By Randy Fiedler
Beginning with the 2019-2020 academic year, students working toward any of the four undergraduate degrees certified by the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences will follow a totally redesigned core curriculum. The new core is designed to impart a shared foundation of knowledge, essential skills and moral and intellectual virtues while providing increased academic flexibility and interdisciplinary learning.
The new Arts & Sciences core curriculum will apply to students seeking the Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Science in Aviation Sciences (BSAS) degrees. More than half of all Baylor undergraduates are now pursuing one of these four degrees.
Baylor has a long legacy of excellence in its core curriculum. The University is one of only about two dozen academic institutions nationwide to routinely earn an “A” for the high quality of its core from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
“The high ranking that ACTA has given to Baylor’s core curriculum is in part due to the breadth of course offerings we require of our students in the sciences and liberal arts,” said Dr. Lee C. Nordt, dean of the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences. “But since change in our culture and our world is continual, 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.”
Nordt’s belief that a broad assessment of the Arts & Sciences core was long overdue led him to initiate a formal review process within the College of Arts & Sciences. In 2012, as a major piece of the College’s strategic plan, A&Spire, Nordt appointed an A&Spire subcommittee to — as called for in ProFuturis, Baylor’s long-range strategic vision — “strengthen the undergraduate core curriculum and deepen our excellence in the liberal arts.”
A&Spire was approved by the College’s Council of Chairs in 2014. As a result, Nordt appointed a task force under the leadership of Dr. Paul Martens, associate professor of religion and director of interdisciplinary programs for the College of Arts & Sciences, to write a Vision document for the core curriculum. After 13 months of work by the task force, the Council of Chairs unanimously approved the Vision in May 2016.
The next step in the process was the appointment of a 40-member task force led by Dr. Blake Burleson, senior lecturer in religion and associate dean for undergraduate studies, strategic and enrollment initiatives in the College of Arts & Sciences, to determine the size and content of the new core based on the Vision.
“The appointment of Dr. Burleson to direct the vision document planning process and then the final design of the new core was instrumental to its success,” Nordt said. “His leadership was indispensable for the coordination on numerous committees working simultaneously in different areas that then had to be integrated to create the whole.”
The result of the 16-month study by the task force was a recommendation on the components of a new core made to the Arts & Sciences Council of Chairs.
After input on these recommendations was received from faculty in all 25 departments in the College of Arts & Sciences, amendments were introduced. A final vote on the revised core curriculum was taken in October 2017 and passed by a 20-to-4 vote. Soon afterward, Baylor’s Provost provided final approval.
During the past year, 18 committees totaling more than 180 members, including 22 student members, have been tasked with implementing the new core. And hundreds of faculty members have been spending time creating new courses or altering existing ones for the new core.
“Many of the committees are providing resources for these faculty in the form of course redesign workshops, interdisciplinary faculty discussion groups, workshops on diversity or virtues, stipends for travel to conferences on pedagogy, and a spiritual retreat,” Burleson said.
Before the start of the Fall 2018 semester Nordt appointed Dr. Lauren Poor, lecturer in history, as the first director of the Core, and she has been instrumental in implementation efforts. Poor was recently recognized as one of the top 40 faculty and staff members who had the most positive impact on Baylor students this year, based on a survey of freshmen and transfer students.
When the new Arts & Sciences core curriculum takes effect this coming fall, for the first time it will be a unified core –– meaning that students pursuing each of the four degrees will have the same core requirements.
Students will be required to complete 15 hours in seven common requirements: Chapel; Christian Heritage; Christian Scriptures; Cultural Events Experience (CEE); The U.S. Constitution, Its Interpretation and the American Political Experience; The United States in Global Perspective; and American Literary Cultures.
“The common courses will provide students with a foundation of shared religious and civic knowledge, and the opportunity to develop essential skills that Baylor has identified as central to the mission of the University and to preparing students for a future in worldwide leadership and service through our Christian commitment,” Poor said.
The CEE requires that students attend 12 cultural events on campus during their four years. These events include art and museum exhibits, theater productions, concerts, poetry readings and films.
“The purpose of requiring the CEE is to allow for maturation and growth in our students’ reception, interpretation and appreciation for fine arts and cultural events,” Poor said.
The remaining approximately 36 hours of the core will be fulfilled in distribution list courses –– where students must choose at least one course each from nine different areas: Communication and Media Literacy; Contemporary Social Issues; Fine Arts and Performing Arts; Foreign Language and Culture; Formal Reasoning; Literature in Context; Research Writing; and Scientific Method I and II. Students will also take one Lifetime Fitness course.
The new core will be required for freshmen and transfer students starting in the Fall 2019 semester.
The changes to the core curriculum provide for many advantages. The expansion of required common courses from five to seven will allow students to have more vocabularies, texts and experiences in common with their classmates. The new core also has multidisciplinary courses and upper-level courses that are rarely available in the current core.
“Our new core curriculum is better because it is now more intentional in its course offerings, and how the courses are sequenced and interconnected,” Nordt said. “It will be more impactful than before.”
Students will also have more flexibility in course selection for their general education requirements and in their elective areas. For example, the current requirements for the BA and BS degrees call for between 65 to 79 hours of general education –– comprising one of the largest core requirements in the United States. By contrast, the new unified core requires approximately 50 hours –– giving students roughly 20 to 30 more hours to take additional electives or pursue second majors, minors or certificates.
While the unified core will apply to all Baylor undergraduates within the College of Arts & Sciences, other Baylor academic units have begun mapping on to the new core to varying degrees.
“These units are interested in the flexibility the new core provides for students to pursue double majors, minors and even certificates, as well as the unified nature around which the courses and experiences were intentionally chosen to best reflect Baylor’s greater mission,” Poor said.
For more information on the Arts & Sciences core, including a complete list of courses, visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences/core.