hand.

The New College Curriculum is trying to improve — this year, it took away the widely unpopular discussion sections for first years. They replaced them with a lab group that students work with throughout the year to formulate an in-depth research project, but they seem to be just as disorganized as the Engagement courses themselves. The groups are not in the same course all year — making it difficult to meet and the guidance they receive on their project is very sparse and does not help yet. While the labs may be new, the New College Curriculum does not seem to have prepared enough to institute them properly, leaving students with another diservice from the curriculum. Attempts by the program's administration to have open-minded discussions and expand the worldview of students turned out to be rushed and unproductive.

The parts of the New College Curriculum that differentiate it from the Traditional Curriculum are often unorganized, unwanted by students and simply confusing. Wanting to advance education is a noble venture, but forcing students to take part in a curriculum that is unorganized and limiting is taking education the wrong way. The College Faculty should vote to end the New College Curriculum pilot program and go back to the drawing board to search for another potential option to try in the future. The New College Curriculum was an interesting experiment, but it has failed the most recent entering classes in the College of Arts and Sciences — it is time to let it go.

Hunter Hess is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at opinion@cavalierdaily.com

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