Last spring, Boston College brought in an outside consulting firm, Continuum, to help develop a plan for a new core curriculum. The University core has not been updated since 1991, and last year’s Core Renewal Committee developed a new plan, heavily focused on interdisciplinary courses, that was meant to be piloted beginning in the fall of 2013. After the summer break, however, the new core structure was not implemented, and it now appears that the University has returned to the drawing board.
An open town hall meeting was held to introduce the new Core Foundations Task Force and explain the manner in which it seeks to address the continuing issues with the core on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 18. Made up of 14 faculty and administrators, the group intends to spend the next two months redefining the fundamental objectives of the University core. Working off a list of 10 objectives, the task force seeks to articulate the vision of the core by April 15, focusing less on content and more on desired outcomes.
Clarifying the mission of the core is important, but many of the problems with the current curriculum lie not in intention but in implementation. Knowing that the core is meant to foster rigorous intellectual, religious, ethical, and personal development will make no difference to the student sitting in an overcrowded lecture hall listening to an unenthusiastic professor.
Moreover, while it is reasonable to expect a complete overhaul to take time, the core renewal process has already been in the works for over three years and has seen no tangible results. The administration should consider making small changes that can be implemented while the big-picture renewal is still underway. For example, reevaluating the cultural diversity requirement in isolation of the rest of the curriculum-reconsidering the purpose of the requirement and which courses fulfill it-would be valuable. The University could also look into hiring more faculty members or revising the guidelines for which professors are required to teach core classes, in an effort to drive down the size of historically large introductory courses like those in history and the social sciences. This effort could be modeled on the departments in which most faculty members teach at least one core class per year, usually in small sections, such as philosophy and theology-many students feel that these classes are executed well, whereas some other core classes are still seen as a burden.
It is crucial that faculty members are heavily involved with the core renewal project, both this task force and any other aspects of renewal under consideration. A key reason that last year’s proposed core structure was not put into practice is that faculty were skeptical of how its implementation would work, and had myriad questions regarding the value and logistics of interdisciplinary blocked courses. Professors are eminently qualified to speak to what works best inside the classroom, and will also be able to give valuable input about how to update the core for the 21st century. The University is well within its rights to redefine the purpose of the core curriculum, and after more than 20 years, it does warrant another look. The administration must keep in mind, however, that the greatest challenges facing the core are in its implementation and the classes themselves-a concurrent reevaluation on the micro level is just as necessary as a macro level review.