Core Group

Class of '97 is first to study under revised curriculum, which remains dynamic

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

Whatever its other accomplishments, the Class of 1997 has already achieved one distinction: It is the first graduating class to have studied under the University's revised core curriculum.

Introduced in 1991 and fully implemented by the fall of 1993 - when the Class of 1997 arrived - the new core curriculum was a culmination of nearly two years of campus-wide discussion on the Boston College undergraduate academic foundation. A task force appointed by Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties William B. Neenan, SJ, recommended a major restructuring of the core, the first such change in two decades.

University Core Development Committee Director Prof. Richard Cobb-Stevens (Philosophy)-Students' "reaction to, and experience with, the core has been quite positive." (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Since the new core was established, all undergraduates must take two courses each in history, philosophy, theology, social sciences and physical sciences, and one each in fine arts, literature, mathematics and cultural diversity. Core courses also now share a set of common characteristics: discussion of perennial questions, history and methodology of the discipline, a strong writing component, culturally diverse perspectives, and a concern for the moral significance and practical direction of students' lives.

The Class of 1997's imminent graduation, administrators and faculty say, offers an opportunity to reflect on the new core's impact and its role in the University's future. While the core is still a work in progress, administrators and faculty say it already has made positive contributions to the University community.

"Our core curriculum maintains the continuity with the great intellectual tradition of university life," Fr. Neenan said, "but it is also open to new insights into human life and culture. It is modern without being superficially trendy."

The new curriculum, they note, has established clearly articulated criteria for core courses and thereby helped departments restructure and reorganize their programs. It also has emphasized the quality of student writing and brought about effective tutoring programs, such as those provided by the Academic Development Center.

In particular, administrators and faculty point to the University Core Development Committee as a vital factor in the core's prominence. The nine-member UCDC evaluates existing or prospective core programs and courses, encourages inter-departmental programs and seeks outside funding to support core-related initiatives.

"The establishment of a standing committee, the UCDC, which is in constant contact with the various academic departments," Fr. Neenan said, "indicates the University's commitment to maintaining a strong core, rather than a distribution requirement."

"The UCDC was one of the most important things to come out of the core study process," said UCDC Chairman J. Robert Barth, SJ, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "Its role is not only to ensure a certain level of commitment to the core, but to offer encouragement and support to those wanting to develop new courses for the core. That is a notable achievement for Boston College."

"Students we've talked to say that without the core, they would have followed a narrow path of study without encountering new disciplines and outlooks," said UCDC Director Prof. Richard Cobb-Stevens (Philosophy). "Their reaction to, and experience with, the core has been quite positive."

If nothing else, administrators and faculty agree, the process of discussing and implementing a new core focused the University community's attention on the issue of what should be considered essential to an undergraduate education. This interest has remained, Cobb-Stevens said, and spurred faculty across disciplines to work together on initiatives such as a four-year summer workshop on developing science and mathematics core courses for non-majors, which through the UCDC received funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation and Gerschel Foundation.

One of the most gratifying developments concerning the new core, UCDC members said, is the array of courses - 120 in all - departments designed to fulfill the cultural diversity requirement. These have included such classes as Christianity in Africa, Theater and Society in Early 20th Century Dublin and Harlem, Culture and Health Care, and Modern Mexican Politics.

"We look for courses that give students an opportunity to reflect on differences between their experiences and those that are discussed in the class," said UCDC member Assoc. Prof. Sandra Waddock (CSOM).

To further improve the core, Cobb-Stevens said the UCDC is working on revising student course evaluation forms to include information relating to the core. The committee also hopes to spur continued and increased participation of senior faculty in core instruction, and foster "a greater sense of community" among faculty teaching in the core. Utilizing BC's extensive technological resources for the core is another challenge, he said.

"There is still much that can be done," Cobb-Stevens said. "But looking at the particular structure we have here, and the degree of cooperation experienced between the UCDC and departments, I can't think of anything quite like it at any comparable institution. We have made a very good beginning."

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