Baylor Arts & Sciences magazine: Dean’s letter

Restructuring the Arts & Sciences Core Curriculum

Fall 2016

One of the longtime hallmarks of undergraduate education in the College of Arts & Sciences has been its core curriculum –– which includes a significant number of courses in the humanities, sciences and social sciences that all Arts & Sciences undergraduates are required to complete. In fact, our undergraduates must complete even more hours in core courses than courses in their respective majors.

At the same time, students in all other Baylor academic units must complete the core curriculum requirements set down by the University, with the large majority of those required core courses offered by the College of Arts & Sciences. Therefore, our 25 Arts & Sciences departments take seriously the responsibilities this calls for –– to inspire and mentor all Baylor students to master core competencies and to provide effective teaching, aided by the cutting edge technology in our classrooms.

Just how good is Baylor’s core? We are typically one of about only two dozen educational institutions nationwide to earn an “A” for the quality of our core curriculum from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) –– in part due to the breadth of course offerings we require of our students in the sciences and liberal arts. But since change in our culture and our world is continual, we know that we can’t simply rest on our laurels. We must periodically review our essential academic skillsets and core curriculum, with the goal of assessing what we teach, and why.

Such an assessment was overdue in the College of Arts & Sciences, which is why the issue is addressed in our current long-term strategic plan, known as A&Spire. Theme 1 of this plan, titled “Advancing Liberal Education in the 21st Century,” states that our students will be steeped in four competencies: communication, critical thinking, civic leadership and Christian perspective. An Act of Determination within that theme, “Assessing the Structure and Function of the Arts & Sciences Core Curriculum,” charges us with making sure that happens as we critically examine our core curriculum at length.

To carry out this examination, I formed a committee of faculty from across the humanities, sciences and social sciences to develop a vision document for our core and then determine whether our current Arts & Sciences core offerings align with this new Vision. After a yearlong study, the Vision document was approved unanimously by the Arts & Sciences Council of Chairs in the spring of 2016.

To paraphrase from our new Vision document, the intent of the Arts & Sciences core curriculum is: to provide a shared foundation of knowledge drawn from the rich and diverse liberal arts tradition; to develop various skills necessary for the completion of an academic degree, but also essential for personal and professional life beyond Baylor; and to inspire moral, intellectual and spiritual virtues.

The committee offered three key recommendations as a results of their findings: (1) the core curriculum will be implemented throughout the four-year experience for the student to be increasingly challenged as they mature; (2) the core will be such that students will be able to build various degree plans within a four-year period; and (3) there will be flexibility within the core curriculum to allow students multiple ways of satisfying core requirements where appropriate.

To take the next steps as we assess the structure and function of the Arts & Sciences core in line with the approved new Vision, I have worked with staff in the Dean’s Office to form a Core Curriculum Review Taskforce. This group of faculty and staff is charged with finding a pathway forward to implement changes to the core consistent with the Vision. The taskforce has two units, a working group and an executive committee. The working group will provide information and recommendations, while the executive committee will make decisions. The executive committee includes faculty members, department chairs, an undergraduate student and an alumnus who is a member of the Arts & Sciences Board of Advocates.

This will be an exciting year indeed. Restructuring the core curriculum that has served us well for decades will not be easy, but it is of highest importance to do so as we look to the future. There is much at stake, particularly for our students, because of the important role our faculty play in the education of the next generation of worldwide leaders, inculcated with the unique Baylor experience.

Dr. Lee C. Nordt
Dean, Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences

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