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Arts and Sciences faculty approves new undergrad curriculum

By a 2 to 1 margin, faculty members in the College of Arts and Sciences approved a new curriculum for undergraduate students. Plans will soon be underway to implement it as early as fall 2020.

The new curriculum focuses on the theme of exploration and reaffirms the college’s commitment to a liberal arts and sciences education. Changes will make the curriculum easier for students to navigate, simplify graduation requirements and expand student opportunities for interdisciplinary work and faculty opportunities for innovative teaching.

“The biggest improvement for students under the new curriculum is the more streamlined and meaningful list of distribution requirements, which are broad areas of study students explore when they choose classes” said Tom Pepinsky, associate professor of government and chair of the college’s Curriculum Review Committee (CRC). “New categories of requirements reflect areas of real faculty and student interest, including data science, global citizenship and social difference.”

Major curriculum changes include:

  • Students will fulfill five different distribution categories in their first four semesters at Cornell, encouraging early exploration;
  • Students must satisfy all of the following 10 distribution categories: arts, literature and culture; social difference; biological sciences; physical sciences; ethics and the mind; social sciences; global citizenship; statistics and data science; historical analysis; and symbolic and mathematical reasoning;
  • For the purpose of completing the language requirement, “language” means any living or extinct human language, including sign languages, offered at Cornell; and 
  • Electives, breadth requirements and minimum course graduation requirements are removed.

Although students will be required to fulfill each of the 10 distribution categories, they may count up to two courses as satisfying two distribution requirements at once. As a result, it will be possible for students to satisfy the 10 distribution requirements with eight courses. This also means that faculty can list courses for up to two distribution categories rather than one.

“This provides relief for students whose major and minor requirements are especially demanding,” said Derk Pereboom, the Susan Linn Sage Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the college’s senior associate dean for arts and humanities. He noted the focus on fulfilling requirements early on “stands to acquaint first- and second-year students with a wider range of disciplines from which to specialize.”

Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences, will convene a committee, led by Rachel Bean, senior associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of astronomy, to oversee implementation.

“The new curriculum simplifies the requirements, allowing students to more easily tailor their educational experience to meet their individual needs,” said Bean. “At the same time, it continues the college’s commitment to incentivizing and challenging our students to step out of their comfort zone, investigate new ways of thinking and communicating, gain a deeper understanding of cultures, new and old, and use their knowledge to positively impact our society.”

Students who have questions about the new curriculum can view the approved plan on the college website. Additional information will be available as the implementation plan is developed.

“The earliest that this could be rolled out would be for incoming students in fall 2020, with fall 2021 more likely,” Pepinsky added. “This will be done in ways that are minimally disruptive to the way faculty design and teach their classes. We anticipate that many if not most courses already being offered will be easily moved from their existing distribution requirement to the new ones.”

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

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Jeff Tyson