Thursday, November 14, 2013

A call to simplify Core governance

Thank you for putting this together, H. E. I'd like to a share a letter I wrote concerning the governance structure proposed for the new Core Curriculum. I first became concerned when we received a survey a few months ago proposing different governance models -- all of which were more complicated and cumbersome than what we have at present. I shared these concerns with Kristin Moran during her meeting with the Music Department, and she asked me to draft those in the form of a letter to share with the committee. This letter has also been shared with members of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.

I note also that the Oct., 2013 report from the Catholic Intellectual Tradition working group that we were encouraged to examine at the most recently Assembly meeting presents three variations all of which seem to call for a complicated governance structure. The report is here:

My letter follows below. (In the letter I use the acronym "CC" but I probably should have used
"UCC" for the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee so it remains distinct from the
Core Curriculum Committee, "CCC".)

--- Christopher Adler, Dept. of Music

Date:   Sept. 22, 2013

To:       Kristin Moran, Chair, Core Planning Committee

From:  Christopher Adler, Music Department

cc:        David Harnish, Chair, Music Department
            James Gump, Chair, CAS Curriculum Committee

Re:       Core Curriculum governance

Dear Kristin,

            Following up on our discussion in your meeting with the Music Department, this letter summarizes my thoughts about the governance of a new Core Curriculum. I am concerned that the creation of new standing committees would add unnecessary and cumbersome bureaucracy, would be burdensome for departments seeking approval for new courses, and would consume the limited time of too many faculty. Once a new Core Curriculum is approved, with clearly defined learning outcomes and menus of current courses that meet those outcomes, the CAS Curriculum Committee (CC) is fully capable of overseeing the approval of new courses into the Core Curriculum, and revisions to existing courses. With members from every department and program, the CC is the most representative body in the College besides the Assembly and can fairly consider the interests of every department.
            The creation of special committees to oversee individual learning outcomes, especially with representation biased towards individual departments, is contrary to the spirit of a Core Curriculum that should serve the College first and represent a shared vision of the Liberal Arts. If learning outcomes have been stated clearly, they should be comprehensible by everyone in the College, and the CC should be capable of assessing how individual courses fit those outcomes just as well as any other less representative body. The CC already overviews every new course created in every department in the College, and gives attention to how learning outcomes are met and how the course and the outcomes coincide with others from the same department.
            With the new Core Curriculum, we have the opportunity to remove the redundant and confusing structure that currently exists, whereby new courses intended for the Core must pass both a Core Curriculum Committee and the College CC. Once a Core Curriculum has been established, subsequent changes will be incremental, such as new courses being added to existing menus of options, and existing courses being revised or removed. Using the menus of courses approved by the Assembly, the CC will be able to gauge the consistency of newly proposed courses with the learning outcomes and the existing menus of courses. Therefore there would be no rapid erosion of departmental privileges with respect to certain learning outcomes or Core categories.
            The Core Curriculum should represent the values that are widely shared among departments in the Liberal Arts, and should have the broadest possible acceptance from faculty in every department. If the Core does indeed represent these qualities, then the College-wide representation of the CC provides the best forum for maintaining the spirit and intellectual integrity of the Core Curriculum.
            I note that, having served as a member of the CC for well over a decade, the committee has ample time to consider new courses for the Core Curriculum once it has been established. At present, the CC already reviews every new course from every department in the College, including Honors Courses that come from the School of Business, and including all courses intended for the Core. Therefore, eliminating a standing Core Curriculum Committee once the new Core Curriculum is approved will not pose an undue burden on the CC.
            Finally, I want to stress that my proposal is for the CC to oversee new courses and revision to the Core Curriculum after the new Core has been approved by the Assembly, including full menus of courses fulfilling all categories/learning outcomes/etc. I am assuming that the Core Planning Committee will develop complete menus of courses and that the job entrusted to the CC after College-wide approval will be one of ongoing maintenance and revision, with the approved learning outcomes and existing menus as guide and precedent.




  1. Chris raises a good point.

  2. Thanks for your posting, Chris. In reflecting on your thoughtful plea for a simpler form of governance, I particularly liked this paragraph:

    “The Core Curriculum should represent the values that are widely shared among departments in the Liberal Arts, and should have the broadest possible acceptance from faculty in every department. If the Core does indeed represent these qualities, then the College-wide representation of the CC provides the best forum for maintaining the spirit and intellectual integrity of the Core Curriculum.”

    That seems right. As you probably know, some scholars like to make a distinction between a problem and a predicament. Problems can be solved by developing new strategies and techniques to match a change in circumstances. Predicaments, however, cannot be solved because they are characterized by deep conflicts of values; they need to be resolved. The persistent disharmony of the revisioning process makes me think we’ve got ourselves a predicament.

    The last CIT survey is a case in point. It seemed to be part of an attempt to solve the recurring tensions by simply decreeing what the values informing the revision should be. The survey, as many of my colleagues read it, was normative and far from innocuous. It foregrounded proposals that at least suggested that philosophical training is unnecessary to teaching/evaluating classes in ethics—an ancient field of philosophy.

    Such an absurdity would never have arisen if it were a matter of physics or biology. And since Western philosophy, historically speaking, is the mother and father of most academic disciplines, this is a double tragedy: parricide whose “learning outcome” may well be a form of intellectual suicide.

    Assessment-related vocabulary, managerial models and social scientific forms of rationality seem to have special status on campus just now that is simply of undue proportions. How did they win such influence? They have conditioned and saturated the revisioning process so thoroughly that one wonders if there is much appreciation for what cannot be captured in a tidy and unimaginative learning outcome. Wisdom, perhaps? Creativity? Compassion? Learning?

  3. I respond here to Chris's post. I am not clear exactly what the claim is. The claim, as I see it, is that we should do without any governance processes and allow the CPC to identify courses potentially satisfying learning outcomes, and that these courses (recommended) may simply go to the CC without the interference of any governance structure? Do I have it right?

    Note: this is exactly what the governance structure is trying to address. Chris: Do you know the origin of the way in which the CIT was drafted, and how it came late in the process (end of last spring) to the CPC, and WHY a governance structure was suggested? I was on that committee. Happy to share. Michelle

    1. Hi Michelle - No, I am suggesting that the CPC can use any procedure or governance structure to generate the lists of courses fulfilling the given outcomes that will be submitted to the entire Assembly for approval. My recommendation only concerns what governance structure persists after approval by the Assembly. In other words, I am concerned about the governance structure that in the long run will replace the current Core Curriculum Committee.

  4. Thanks! So the CPC can use whatever governance structure it deems helpful to generate the lists of courses that go to the Assembly. In the event that later on, someone wants to submit a new course proposal for the core, then the curriculum committee makes that set of determinations, and does so without necessarily invoking the governance structure used by the CPC earlier?

  5. That is my recommendation, yes. Specifically, that we would not need new courses to be approved through a dual structure of CCC and UCC as it is at present -- just the UCC is sufficient. Because the UCC will have as precedent and guidance those lists that were produced through the CPC process (whatever it may turn out to be).

  6. It seems odd and inconsistent that (and this is IF) a governance or oversight committee would be necessary at the CPC level in order to identify classes that would suitably satisfy learning outcomes, and NOT to have future proposed courses subject to the same oversight and conditions. Seems oddly inconsistent to me.

  7. At CC revision gatherings over the last few years, I repeatedly asked why the current CC could not be revised rather than being totally jettisoned. My concerns were multiple, especially the declining currency of the liberal arts, questions about decision making and shared governance in the process, and the ever-increasing corporatization of higher education, especially at USD. I never received any response to my question and doubt whether it was taken seriously or forwarded.

    Another concern is the recurrent proposal, apparently one of two now on the table, that all students be required to take a course in the Catholic tradition. At present, students may take 3 courses either in the Catholic theology track, the religious studies track, or a combination. The religious studies track necessarily introduces Christianity as a world religion and the Catholic tradition as a major component of Christianity. One of the two proposals currently on the CIT table allows students to choose; the other requires students to take a course in the Catholic tradition. I believe that requiring all students to take a course in the Catholic tradition might appeal to some Catholic students, but not to all students. Ultimately, I think such a requirement would change the nature and potentially the quality of the student population and the faculty. It would limit students' choices rather than expand them and would delete the current option of becoming informed and competent in a variety of religious and cultural traditions. I think that it would compromise religious diversity on campus and lead to a different type of student body. Perhaps that is the aim of the proposal, but I think it is worthwhile considering the potential ramifications of such a requirement.

    1. This is a serious concern because, though Core Curriculum revision, with its "smaller core" is supposed to free up students, as currently understood it imposes additional constraints. The "Catholic Tradition" requirement is one of these additional constraints which may, no doubt, please some parents, but which will undermine our commitment to religious pluralism, to serving students from a variety of religious backgrounds, and from exposing all to a range of religious traditions.

      Another feature of the current proposal is the program for "developmental" education--for imposing restrictions on the sequence in which students take courses. We of course make sure that students entering a class are prepared for the work it entails by requiring prerequisites where appropriate. But prerequisites are determined by departments given their understanding of what preparation students need for courses that they offer. Is the "developmental model" really appropriate for college students who are full-grown adults, as distinct from little kids going through various Piaget stages?

      These proposals undermine departmental autonomy. As scholars in our various disciplines we should be the ones to decide which courses students should take to satisfy requirements in our respective disciplines, we should be the ones to determine what prerequisites a given course in our discipline requires and what a sequence of courses in our discipline should look like.