Baylor debates changing Arts & Sciences core curriculum

Rewon Shimray | Cartoonist

Brooke Hill | Staff Writer

Are you tired of being forced to take classes that you feel have nothing to do with your major?

Change may be coming for future generations of Baylor Bears. The College of Arts and Sciences has been working on the possibility of updating and changing the core requirements that each undergraduate is required to take. For most College of Arts & Sciences majors, this would mean reduced hours for their Core Curriculum.

Dr. Lee Nordt, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said there is no evidence changes have ever been made to the core curriculum. They searched records all the way back to the World War II era.

“Periodically you need to do a thorough assessment, it’s a very important part of what we do at Baylor and in the College of Arts and Sciences,” Nordt said.

The process of reviewing the Core Curriculum has been ongoing since 2012.

“The College of Arts and Sciences is so large and complex and there are so many diverse interests and areas. It’s hard to do anything that’s comprehensive because there has to be a lot of compromising,” Nordt said.

Phase One of the process took place from 2012 to 2015 and asked the question, “Should the Core be improved?”The consensus, after conversations with 70 faculty leaders, was that the Core “could and should” be improved.

Phase Two took place in the 2015-2016 school year and asked the question, “What is the Core trying to achieve?” A task force worked for 13 months to provide a Vision Document, and in May 2016, a Council of Chairs unanimously approved the Core Curriculum Vision.

Phase Three began in 2016 and was just recently completed. This phase asked the question, “What is the appropriate size and content of the Core?” To answer this, Nordt appointed a 40-member task force including faculty representatives as well as a Baylor senior to ensure that concerns of students would be heard. After 16 months, the task force provided a set of recommendations to the Arts and Sciences Council of Chairs that included a reduced 49/50 hour Core requirement for BA, BS, BFA and BSAS degrees.

Waco graduate student Kristin Koch was the voice of the students on this task force that met once or twice a month. Koch graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Statistics and Mathematics in Spring 2016. She was part of a College of Arts and Sciences student group that met with Nordt to share student perspectives on happenings within the college. This group of students talked about how burdensome the core is and how many hours were required.

There were complaints from students that many undergraduates were not able to double major or pick up minors because of the lack of flexibility the core offers. From there, Koch was asked to serve on the task force from August 2016 until the recommendations were announced in August 2017.

“The faculty are all in there to work together to make the best core for students, but also, everyone has their own opinions of what classes students should be taking and the faculty definitely had expertise in that area,” Koch said. “My role was if I felt like the students were being overlooked in the process, somehow I would try to speak up. I felt like my role was there to make sure that everyone was keeping students at the center, rather than any kind of politics or advocating for their departments specifically. I definitely felt like the faculty were receptive to it and their ideas were very much along the line of what the other students and I had been wanting, so I didn’t feel like it was much of a fight to be heard.”

There are currently four different lists of core requirements for the various degrees, but in the new vision, all four degrees would share the same list of requirements. The five common courses that the degrees currently share are Chapel, U.S. Constitution, Christian Scriptures, Christian Heritage and Thinking and Writing. With the proposed core, there would be eight common courses: Chapel, U.S. Constitution, Christian Scriptures, Christian Heritage, Thinking and Writing, U.S. History in Global Perspective, Cultural Events Experience and Civic Engagement Seminar.

Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees currently require up to 79 hours in core courses, so the change to a 49/50 hour requirement would make it easier for students to pursue multiple majors, minors or electives. It is also intended to eliminate some of the difficulties pre-med students face if they decide to major in humanities or social sciences later on.

BFA and BSAS core requirements would also be reduced with most majors, but to a lesser degree. In some cases, BFA majors’ Core Curriculum would increase, but only slightly.

Course-hour requirements for religion, political science and writing would not change. The subjects that would have reduced requirements are history, fine arts, literature, foreign language, science and social sciences. A Formal Reasoning course would be required in all four degree plans, as would a Communication/Media Literacy class.

If the new core curriculum is approved by the Council of Chairs, implementation would take another 18 months, making the change a seven-year process.

According to a video posted online for 500 full-time faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences, committees involved in the Core Curriculum change process participated in more than 200 meetings as part of the project.

Department chairs are now reviewing the proposed changes along with their faculty, and Nordt urged them to “think first and foremost about ‘What is best for our students.”

“Students can be reassured that the faculty are looking out for their best interests,” Koch said. “I definitely got a good understanding that faculty really do want this new core to be beneficial to not only the departments but all of the students, so that was really uplifting for me to witness. I do think that the new core would offer more flexibility and be less burdensome on the students, so I hope that it makes it through the process that it’s going through.”