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College Council votes to revise undergraduate curriculum

More than ten years after the last review, the College Council voted on March 10 to revise the undergraduate curriculum.

To be implemented in October 1999 for the Class of 2003 and beyond, the new curriculum will divide undergraduate coursework into thirds: the Common Core, a concentration, and free electives. Previously, the Core made up half the coursework, with the re-mainder split between the concentration and electives.

Twenty-five tons of dinosaur bones arrived on campus in February, courtesy of U of C paleontologist Paul Sereno (in light blue shirt) and a research team that included (from left) College student Noel Heim and graduate students Hans Larsson, SM’96, and Jeff Wilson. Found in the Sahara Desert during the team’s four-month 1997 expedition, the bones comprise several skeletons, including a new species of sauropod.

Dean of the College John Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75, broached a curricular review when he took office in 1992. Beginning with a series of retreats with faculty from the collegiate divisions, he next organized a College-wide faculty retreat in December 1995. In January 1996, Boyer then commissioned the “Friday Group” to study the College curriculum.

Named for its meeting day, the Friday Group consisted of the five collegiate masters, the seven members of the Committee of the College Council, and the eight members of the College Curriculum Committee. The group met throughout the 1996–97 academic year, holding Q & A sessions and hearing presentations from faculty leaders in Core instruction.

In spring 1997, a drafting committee prepared a curriculum proposal that was modified by the Friday Group and then introduced to the 40-member College Council in June 1997. Early this year, the council debated the proposal in six meetings, then approved the revised curriculum by a 3-to-1 vote. At the same time, the council called for another review of the curriculum no later than 2002.

Boyer compares the new cur-riculum to another “new” set of courses—the New Plan of the 1930s, which required undergraduates to take 15 quarters of general education in their first two years in the College. This was accomplished through five yearlong survey courses, representing each of the four divisions and a course in writing. The second two years were devoted to more specialized study.

The undergraduate curriculum has changed frequently over the intervening decades. In what was known as the Hutchins College of the 1940s, it focused almost exclusively on general education. President Hutchins’s successor, Lawrence Kimpton, ushered in a two-plus-two structure, calling for half of students’ education to be de-voted to general-education courses, with the rest divided between a concentration and electives.

The general-education portion of the curriculum was not termed the Common Core until 1966–67. While its name has stayed the same for 30 years, its content has varied. At times, it consisted of only prescribed courses and at other times of a combination of prescribed courses and a “menu” of options. Often, the Core has taken many students more than two years to complete.

Designed to allow students to complete their common studies in the first two years and to spend the next two on advanced work in concentrations and electives, the new Core will consist of six quarters of natural and mathematical sciences, six quarters in the humanities and civilizations, three quarters of social sciences, and—rather than required coursework—demonstrated competency in a foreign language.

Students will divide the balance of their courses—a total of 42 are required for graduation—between concentrations and free electives. The number of concentration courses will hold at current levels, while the number of elective opportunities will increase.

“The new curriculum is the outgrowth of an exhaustive process,” says Boyer. “The faculty are passionately committed to providing the best possible liberal education for our students, which is why they have spent three years thinking about the vital issues that informed the construction of this new curriculum.

“The Chicago Plan—which is what I personally hope our new curriculum will come to be called—introduces students to several broad domains of knowledge while explicitly focusing on the intellectual habits of inquiry, analysis, and writing.”

Boyer sees several advantages to the new curriculum, especially that it continues to offer “a rigorous program of general education,” but concentrates the Core classes in the first two years, helping students to make the transition between high school and higher learning. Currently, many students don’t finish the Core requirements until the third or fourth year.

“[That] makes no pedagogical sense,” notes Bert Cohler, AB’61, the William Rainey Harper professor in the College and the spokesperson of the Committee of the College Council. “Juniors and seniors should be doing advanced work. There are few other places in the country where they have the opportunity to hunt for dino-saur bones one week and visit a clinic for chronically mentally ill patients the next.”

Boyer adds that the general-education courses will become more interdisciplinary, integrating work in the humanities and social sciences as well as in the biological and physical sciences. And in another echo of the New Plan of the ’30s, “resources devoted to the development of student writing will double,” Boyer points out.

Students will also have more electives with which to explore on an advanced level interests stimulated by their Core courses. “To the extent that the new curriculum allows many students to move more quickly to higher levels of learning, it should result in a more challenging educational experience,” he says. “We believe that allowing our students more opportunity to play to their considerable strengths will strengthen the College.”

In addition, Boyer says, students will also be able to use some of their elective courses for advanced foreign-language learning and foreign-study opportunities, as well as advanced courses in writing. For example, the College has be-gun a global-learning initiative and a foreign-language-proficiency certificate program. The College will also increase support for the Little Red Schoolhouse and add advanced courses in creative and expository writing.

Boyer is enthusiastic about the new Chicago plan: “The dedication of our faculty to designing and teaching imaginative general-education courses and superior concentration programs lies at the very heart of the University’s traditions, and such dedication will continue to define the work of the College in the coming century.”—K.S.

For the Record

Hello Again

Robert Hamada begins his second five-year term as dean of the Graduate School of Business on July 1. During his first term, Hamada, the Edward Eagle Brown distinguished service professor of finance, established an in-ternational M.B.A. program; opened a campus in Barcelona, Spain; and began programs in custom corporate education and open-enrollment executive education
We are the Champions
Chicago’s wrestling team captured its second straight University Athletic Association championship title January 30—its sixth title in the UAA’s 11-year history. Head coach Leo Kocher and assistants Joe Bochenski, Jeff Farwell, and Ken Davidson were named the UAA’s coaching staff of the year, while four students—third-year Jon Mardo and fourth-years Jeff Combs, Neal Rodak, and Matt Eckerman—were named to the 1998 All-UAA team. Heavyweight Eckerman placed third at the NCAA Division III championship in March, earning All-America honors .
Author, Author
Mark Strand, the 1990 national poet laureate, joins the Committee on Social Thought this spring after two prior stints at the U of C as a visiting professor. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and poetry editor of the New Republic, Strand, who taught most recently at Johns Hopkins, has received Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation fellowships.
Affirmative action taken
Assistant Provost Aneesah Ali has been appointed the University’s affirmative-action officer. Succeeding Ingrid Gould, AB’86, AM’88, Ali will work on policies and procedures for attracting and retaining skilled and culturally diverse faculty, staff, and students. She will also represent the U of C in programs, activities, and cases related to municipal, state, and federal laws and regulations on affirmative action and non-discrimination.
Rank rankings
In February, U.S. News & World Report released its annual guide to graduate programs and professional schools. Chicago landed fifth in history, tying for second place in sociology, fourth in economics, and fifth in English. The medical school came in 18th, while the GSB tied for sixth and the Law School tied for fourth. In the meantime, the Association of American Law Schools sent 93,000 law-school applicants a letter condemning the ratings as arbitrary and unreliable.
Out and about
The Illinois Association of Museums honored the Oriental Institute Museum with a superior achievement award for a collaboration with the Chicago Public Schools on a world-history curriculum. Through the program, the museum provides teacher training, curriculum materials, field trips, and classroom visits by U of C archaeologists.
Surveying the world
Director of the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey since 1980, Tom Smith, PhD’80, became the new secretary-general of the International Social Survey Program in January. The ISSP includes 31 countries and conducts international surveys each year. Smith will coordinate all work conducted between annual meetings, maintain the Web site, screen applications from countries wanting to join, and represent the ISSP at international conferences.
The makings of a scholar
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation has chosen third-year Elizabeth Evenson, a public-policy major, to be a Truman Scholar. Evenson, who plans a career in international human-rights law or policy-making in the U.S. government, will use the award for graduate studies in international relations.