University To Move Forward With Interdisciplinary Core Courses

Following the rollout of the fall 2015 interdisciplinary core pilot courses, freshmen will now have the opportunity to register for new offerings in the spring. The courses will discuss different topics, following the same format as the courses that were offered in the fall.

The University will move forward with the interdisciplinary core pilot program in an effort to renew the traditional University core, which has been in place since 1991. Although there was a proposal to renew the core in the spring of 2013, it has not yet been approved by Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley and University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J.

“We are set to offer twice as many of these classes next year, and some of them—three pairs—will repeat next year,” Julian Bourg, associate professor of history and associate dean of the core said. “Still, for better or worse, they are going to be restricted to first year students.”

Each core pilot course is six credits, fulfilling two core requirements. The pilot courses are separated into two different formats—complex problems courses and enduring questions courses. The complex problems are much bigger and taught by two professors, with 76 students. They include lectures, weekly labs, and a reflection component. The enduring questions courses are intimate, linked classes, consisting of 19 students, each professor teaching separately. Enduring questions courses meet to reflect during the evening four times a semester.

“Both the complex problems class and enduring questions pairs, they equal six credits,” Bourg said. “The same model as Perspectives and PULSE, except it involves history and literature, political science and philosophy.”

This spring, the complex problems course “Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity” will be offered, equaling both one history and one literature core requirement. The enduring questions courses are offered separately, with “Power, Justice, War: The Moderns” linked to “Power, Justice, War: The Ancients,” taught by Aspen Brinton of the Philosophy Department, and Robert Bartlett of the Political Science Department and fulfilling both the social science and philosophy core requirement. The “Epidemics, Disease, and Humanity” linked with “Devising Theatre: Illness as a Metaphor” is taught by Mary Kathleen Dunn, of the Biology Department, and Scott Cummings, of the Theatre Department, fulfilling one natural science and one arts core requirement.

On whether there is a difference in workload between taking a core pilot class and taking two unrelated core-fulfilling classes, Bourg emphasized that there is not a large difference in workload, but rather, one in experience and reflection.

“In terms of workload, the only difference is that these core classes have an extra element, which we are calling a ‘reflection section,’ that gives students an opportunity to think about how what they’re learning about in the class connects with what is going on in their lives and the rest of the world,” Bourg said. “It is an extra section in which students get together in the evenings to talk, not just about what they read, but about how what they’re learning, in a Jesuit Catholic way, connects to their lives.”

The interdisciplinary courses give professors an opportunity to teach unique information that otherwise, they would not have been able to teach. Because freshmen are new to college life, Bourg hopes that the core pilot courses will not only prepare first-years for life on the heights, but inspire them when taking core classes in the future.

“Each discipline is a lens and you look at the question or problem slightly differently from the different perspective of a different department,” Bourg said. “A lot of times core classes are very basic and general, but the faculty have made these classes because they are very interested in the topics. It is not a big survey of everything, it is focused on what the teacher thinks is very exciting. I think that there is a lot of energy in the classroom because of that.”

Bourg said the University is considering extending the core pilot courses to upperclassmen in the future, but these offerings are still undergoing three years of “pilot,” or “experimental” periods. Although nothing has officially been decided, he said, it will be discussed in the future.

“We’re starting with first-year students, and we’re going to learn what’s working and what’s not working,” Bourg said. “One of the things we need to think about is how we can bring excitement about the core to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.”

Overall, Bourg anticipates that the interdisciplinary core pilot courses will positively influence freshmen when picking classes in the future. To Bourg, the beauty of the core pilot courses is in expanding students’ worldview, enhancing their ability to see the world outside of Boston College. In regards to the core, the administration hopes to achieve three goals.

“One, to engage students in very interesting questions and problems that matter,” he said. “Two, to connect them to faculty who don’t normally teach in the core. And, three, to make the core more at the heart of a BC education instead of stuff you just have to do to get out of the way. The more students are engaged in the core, the more meaningful it will be to students and faculty.”

Featured Image by Alex Gaynor / Heights Senior Staff

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