Arts & Sciences Curriculum Proposal

Originally posted: June 20, 2018

Amended: October 3, 2018, via live faculty meeting

INTRODUCTION

Over the last two and a half years, the Curriculum Review Committee (CRC) has conducted a detailed examination of our current curriculum and evaluated various scenarios of curricular reform. This proposal follows two initial draft proposals and extensive engagement with faculty, students and other stakeholders. It responds to their concerns both with the current model, and previous draft proposals, and attends to their expressions of values, preferences and guiding principles for a liberal arts and sciences education.

The Committee concludes, after its deliberations, that our College’s undergraduate curriculum must, above all things, encourage exploration. The three main themes of the Committee’s final report issued in March 2018 centered on ways to enhance and facilitate this exploration, with an emphasis on: (i) building awareness of the full extent of the college’s curriculum through effective navigation, (ii) improving simplicity and clarity in the graduation requirements, and (iii) enabling interdisciplinarity and pedagogical innovation.

This proposal introduces changes to the degree requirements in an effort to remove current barriers to exploration, and better reflect the principles, priorities and strengths of the College. 

CURRICULUM PROPOSAL FOR REVISED DEGREE REQUIREMENTS 

The curriculum committee proposes the following changes to the requirements for the Bachelor of Arts degree in the College of Arts & Sciences.

  • Students fulfill five different distribution categories in their first four semesters at Cornell.
  • Students must satisfy all of the following ten distribution categories.
Arts, Literature, and Culture Social Difference
Biological Sciences Physical Sciences
Ethics and the Mind Social Sciences
Global Citizenship Statistics and Data Science
Historical Analysis Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning
  • Individual courses can be listed in up to two distribution categories, as determined by faculty, and approved by the College’s Educational Policy Committee.
  • Students typically satisfy one distribution category per course (i.e. taking ten separate courses to meet the full distribution requirements); however, they may double-count distribution categories in up to two courses (i.e. take a minimum of eight courses) to fulfill the distribution requirements.
  • The College adopt a policy that, for the purpose of completing the language requirement, “language” means any living or extinct human language, including sign languages, offered at Cornell. There are no other proposed changes to the language requirement.
  • Electives, breadth requirements, and minimum course graduation requirements are removed.

IMPLEMENTATION

The amended Curriculum Proposal details the specific graduation requirements that will govern the undergraduate curriculum for students in the College of Arts and Sciences.

We anticipate that the Dean's office will convene a committee, or a set of committees, to finalize the descriptions associated with each of the new distribution requirements. Departments and Programs will propose distribution category assignments for their current courses, and the Educational Policy Committee will oversee this assignment process.

The process of implementing this new curriculum will require further administrative work within the Dean’s Office to put in place the degree audit and Courses of Study changes required. These tasks will be carried out by the A&S Student Services Office, which oversees the Registrar function, in coordination with the University Registrar, IT office, and other colleges at Cornell.

BACKGROUND

Timeline

The following timeline summarizes major activities surrounding the curriculum review process. For a detailed timeline see as.cornell.edu/curriculum/timeline.

  • Spring 2016: The CRC is charged to undertake a review of the A&S curriculum. It begins gathering data.
  • Fall 2016: The CRC initiates College-wide discussions with all stakeholders, including liaisons from all departments, alumni and students.
  • Spring 2017: The CRC introduces a draft proposal. Feedback is obtained from the Cornell community via a public website. The CRC holds more than 30 meetings with department and program faculty as well as a student town hall.
  • May 2017: A College meeting is held and feedback is presented.
  • Fall 2017: The CRC reviews the feedback further and continues the discussion in response.
  • March 2018: The CRC releases a final report. Feedback is gathered from departments, especially concerning the report’s language requirement.
  • April 2018: The CRC introduces a proposal for distribution requirements based on the final report. Students respond to a survey issued by the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee.
  • May 2018: Faculty discuss the CRC proposal, as well as an alternative proposal concerning the language requirement.
  • June 2018: This revised proposal is introduced for discussion and a vote in fall 2018.
  • October 3, 2018: Proposal is amended via a live faculty meeting

RATIONALE

Encouraging Students to Explore Early

The Curriculum Committee’s first draft proposal specified that students would complete five of their distribution requirements in their first four semesters. The result is an undergraduate experience in which distributional coursework begins in the first year but does not end there. It establishes a principle of breadth before depth, but one that moderates when students are ready to focus more narrowly on one or more interests to achieve proficiency. This approach was widely agreed upon by faculty in feedback discussions.

We propose that students fulfill five different distribution categories in their first four semesters at Cornell. We further clarify that any course of at least three credits, at any level, may be used to fulfill an appropriate distribution requirement.

Retaining Simplicity without Erasing Distinctions

After the release of the initial proposal defining broad "modes of inquiry," faculty expressed concerns that although they generally agreed with student and faculty members calls for greater simplicity, these proposed categories were too broad. Our final proposal aims to strike a balance. The Committee proposes simplifying the current "matrix" structure of breadth and distribution requirements to instead have one single list that better reflects the principles, priorities and strengths of the College. The change addresses concerns about the current structure, namely that it incentivizes course selections that allow multiple requirements to be satisfied simultaneously rather than encouraging exploration purely based on interests. Such incentives are counter-productive and confuse the original intentions of the current curriculum structure.

We propose an adjustment to the current list of distribution requirements, with the proposal that students complete one course in each of the following ten distribution categories:

Arts, Literature, and Culture Social Difference
Biological Sciences Physical Sciences
Ethics and the Mind Social Sciences
Global Citizenship Statistics and Data Science
Historical Analysis Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning

This proposed distribution would make the following changes to current requirements:

  1. "Cultural Analysis" has been replaced with two categories, "Social Difference" and "Global Citizenship."
    1. "Social Difference," as described in this proposal, encompasses courses that take class, race, ethnicity, nativity status, religion, gender, sexuality, or ability as an object of study. These courses can span the full range of disciplines and modes of inquiry, but are most likely to be taught in the humanities and social sciences.
    2. "Global Citizenship" encompasses the study of societies, cultures, and political systems outside of Western Europe, Canada, and the United States. It could also include the study of global issues such as transnational migration, international justice, colonial histories and their legacies, and world health systems. These courses can span the full range of disciplines and modes of inquiry, but are most likely to be taught in the humanities and social sciences.
  2. "Ethics and the Mind" and "Social Science" encompass coursework that currently fulfills requirements in "Knowledge, Cognition, and Moral Reasoning" and "Social and Behavior Analysis."
  3. "Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning" has been replaced with two categories, "Statistics and Data Science" and "Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning." We address our proposal for data science in more detail below. By broadening the scope of Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning, we recognize that this area of knowledge can be attained through a variety of disciplines, for example, in areas of linguistics and music theory.
  4. "Physical and Biological Sciences" has been replaced with two categories, "Biological Sciences" and "Physical Sciences."

These adjustments to the distributional categories allow us to simplify and streamline our curriculum while fostering exploration across various disciplines. Currently, the "Global Breadth" and "Historical Breadth" requirements overlap with distribution requirements, which students and faculty advisors find confusing. Adopting a single set of categories would remove this confusion.

Double-Labeling and Double-Counting

We further propose that individual courses can be listed in up to two distribution categories. This is in response to faculty concern that with 10 categories, the intellectual rationale for choosing one category over another may be quite weak. For example, social science courses on social inequality by race, class, and gender could fit into both the "Social Difference" and "Social Science" categories. Similar concerns were raised about colonial literatures, which could satisfy "Arts, Literature, and Culture" as well as "Global Citizenship." Likewise, certain science courses might span topics in both biological and physical sciences.

We propose that students must satisfy each of the ten distribution requirements. This differs from the current system, wherein students choose four categories from a menu of five categories. Currently, students can skip one "requirement" altogether, which in our view weakens the distribution requirements and does not encourage them to explore as broadly as under our proposal.

We also propose that students may double-count up to two courses to fulfill the distribution requirement categories. For example, they may use one course to satisfy both the Social Sciences and Global Citizenship requirements. Thus they need take only eight courses to meet the ten distribution requirements. This proposal acknowledges many faculty members’ concern that we give students ample opportunity to specialize in their major or majors, give them more flexibility to study abroad, and keep the number of required courses at or below the current system.

Revisiting the Language Requirement

Faculty, from across all the disciplines, uniformly endorse the importance of language learning as an essential component of a liberal arts education. The College provides Cornell students with an extraordinarily diverse set of languages to study, and this is a defining feature of Cornell as a global university.

In response to faculty feedback and the counterproposal offered by some members of the faculty, we recommend that the College’s existing foreign language requirement be retained unchanged as a key component of foundational learning for the undergraduate education we provide in both the liberal arts and global citizenship. The College’s existing foreign language requirement gives students two options to satisfy this requirement: a) one course at or above the non-introductory level or b) 11 credits in a single language.

We recommend language-teaching departments hold internal brainstorming workshops to encourage language exploration for non-majors.

We propose further that the College adopt a policy that, for the purpose of completing the language requirement, "language" means any living or extinct human language, including sign languages, offered at Cornell.

First-Year Writing

Faculty and student commentary on the First-Year Writing Program is generally mixed. Although students and faculty appreciate the intense and deliberate focus on College-level writing, students report that quality of instruction is varied, and the demand for writing seminars in the sciences and social sciences far outstrips supply. We acknowledge that since the Committee collected this feedback, the First-Year Writing Program has taken important and thoughtful steps to reduce variability in the quality of instruction, particularly for courses taught by advanced graduate students.

We recommend that the First-Year Writing Program be strengthened and further supported, in particular through additional funding and programmatic support to encourage more First-Year Writing courses in the sciences and social sciences. We also recommend further innovation of First-Year Writing courses that are paired with introductory courses. Students who choose the paired-course option would take both courses in the same semester, and receive full credit for each course. The instructors of the two courses need not be in the same department or discipline, and indeed we think that some of the most successful pairings may come from cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Preserving a Rigorous Foundation of Science and Mathematics

This final report maintains parity with our current requirements, in which students will complete a total of four science and mathematical/quantitative reasoning courses. This responds to faculty concerns expressed following the initial curriculum proposal, in which a reduction of one requirement was proposed. Motivated by the increasing demand from students to develop statistical and data science skills, and in recognition that our faculty from across many disciplines bring relevant expertise in the application of these skills, in research and instruction, we propose that the "Mathematical and Quantitative Reasoning" category be split into two, "Statistics and Data Science" and "Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning." We also propose that our current "Physical and Biological Sciences" be split to ensure that our students have exposure to at least one course in each of the "Biological Sciences" and "Physical Sciences."

Electives and Course Totals

The Curriculum Review Committee views student autonomy as essential to a Liberal Arts education. We believe that our broad curriculum that covers a wide range of distribution requirements, writing, and language makes the current elective requirement redundant. We propose to eliminate the elective requirement altogether. We also propose to eliminate the 34 course minimum requirement, based on feedback from the advising deans that this minimum course requirement causes needless complications for students who have taken half-semester courses. We instead focus on preserving the current requirements that students complete 120 credits of coursework, with 100 credits from the College of Arts and Sciences.

IMPACT ASSESSMENT

Any revised curriculum must be feasible for all students in the College. The proposed curriculum changes do not increase minimum or maximum course requirements to graduate. In fact, proposed changes minimize confusing and inequitable exceptions and overlaps while easing requirements for the most demanding majors. Proposed requirements allow far greater flexibility in student choice to determine how they want to complete the 120 required credits to graduate, while also ensuring a measure of consistency in courses taken across a broad liberal arts curriculum.

A Comparison of Current and Proposed Curricula

 

Current System

Proposed Replacement

Distribution

4 courses in Physical & Biological Sciences (PBS) and Mathematics & Quantitative Reasoning (MQR):

2 PBS + 1 MQR + 1 course that is either in PBS or MQR.

1 Statistics & Data Science (SDS)

1 Symbolic & Mathematical Reasoning (SMR)

1 Physical Sciences (PS)

1 Biological Sciences (BS)

5 Arts & Sciences courses of 3 or more credits from at least 4 of the following social sciences, humanities, and arts categories:

  • Cultural Analysis (CA)

  • Historical Analysis (HA)

  • Knowledge, Cognition, & Moral Reasoning (KCM)

  • Literature & the Arts (LA)

  • Social & Behavioral Analysis (SBA)

With no more than 3 courses from the same department.

1 Arts, Literature & Culture (ALC)

1 Ethics & the Mind (EM)

1 Global Citizenship (GC)

1 Historical Analysis (HA)

1 Social Difference (SD)

1 Social Sciences (SS)

Minimum Number of Required Distribution Courses

9

8

Distribution Timing

Any time

5 of 8 in first four semesters

Faculty can list courses under two distribution categories

No

Yes

Students may fulfill two distribution categories with one course

No

Yes

Courses counting toward a major may also count to fulfill distribution requirements.

Yes

Yes

Breadth

1 Geographic Breadth (GB)  + 1 Historic Breadth (HB) or 1 combined GHB (may also count for distribution and/or major)

None (breadth covered through fulfillment of 10 distribution categories)

Writing

2 FWS

(1 FWS if "5" on AP English Language and Composition)

2 FWS

(1 FWS if "5" on AP English Language and Composition)

Language

1 course at the non-introductory level, or 11 credits in one language

1 course at the non-introductory level, or 11 credits in one language

Credits

120 credits, 100 of which must be from the College of Arts & Sciences (AP, IB, and A-Level credits count toward the 120 total credits but not toward the 100 A&S credits.)

120 credits, 100 of which must be from the College of Arts & Sciences (AP, IB, and A-Level credits count toward the 120 total credits but not toward the 100 A&S credits.)

Electives

Four or five courses (totaling at least 15 credits), not used to fulfill other requirements (except for Breadth) and not in the major field. Double majors are exempt from this requirement. (AP, IB, A-Level and transfer credits may be used to meet the elective requirement)

No electives requirements

Courses

34 courses

No course total requirements

Minimum courses to complete graduation requirements (assuming maximum allowable exceptions & overlaps, not counting major & credit reqs)

9 Distribution + 1 FWS + 1 Language = 11 courses

8 Distribution + 1 FWS + 1 Language = 10 courses

Maximum courses to complete graduation requirements (not counting major & credit reqs)

9 Distribution + 2 Breadth + 2 FWS + 3 Language + 5 Electives = 21 courses

10 Distribution + 2 FWS + 3 Language = 15 courses

Eight Sample Undergraduate Plans

Below we outline eight undergraduate plans representing eight hypothetical students in the College. These course plans illustrate how the proposed A&S curriculum might interface with other major and pre-professional requirements. Importantly, the plans assume that students do not place out of any major requirements or prerequisites using AP or other credits, must complete the full three semesters of the language requirement, and take two writing seminars as well as all 10 distribution categories as separate courses (even though the proposal allows for up to two instances of double counting). Most students in the College will have more flexibility in their four-year course plan than these hypothetical students.

Semester/ Year

Comparative Literature

Government

Chemistry

Bio. Sciences + Pre-Med

Math + Economics

Year 1

Fall

FWS [3]

ALC (COML 2030) [4]

PS [4]

Language 1 [4]

FWS [3]

SS (GOVT 1111) [4]

SDS [4]

Language 1 [4]

FWS [3]

BS (CHEM 2070) [4]

SMR (MATH 1110) [4]

PS (PHYS 2207) [4]

FWS [3]

BS (BIOG 1440) [3]

BIOG 1500 [2]

PS Chemistry [4]

FWS [3]

SS (ECON 1110) [3]

SMR (MATH 1110) [4]

EM [4]

Year 1

Spring

FWS [3]

EM [4]

SMR [4]

Language 2 [4]

FWS [3]

HA [4]

GC (GOVT 1615) [4]

Language 2 [4]

FWS [3]

(PHYS 2208) [4]

Chem 2080 [4]

MATH 1120 [4]

FWS [3]

BIOMG 1350 [3]

Chemistry [4]

SMR (Math) [4]

FWS [3]

(ECON 1120) [3]

MATH 1120 [4]

HA [4]

Year 2

Fall

HA

COML Theory

COML XXXX

SS

Language 3

ALC

BS

Language 3

GOVT 3XXX

ALC

Language 1

Chem 3570

Chem 2510

EM [4]

SDS

BioEE 1780

Org Chem

Language 1

 

ECON 3030

MATH 2210

SDS (CS 1110)

Language 1

Year 2

Spring

SDS

COML XXXX

SD COML XXXX

GC Area studies (for study abroad)

PS

GOVT 3XXX

GOVT 3XXX

SDS

Language 2

Chem 3580

Chem 3010

 

HA

BioMG2800

BioMG2801

Org Chem

Language 2

ECON 3040

MATH 2220

ECON 3460

SD

Language 2

Year 3

Fall

Study abroad

SMR

GOVT 3XXX

SD GOVT 3XXX

Area studies (for study abroad)

HA

Language 3

Chem 3890

Chem 3020

ALC

Language 3

Biochemistry

Physics

GC Area studies (for study abroad)

MATH 3110

ECON 3130

ECON 3310

Language 3

ALC

Year 3

Spring

Study abroad

SD

Chem 3900

Chem 3030

Study abroad

MATH 3360

ECON 3140

ECON 3320

BS

Year 4

Fall

BS

COML Core

COML XXXX

COML XXXX

EM

GOVT 3XXX

GOVT 4XXX

Chem elective

GC

SS

SD

SS

Bio concentration courses

Physics

MATH 4310

MATH 4500

ECON 4210

GC

Year 4

Spring

COML XXXX

COML XXXX

GOVT 3XXX

Chem 4100

EM

Bio concentration courses

MATH 4210

ECON 4660

ECON 4020

PS

Semester/ Year

Computer Science + FGSS

Biology and Society + German Area Studies

Sociology + Music

Year 1

Fall

FWS [3]

SD (FGSS 2010) [4]

CS 1110 [4]

SMR (Math 1110) [4]

FWS [3]

Language 1 (GERST 1210) [4]

BS (BIO EE 1780) [4]

PS (CHEM 1560) [4]

FWS [3]

Language 1 [4]

ALC (MUSIC 1101) [4]

SS (SOC 1101) [4]

Year 1

Spring

FWS [3]

FGSS 3000 [4]

MATH 1120

CS 2110 [4]

FWS [3]

Language 2 (GERST 1220) [4]

BIO EE 1610 [4]

SS (STS 2011) [4]

FWS [3]

Language 2 [4]

MUSIC 2201 [4]

BS [4]

Year 2

Fall

CS 2800

CS 3410

FGSS ISO

HA

Language 1

GERST 200X (Language 3)

EM (BSOC 2051)

SMR (MATH 1110)

HA

GERST 3XXX

Language 3

MUSIC 2101

SDS (SOC 3010)

HA

SOC 3XXX

Year 2

Spring

CS 3110

MATH 2210

SDS

GC (FGSS GLO)

Language 2

GERST 201X (Language 4)

BSOC HUM/SS

BSOC FNDN 1

SDS (STSCI 2150)

ALC (GERST 3XXX)

MUSIC 2207

SOC 3750

EM

SMR

SOC 3XXX

Year 3

Fall

CS 4410

MATH 4710 (Probability, tech elective 1)

PS

FGSS LGBT

Language 3

GERST 3XXX (Language 5)

BSOC FNDN 2

BSOC CORE

BSOC THEME1

GERST 3XXX

MUSIC 3211

MUSIC 3XXX

GC (Area studies, for study abroad)

SOC 3XXX

Year 3

Spring

Tech elective  2

CS 4XXX

CS 4XXX

FGSS XXXX

ALC

Study abroad in Berlin

 

GC (GERST 3XXX)

Study abroad

Year 4

Fall

FGSS XXXX

SS

CS 4820

FGSS 4000

GERST 3XXX (Language 6)

BSOC FNDN 3

BSOC THEME2

BSOC THEME3

GERST 4100

MUSIC 3XXX

PS

SD (SOC 2210)

SOC 3XXX

Year 4

Spring

EM

CS 4XXX

BS

CS practicum/project

Tech elec 3

BSOC DEPTH

BSOC THEME4

BSOC THEME5

GERST 3XXX

SD

MUSIC 3XXX

SOC 3XXX

SOC 3XXX

Note: Some courses jointly contribute to major or pre-professional programs; those courses that contribute to either a major or a preprofessional program are italicized. Credits are in brackets. The ten distribution categories are Arts, Literature, and Culture (ALC); Biological Science (BS); Ethics and the Mind (EM); Global Citizenship (GC), Historical Analysis (HA), Social Difference (SD), Physical Science (PS); Social Science (SS); Statistics and Data Science (SDS); and Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning (SMR).

SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS