For almost a year, the faculty - representing the English, Romance Languages and Literatures, Slavic and Eastern Languages, Germanic Studies and Classical Studies departments - have met regularly to discuss ways of promoting the variety of core literature courses. While some of the conversation touches on short-term, practical measures, faculty say it is also an opportunity to reflect on broader questions regarding literature's role in college curriculums.
"Literature is not the sole province of one department or discipline," said Prof. Matilda Bruckner (Romance Languages), who organized the meetings. "It is something students can experience in many different ways, on many different levels. Its inclusion in the core is not so students all become literature majors, but to help them see a new dimension in their education.
"We want to develop ideas that provide direction not only to students, but to other faculty about literature and its place at Boston College," she said.
"It is most heartening to see this kind of interdepartmental cooperation," said A&S Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, "especially when it addresses an important concern: how to enlarge students' appreciation for literature other than that of their native culture or language. This is a key aspect of the University's commitment to internationalizing the curriculum."
Since the adoption of a new core curriculum in 1991, which established a separate one-class requirement for literature, departments like Romance Languages and Germanic Studies are better able to develop courses for inclusion in the core, Bruckner said. But students largely have relied on English Department courses to fulfill the requirement, she said, resulting in over-enrolled English courses and relatively few non-major students in other literature classes.
"It's a problem with some profound implications," Bruckner said. "Creating a core course takes a lot of work, especially for a small department, and if you aren't getting a lot of students for it, understandably you might be hesitant to create more. That's an unfortunate situation, and so last year we began meeting regularly to seek some solutions."
Some of the difficulty in highlighting non-English literature courses, the group found, may stem from the way classes are presented in course registration materials. Accordingly, the English Department added a new category to its listing of literature core courses, one which included offerings from other departments.
But the faculty also discuss how current or proposed literature courses can be developed and taught so as to meet the goals of the core curriculum. This aspect of the meetings has already produced some tangible results, she said, noting that the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department contributed three new literature courses to the core this year.
"It's a case where we all benefit," said Prof. Rosemarie Bodenheimer (English). "More departments are playing a far more visible role in the core and students are meeting faculty they might not otherwise encounter. From our perspective, getting students to take non-English literature courses would reduce some of our class sizes. We prefer to teach freshmen in smaller classes."
Prof. Richard Cobb-Stevens (Philosophy) said the group is fulfilling a chief aim of the University Core Development Committee, which maintains the core and assesses its performance.
"One of our most important functions is to encourage faculty and departments to come up with their own initiatives and ideas concerning the core," said Cobb-Stevens, who chairs the UCDC. "While we have been in contact with this group, they started, and have continued, their work independently of the UCDC. That is a very positive step in the evolution of the new core curriculum."
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