By Thomas Moran | Staff Writer
The new 50-hour core curriculum, set to begin in the Fall of 2019, will allow students to explore new fields of study, add additional minors and majors and provide a more “transformational education”. The lengthy process has been characterized by the challenges of compromise, as a natural result of a shortening curriculum, and a positive increase in dialogue between the departments.
The English Department was no exception to this complex dynamic and it was ultimately decided that American Literature be the sole required English course. In the current curriculum, students in the College of Arts and Sciences are required to take American and British Literature, along with two writing courses, 1302 and 1304.
English Department Chair Dr. Kevin Gardner played a key role throughout the process. The decision was taken very seriously and the entire permanent staff of the department was involved in the discussion Gardner said.
After the comprehensive evaluation process, it was voted upon and the American Literature course was selected as the required course in the new curriculum. However, writing requirements have not been altogether removed from the curriculum. Beyond the eight required core courses including American Literature, the new curriculum also includes nine distribution lists from which students will be required to take a single course, one of which is called the “Research Writing” distribution list.
According to Dr. Blake Burleson, associate dean for undergraduate studies of the College of Arts and Sciences, this decision will reflect a similar model used by other notable research universities including Notre Dame, Tulane and Duke.
“The redesign of Baylor’s core curriculum has proved to be an excellent opportunity for Baylor to adopt this model of our peer and aspirant R1/T1 universities,” Burleson wrote in a statement.
The specific research-based writing courses have not yet been finalized for the distribution list.
“No courses have actually been put into a distribution list yet …” Gardner said. “English is in the process of working through whether or not to put our existing courses into the distribution list or to propose a new course.”
With students required to take a course from the “Research Writing” list, the English department agreed that a literature-based class ought to be the core requirement.
Another factor that lead to selection of American Literature as the required course is the openness of writing as a field of study.
“Traditionally, writing classes have been housed in English departments, but there’s also an argument to be made for a culture of writing across the curriculum and that writing should happen really in all disciplines,” Gardner said.
The English department currently has around five professors who teach writing courses, however around 90% of the 1302 and 1304 freshman-level writing courses are taught by graduate students.
Long Beach, Calif. PhD student Molly Lewis is in her first year studying English Literature. As a literature student, she empathizes with the sentiment that students should be exposed to as much literature as possible. However, she also believes that writing is a crucial element of any university education.
“I feel like writing is going to be really important for any student of any discipline. So even if it’s not required in the core, I would certainly hope that many students would recognize the importance of taking 1304 regardless and many students probably will,” Lewis said.
Though within the new core curriculum the English department’s writing courses will be optional on list of many diverse classes for students to choose from, there are qualities and talents within the English department that are irreplaceable Lewis said.
“I do know that the English department’s rhet/comp [rhetoric and composition] faculty is fantastic …” Lewis said. “They’re brilliant … There is something significant offered here that wouldn’t be available in other departments just because of the faculty we have. They literally study how to teach writing. It’s what they do.”
Students face a high degree of personal responsibility to be able to understand, analyze and evaluate the world around them Lewis said. In her view Thinking, Writing and Research 1304 is best equipped to fulfill this standard. However, experiencing a wider range of disciplines, as featured in the Research Writing distribution list, is a positive side effect of the new curriculum.
“One of the things that we value is having an exposure to all of these different fields, which may not interact with out daily lives, but definitely inform how we view the world,” Lewis said.
As the distribution lists are developed and finalized, the students and faculty eagerly anticipate the new curriculum.
A statement from the College of Arts and Sciences clarifies that, “Communication (both written and oral) is an essential skill for our 21st century graduates. To this end, students are required to take 15 hours of courses in communication distributed as follows: three hours from Research Writing, nine hours from Foreign Language and Culture and three hours from Communication and Media Literacy.” A Q&A document has been created on the College of Arts and Sciences’ website to offer further clarification on this issue.
Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media communications, assures the community of Baylor’s consistent dedication to academic excellence throughout this process.
“Baylor is and always has been committed to a strong undergraduate education. It was important at our founding, it’s important today and will be in the future under our new academic strategic plan,” Fogleman said.