Curriculum review met with mixed feelings from faculty

As part of the general curriculum review being conducted for the university strategic plan, the Coordinating Committee for Curricular Review (CCCR) is considering increasing the number of credit hours attributed to each class from three to four, altering faculty course loads and changing the first year seminars to incorporate more experiential learning.

The CCCR surveyed 152  of the 250 tenured and tenure-track faculty members on the proposal, releasing the results Nov. 1. The survey, which was anonymous and distributed via email on Oct. 23 and required a response by Oct. 29, included polls and the chance to write additional comments.

According to Erwin Cook, T.F. Murchison professor of the humanities and chair of the CCCR, more than 75 percent of faculty members were in favor of “some change,” but differed on which model is best. Cook, who remains neutral on the proposal, stressed that polls are not always reflective of the true consensus.

“While [the survey findings] are helpful,” Cook said, “they are not always indicative of the final outcome.”

The survey included three different models: the existing model, a new model and a hybrid option.

The first model would be a 3:2 faculty workload, accompanied by a 4:4 student schedule. This means that the university would require faculty members to teach three courses one semester and two the next. The accompanying 4:4 student schedule means students would take four courses each semester, each counting for four hours of academic credit.

The second model incorporates a 3:3 faculty model with a 5:5 student schedule, meaning that professors would teach three courses both semesters and students would take five courses per semester, each worth three credit hours.

Neither models account for one-hour labs, physical education classes or seminars in the ratio, but could affect the number of hours needed to graduate. Currently, that number sits at 124 for most majors, but it could fluctuate slightly if a new model is adopted.

“It would not change much,” Cook said. “It would remain between 120 and 128 hours.”

Twenty-one percent of the faculty favored the current student work load and 5:5 model,  whereas 15 percent of faculty members favored the current student load for their own department, but support other departments adopting whatever model best suits their needs.

On the other hand, 24 percent favor the 4:4 schedule as the standard model used across the board by all departments in the university. Thirty-nine percent are in favor of adopting the 4:4 model for their own department, but support other departments using their own model.

C. Mackenzie Brown, Jennie Farris Railey King professor of religion, is a strong advocate of the 4:4 model but would also support a hybrid of the plans.

“Students in the humanities generally, and in religion studies in particular, need much more time to reflect on what they are doing than is possible under the current system,” Brown said in an email on Tuesday.

Brown also voiced concern over the pressure that 5:5 schedule creates and the style of learning it forces students to adopt.

“When a student is taking four or five other courses, once the reading is done for one course, one has to hasten on to the reading assignment in the next course,” Brown said. “Term projects become obstacles to jump over, rather than exciting adventures into unexplored territory.”

Cook acknowledged Brown’s concerns and the fact that both recruitment and retention of quality faculty would be affected by a change to the 4:4 model.

“We are trying to remain competitive with peer and aspirational universities, many of which have a 4:4 model,” Cook said, pointing out that schools, like Rice University, still function on a 5:5, but this is because they have access to more research funding.

Other faculty members, such as Aaron Delwiche, associate professor of communication, oppose the 4:4 model altogether and stand by the current 5:5 model.

“Ultimately, the 5:5 system boils down to maximum freedom for students. Freedom to pursue double majors and multiple minors, freedom to choose additional majors or minors later in one’s academic career, and freedom to sample widely from a breadth of course offerings,” Delwiche said via email on Tuesday.

Senior S’Kate Strickland agrees with Delwiche and believes the 4:4 model will negatively impact Trinity.

“Part of the reason I chose Trinity was because of the class structure. I do not want Trinity to become a public school disguised as a private institution,” Strickland said.

Fellow student and president of the association of student representatives, Joe Moore, agreed with Strickland.

“[The course load debate] is actually one of the reasons I initially became interested in ASR because I read an article in the Trinitionian talking about how they were looking at the faculty course load and potentially increasing how much time was available for research which would mean there would be less time for teachers to teach classes and class sizes would grow because there would be fewer courses offered,” Moore said. “After reading the article, I emailed the then-president of ASR asking if I could get involved with the committee and she encouraged me to run. Who knows? If I had never read that article, I may not be ASR president now, and the issue is still one I really care about.”

Moore also addressed Delwiche’s concern about student’s ability to double major with the new system.

“The statistic I’ve heard is that, on average, with the 5:5 model 28 percent of students double major and with a 4:4 model, 24 percent double major,” Moore said. “But at Trinity we’re a little different because while we have the 5:5 model, only 22 percent of students double major. So now the question is, “˜what does this mean for us?'”

In addition to changing the credit hour model, the new curriculum proposes to renovate the first year experience.

The classes will be taught as paired seminars, according to Cook, with one seminar emphasizing oral communication and analysis and the other emphasizing argumentative writing. The classes will also more closely resemble the current HUMA model where groups of sections are taught from a common syllabus and attend weekly lectures.

According to Moore, ASR does not have an official opinion on the matter, but they plan to host a town hall meeting for students to discuss the curriculum changes at the beginning of December. Meanwhile, the CCCR can only propose changes and cannot actually enact a new curriculum or schedule. That privilege lies with the Board of Trustees, but the University Curriculum Council (UCC) and entire faculty must first approve any changes before it can go before the Board of Trustees. The entire faculty is scheduled to vote on faculty teaching and student course loads on Dec. 6. The vote on the curricular proposal will take place in Jan. or Feb.