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College of Arts and Sciences

A&S groups begin work to implement new curriculum

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
March 5, 2019

The college is now taking the initial steps to implement the new curriculum, passed by Arts & Sciences faculty last October, with full rollout expected to begin with the class of students who will enter Cornell in the fall of 2020.

The new curriculum, focuses on the theme of exploration and reaffirms the college’s commitment to a liberal arts and sciences education. Changes will make the curriculum easier for students to navigate, simplify the graduation requirements and expand student opportunities for interdisciplinary work and faculty opportunities for innovative teaching.

The major curriculum changes include:

  • Students will fulfill five different distribution categories in their first four semesters at Cornell, encouraging early exploration.
  • Students must satisfy all of the following 10 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; and Symbolic and Mathematical Reasoning.
  • The college will 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.
  • Electives, breadth requirements and minimum course graduation requirements are removed.

A first step has been the convening of a committee of 10 faculty in the College of Arts & Sciences charged with drafting the descriptions for each distribution requirement.

“While short and sweet, the descriptions are important for students, and their families, to get a clear sense of each distribution requirement’s purpose and breadth and the exciting academic opportunities that courses in each area offer,” said Rachel Bean, senior associate dean for undergraduate education and professor of astronomy. “They also enable faculty to determine which requirements their courses satisfy.”

Drafts of the descriptions have recently been shared with the faculty as a whole to seek their input. The intent is to have the descriptions finalized in the coming month or so.

The next steps will then involve the departments and programs, to determine which distribution requirements each of their courses will satisfy, and collaborating with the university registrar to update registration systems.

While most of the curriculum changes won’t take effect until 2020, the college does plan to relax the elective and course count requirements and allow students to take American Sign Language to satisfy the college’s language requirement starting in Fall 2019. Students can reach out to their advising deans if they have questions.

There is a host of “behind-the-scenes” work that will need to happen before the new curriculum can be fully launched, including changes to Cornell’s Courses of Study, changes to the system that students use to check on the progress toward their degree and changes to websites and print pieces to make sure current and prospective students are aware of the new curriculum.

“While there’s a lot to do between now and Fall 2020, the intended outcome is an updated curriculum that will be simple and exciting to explore,” Bean said.