University curriculum faces dynamic change and a December vote by faculty

At a May 3 meeting of the Faculty Assembly, 80 percent of faculty in attendance indicated their support, in principle, for the proposed curriculum changes. 142 votes were recorded in favor and 33 votes against. A complete proposal is expected to be presented to faculty on December 12.

Changes would first affect students entering Trinity in fall 2015. Current students would continue to follow requirements established in the Course of Study bulletin distributed to each class year.

Students will need 120 hours to graduate, with the opportunity to double- major still available. This has become a Trinity hallmark in the past – students’ ability to pursue a variety of interests. Other curricular elements include the first-year experience, the course cluster, four disciplinary methods courses, experiential learning, a physical education requirement and the major. Within that structure are various capacities intended to enhance student learning.

Kimberlyn Montford, chair of the University Curriculum Council (UCC) and associate professor of music history, said the capacities are divided into two main categories.

“There are technical skills and then there are the actual means of presentation and learning, which could be, for instance, written or a visual and oral component,” Montford said.

A course may have the designation “WC” for “writing course” to demonstrate that it would be writing intensive. These capacities, according to Montford, are intended to make clearer what each course is trying to achieve.

Long before the May 3 Faculty Assembly, a retreat was held in which two committees were charged with coming up with drafts. In January, 18-20 members came together and five different proposals circulated. A first draft proposal was created and in the spring, a series of open meetings with faculty were conducted. Comments from those meetings were used to make a revised draft which returned to faculty for comments. The Coordinating Committee for Curricular Review (CCCR), which has since disbanded, made some final adjustments before that proposal again appeared before faculty in May.

The UCC has the document now and has established faculty subcommittees to institute implementation guidelines. A dozen working groups, each of four to five faculty members, has taken a piece of the proposed curriculum to develop the guidelines that would determine if a given course would receive credit.

Duane Coltharp, associate vice president for academic affairs and associate professor of English, said groups were organized with academic disciplines in mind.

“Criteria focuses on content,” Coltharp said. “Those guidelines specify general content that a course will need to address.”

One particular element that is unique to the new curriculum is the course cluster. The idea is to examine one topic from multiple disciplinary lenses. A student would take three courses on one large topic, which could be a number of different things.

According to Erwin Cook, T.F. Murchison professor of the humanities and classical studies, looking at the same topic through various disciplines can dramatically change the way a subject is perceived.

“Occasionally sophomore year can be seen as a wasteland academically,” Cook said. “Students have the first-year experience but then lack something similar the following year. This would give students the chance to really delve into a subject.”

Cook reiterates the importance that all voices were heard when developing this curriculum. Over the process, students have had multiple opportunities to weigh their concerns. An all-day conference was held and later there was an open meeting in the Fiesta Room sponsored by the Faculty Senate.

Although the curriculum will not affect students unless they choose to accept all the requirements of the new courses bulletin, Cook urges students to meet with him to express opinions or thoughts.

“I invite all students to visit me in my office,” Cook said. “We have had as many hands as possible on this project. What we have to understand is that the revision cannot be incremental but wholesale in order to accomplish university goals. We all need to want this to succeed as a community.”

The reconceptualizing of the curriculum is viewed positively by many, especially in terms of marketing the university.

Montford described one of the things she loves about Trinity, saying that a student can come into their first year with a major in mind and totally change directions in a year or two.

“We desperately want to keep that,” Montford said. “Dr. Ahlburg talks about Trinity as a hidden gem in that you get tremendous value for what you are paying. These changes will address what we do best and help us do it better.”

A strict parliamentary majority will be used in the December vote, but Cook is hopeful that the percentage will be higher, if the May vote is any indication. The current proposal does not touch on the controversial debate over a 5:5 versus a 4:4 schedule. That decision is yet to be made.