Curriculum Committee Presents Goals to Students
Issue   |   Tue, 04/12/2016 - 23:59

The Curriculum Committee held two open meetings on April 5 to present its preliminary recommendations for updating the Amherst curriculum. The Curriculum Committee was formed by the faculty’s Committee of Six based on recommendations made in the strategic plan approved last June. The Curriculum Committee will send proposals to the Committee of Six this fall semester and the faculty will vote on them.

The committee members largely agreed that the open curriculum is worth keeping, but that students needed better advising and other resources to help navigate the curriculum.

“The most critical issue is, if we retain the open curriculum, how can we ensure that our students are able to make the most of that curriculum?” Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein, a non-voting co-chair of the curriculum committee, said in an email interview. “How can we ensure that all students best navigate that curriculum? How can we ensure that all courses of study are open to all students?”

Proposed improvements include creating a more extensive advising system, and strengthening the first-year seminar and the senior capstone experience. The committee also explored what kinds of intellectual experiences are shared by all Amherst students.

“I think students should expect significant changes that will hopefully benefit their academic experience, but nothing that I think would be seen as radical,” Tasha Kim ’18, an AAS senator and curriculum committee member, said.

The curriculum committee, which was formed last semester, began its work by researching other institutions’ curriculums. In December, the group divided into subcommittees based on three topics: “Breadth of Understanding,” “Equality of Opportunity” and “Fundamental Capabilities.”

The “Breadth of Understanding” subcommittee presented four key proposals. The first was to add more courses for non-majors to make classes more accessible, specifically in sciences and mathematics. Another proposal recommended adding pages to the college website with tips on navigating the open curriculum.

The third proposal is to separate Latin honors from theses. Currently, only seniors who write honors theses are eligible to receive the Latin honors summa cum laude, magna cum laude or cum laude. The committee proposed allowing non-thesis writers to be eligible for Latin honors by fulfilling an academic breadth requirement, which would incentivize taking courses in different departments.

The group also proposed creating minors. Under the proposed system, students would be allowed one major, two majors or one major and a minor. Triple majors would no longer be allowed in this system.

Another subcommittee is tasked with improving “Fundamental Capabilities.” They work with shared intellectual experiences, and during their meetings considered how to improve first-year seminars and raised the idea of creating a sophomore advising board. First-year seminars all take place at the same time, so the group suggested the possibility of meeting as a larger group, as well as implementing a common theme among seminars.

The sophomore advising board would be a program in which a sophomores reflect on the progress of their studies and the direction of their future at Amherst. Each student would have conversations with the student’s adviser and two other professors.

“We’ve been thinking about ways to change our advising system from one that is more transactional — a student just goes during pre-registration, the advisor clicks a button and that’s the end of it — to something that is more sustained over time where your advisor is meeting with you more frequently, they are giving you feedback and advice and hopefully fostering more of a close relationship.” Kim said.

This subcommittee also considered ways to link capstone senior projects, such as theses or comprehensive exams, together across majors.

The third committee on “Equality of Opportunity” focused on more bureaucratic changes. Their ideas included revising the current pass/fail system to allow students to declare that they will take a class pass/fail later in the semester. The subcommittee also wants to review policies about withdrawal from courses, the “incomplete” option, repeating a course and course load flexibility, such as having lab courses count as 1.5 credits.

The Curriculum Committee will continue discussing these proposals this spring and will have a day-long retreat in May. A smaller group will draft a report this summer, which will be refined in the fall through meetings with faculty and students. They plan to finish the report at the end of the fall semester this year.

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