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The statue of Andrew Dickson White, the university's first president, on the Arts Quad.

A&S Curriculum Review Committee delivers its report

Recommendations include simplifying existing requirements and focusing on more exploration for undergrads

The final report from the College of Arts and Sciences Curriculum Review Committee, released March 20, recommends changes that would allow for greater exploration, simplify the requirements for graduation, help students more easily navigate through the college’s 2,000 courses, and encourage faculty to adopt innovative approaches to teaching, among other suggestions. Arts & Sciences faculty will meet March 28 to consider whether to move forward with the recommendations.

“There are a lot of exciting elements to the vision that we’ve outlined in our final report,” said Tom Pepinsky, associate professor of government and chair of the curriculum committee. “The committee was able to learn from colleagues across the college about the many different ways that our students learn, and it has been especially encouraging to see broad agreement across our departments and programs in the value of a liberal arts education at Cornell. Our report gives us the platform to do something truly unique here in the College of Arts and Sciences that will make the Cornell model of liberal arts education really stand out and have a positive impact on the college experience for our students.”

Some highlights of the report, Pepinsky notes, include:

  • a simplified set of distribution requirements that allows students to more effectively explore their liberal arts education;
  • New distribution requirements in human difference, global citizenship, and statistics and data science;
  • a strengthened first-year writing program;
  • a more flexible language requirement that encourages study abroad and less commonly taught languages, while protecting the central role of language learning in the liberal arts curriculum;
  • new emphasis on supporting interdisciplinary teaching and curricular development;
  • new approaches to pre-major advising, such as the one credit first-year first semester pre-major advising seminar that is currently being piloted in the college; and
  • a strong emphasis on community engaged learning as a distinctive feature of the Cornell Arts & Sciences curriculum.

The Curriculum Review Committee, which began its work in 2016, released a draft proposal in March of 2017 and obtained feedback in more than 30 department meetings, faculty discussion groups and a student town hall. In fall 2017, the committee reviewed the findings in greater depth and continued conversations with various stakeholders across the college. This final report represents the culmination of this two-year review and consultation process. The committee includes faculty and students from across the college.

“A single set of graduation requirements would be easy to understand and would lead to better advising,” said Nathan Weierich ’18, a member of the committee. “Students would be able to explore the college’s great course offerings without worrying whether or not each course fulfills difficult-to-decipher requirements.”

During the process, members of the committee stressed that the defining experience of the college’s liberal arts curriculum is the opportunity for students to explore the breadth of classes offered throughout the college before deciding on their major, which then allows them to achieve depth and proficiency in that discipline.

The committee will present its final report during an all-faculty meeting March 28. Although the committee recommends that the faculty move forward with a vote, Pepinsky said, that initiative must come from the faculty, which will be given further opportunities for discussion and input.

Weierich encouraged students to take an active role in the process. “Students can read through the committee report and our proposals themselves, talk to their friends about their thoughts, too, and talk with faculty members,” he said. “Faculty are ultimately the people who vote on changes in the curriculum, so it’s important that they hear from students.”

“As a former student and a member of the faculty in this college, I am encouraged by the curriculum committee’s focus on exploration as the foundation for a liberal arts and sciences education at Cornell,” said Gretchen Ritter, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences. “The committee has produced a thorough report that addresses not only distribution requirements, but also course navigation and curricular innovation in a thoughtful way that I believe will compel students to explore our many varied disciplines and stay curious throughout their lives and careers.”

More details of the report are available at the Arts & Sciences website.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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John Carberry