Faculty, Administrators To Establish Core Renewal Goals

Nearly three years after efforts began to renew the University core curriculum, Boston College administrators and faculty are stepping back from specific proposals and logistics in order to clearly establish a vision for the new core.

Fourteen faculty and administrators constitute the Core Foundations Task Force, which, over the next two months, will seek to accomplish a number of changes. These goals include ensuring that the core’s vision aligns with Jesuit educational ideals, incorporates student formation as a fundamental characteristic, and focuses on overall outcomes, rather than content alone.

In a town hall meeting Tuesday evening, Interim Provost Joseph Quinn reviewed the path the University has taken in the core renewal process since discussions were initiated in the spring of 2011. Extensive meetings began in earnest in the fall of 2012 with the Core Renewal Committee, chaired by English professor and director of the Institute for Liberal Arts Mary Crane, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) David Quigley, and Dean of the Carroll School of Management (CSOM) Andy Boynton.

This committee focused on the key theme of what kind of people the University wanted its students to be when they graduated, and how the core could contribute. Last spring, the Core Renewal Committee released its proposed 42-credit core, which included two six-credit courses for freshmen focusing on enduring questions and complex problems. Quinn said that the renewed core was rooted in six principles that were not all that different from the principles guiding the existing core, which was instituted in 1991.

The proposal was met with hesitation from faculty on some aspects, including the course load that would be required of math and science majors, the impact on enrollment in the Perspectives and PULSE programs, and first-year students’ ability to handle interdisciplinary courses on complex topics. In response to these concerns, a second version of the renewed core was released in August, and there was discussion about piloting courses in the fall of 2014.

“The philosophy behind this effort has always been measured and incremental,” Quinn said. “Take our time, listen to people, learn by doing, experiment-see what works and what doesn’t work in these pilots, and improve based on that experience.”

The mounting contention, however, led to what Quinn called a “two-month timeout,” in which the Core Foundations Task Force will try to articulate a clearer vision for the new core against which future proposals can be compared. University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., upon reviewing the core proposal and the subsequent faculty concerns, requested that the vision for the core be addressed before moving into discussion about practical implementation of new courses.

Rev. Greg Kalscheur, S.J., senior associate dean for strategic planning and faculty development in A&S, will head the task force, which seeks to complete its charges by April 15.

“The heart of the task is to articulate a vision for the core that can then guide the preparation of pilot courses for the fall of 2015,” Kalscheur said.

Kalscheur said that the vision will grow out of foundations established by the 1991 core document and will build on the work done last year as well as the fundamentals of Jesuit pedagogy.

“The Jesuits structured the educational project out of a formative purpose,” he said. “We see the success of our Jesuit universities in who our students become.”

The task force met for the first time last week, Kalscheur said, and it will meet again next week before moving on to focus groups and wider discussions in March and April. The group then hopes to have a mission statement to deliver to Leahy by the mid-April target date.

After outlining the steps the task force will take, several of the nearly 40 faculty members in attendance at the meeting raised questions and concerns, mostly pertaining to the logistical side of the core renewal-such as what kinds of courses they will be expected to teach-as opposed to the process to establish a vision for the core.

History professor Robin Fleming questioned whether the concept of pairing courses from two different departments in an interdisciplinary approach was still alive as proposed in last year’s renewal plans.

“There’s massive confusion among the faculty about what’s still on the board and what’s not the board,” Fleming said.

Quinn said that the administration would rely on the imagination of the faculty to put together course combinations that were both expected and unique, and Quigley elaborated on the timeline for the immediate future.

“At this point, we are eager to move forward after April 15 or so to early summer and then through the 2014-15 academic year to figure out exacting whether [the courses] are questions or problems, whether they’re three credits, how they are configured,” Quigley said. “But I think the pressing task over these next two months is to come up with a compelling vision that satisfies the very staple groups within the University. Some important parts of our community didn’t feel that the vision articulated last year was quite satisfactory, so I think we need to get that delivered by mid-April.”

In the same vein as Fleming’s question regarding procedural matters, political science professor Marc Landy asked what the decision-making structure would look like after the task force’s two-month timeline expires.

“We did spend a lot of time on what the governing structure would be going forward,” Quinn said. “The people who have gotten us here do think that we need a different organizational structure to implement the kind of courses we’re going to be experimenting with. One possibility is that this current group, whose mission really is from now until the middle of April, will live on in a larger fashion for longer. That hasn’t been decided, there’s a lot of conversation about that, and that conversation, to some extent, has been put aside while we do this.”

Other faculty members, including chair of the earth and environmental sciences department Gail Kineke, professor of political science Ali Banuazizi, and associate professor of English Jim Smith, emphasized the vital role that they feel the faculty should play in the renewal process. Quinn responded by noting that Leahy had said they could not move forward with so many faculty objections, and that the faculty has already expressed enthusiasm by acknowledging the importance of the core renewal, even through their concerns.

“We need to continue that kind of enthusiasm into the future because, in the ‘land of logistics,’ we need lots of faculty members to be enthusiastic, willing to try things, willing to see what works,” Quinn said.

Assistant history professor Thomas Dodman questioned what would happen if there is significant discontent among the departments regarding the new vision for the core.

“We hope to have sufficient input from the departments so that won’t be the case,” Quinn said. “We certainly have to make out a Plan B if we end up with a mission everybody hates.”

About Julie Orenstein 47 Articles
Julie Orenstein was a Heights editor for three long years that still somehow went by too quickly. She can be found singing in inopportune places, playing sports badly, eating grilled cheese, or just talking at anything that will listen.