Report from the Core Implementation Committee
In April 2020, the Harvey Mudd College faculty passed a proposal for a new Core curriculum known as “Four Courses Plus Electivity,” which revised some current Core requirements so that students could complete the Core by taking only four courses plus labs for each of their first four semesters. Students could then add electives after the first semester but would not be required to do so in order to graduate. Although the proposal document voted on by the faculty includes an outline of the new Core curriculum, some important decisions regarding its implementation were left up to a new Core Implementation Committee. In the summer of 2020, the co-chairs, Liz Orwin and Bill Alves, began work on these questions with the current Core Curriculum Director Ben Wiedermann and the full committee started meeting with the beginning of the fall semester.
In addition to co-chairs Orwin and Alves, the Core Implementation Committee consists of representatives from all departments: Anna Ahn (biology), Kathy Van Heuvelen (chemistry), Art Benjamin (mathematics), Sharon Gerbode (physics), Matt Spencer (engineering) and Vivien Hamilton (humanities, social sciences, and the arts). Wiedermann (computer science) and Mark Ashley (registrar) will also serve ex-officio.
One of our first tasks has been to gather and articulate the committee’s tasks and priorities, so this preliminary report is an outline of some of those issues we need to discuss. A year ago, when the new Core proposals were coalescing, many faculty expected that the College would be able to roll out a new Core in the fall of 2021. The pandemic has caused us to re-evaluate that ambitious timeline because the faculty are overwhelmed with the many challenges brought by these circumstances. In recognition of these difficulties, the Faculty Executive Committee asked all committees to rethink our expectations for this academic year. A fall 2021 roll-out would also require some departments to develop new courses or significantly revise existing ones, and they are unlikely to have the time and resources to do complete such a task by that date. Therefore, it is unlikely that the new Core will be completely in place for fall 2021, but the Implementation Committee is exploring the possibility of piloting or phasing in parts of the new Core prior to a complete change.
A crucial part of this Core revision, for many perhaps its most distinctive reform, is the re-evaluation of workload and the number of required courses. The faculty passed a proposal that states that students should be able to graduate while taking only the minimum required courses in the first four semesters, that the workload of existing courses in the Core should not change, and that non-Core requirements not increase. The Core proposal asks the Implementation Committee to reconcile these requirements with the number of credits needed to graduate and with the expectations of our accrediting agency. The Implementation Committee could take a close look at how we award credit to courses or propose alternative ways to count credit. The committee will need to work out such issues before we can answer other open questions, such as how the new Core will affect pathways to majors, student electivity in the Core and other impacts on departments.
One component of the new Core that has generated much enthusiasm is a new course in the fourth semester that will focus explicitly on issues of the relationships of science and technology and society, which planners began calling the “Impact Course” last year. Although certain proposed models for this course have generated excitement in the community, the exact nature of this course, its content, and how it will be sustained remain open questions. It could be a single course for all students, a menu of courses or another model. These conversations could include a variety of important questions, including issues of social justice. The Core Implementation Committee has been asked to engage with the community to create workable models to propose to the faculty, and we will be forming a subcommittee to work in parallel on these issues. This fall we will gather and review initial ideas about possible content and models so that we can work with and get feedback from the community through the spring semester.
One foundation of our curricular planning is the assessment of the Core. The Core Review Planning Team developed a goal statement for the Core that the faculty approved in December 2017. The Assessment Committee has started the process of articulating specific learning outcomes based on these goals and mapping those outcomes to individual courses. The Core Implementation Committee will then take up the more general issues of assessment of the Core, probably in spring 2021. Assessment is just one part of the oversight of the Core, and the Implementation Committee has been asked to propose structures for ongoing Core oversight. The Core revision gives the college an opportunity to reimagine how departments and cross-departmental courses can collaborate and make connections that cross disciplinary boundaries while continuing to nurture intellectual curiosity and the joy of learning. We intend to find structures that ensure the sustainability of the Core and in particular interdepartmental courses and cross-disciplinary work.
The sustainability of these exciting initiatives may depend on new resources, and the Implementation Committee needs to identify our needs, for short-term startup and development as well as long-term staffing and other requirements.
Transparency and communication
The Faculty Executive Committee has scheduled the Core Implementation Committee to report at faculty meetings three times in the fall semester. The FEC has also approved guidelines to determine whether any CIC proposals need approval, either by the FEC or the full faculty. We will also give regular updates to the Board of Trustees. Representatives of the CIC will meet with the Alumni Association Board of Governors and with ASHMC. The CIC also plans to issue regular written reports, of which this is the first, to be shared with the full community of faculty, administration, staff, students and alumni.