By Casey Gale
Change may be on the horizon for the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ (SLAS) 37-year-old core curriculum. On Feb. 6, the SLAS faculty gathered to discuss a new core proposal that is under construction. The new core would put an emphasis on critical thinking, global perspectives and a vertical dimension to integrate core requirements with majors and minors. The plans are still developing and no changes will be implemented for fall 2014.
Dr. Jonathan Millen, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Education and Sciences, and member of the task force, the faculty-run organization that created the outline for a new core, is excited at the prospect of a more innovative core.
“Many of us in the task force believe change is needed,” he said. “The current core has not been changed in something like 30 years. It has not changed to reflect student needs or employer needs.”
Not all faculty members agree. The task force, made up of representatives from all departments who wished to join, presented its proposal in a raucous meeting.
The differences between the new and current core sparked a negative reaction from many faculty members.
“I was pleased that there was overwhelming opposition to reducing the world history requirement from two courses to one,” said Dr. Carol Nicholson, professor of philosophy, in an email after the meeting. “If the goal is to increase students’ awareness of global perspectives, cutting history would be a huge mistake.”
On paper, the proposed core seems to require up to 60 credits. But many of these credits will already be accounted for in a student’s major. Even with additional courses added, the proposal would allow opportunities for students to “double-dip,” hence making many classes be counted toward more than one requirement. The current core requires 42 credits.
The School of Fine and Performing Arts and the School of Education would be invited to change their cores as well, but the new core would apply only to SLAS students.
Some faculty at the meeting questioned the idea of a new core altogether, wondering why there was a need to fix something that does not seem to be broken. Some students also wonder the same thing. Muhammad Sarwar, a sophomore geology major, thinks the current core gets the job done.
“I think the administration has already made it well-rounded enough, by including classes like the fine arts elective,” he said.
According to Millen, the task force sent a sub-committee to a national workshop on general education reform sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities to find ways to improve the current core. The task force additionally surveyed current students, faculty and alumni, consulted with experts on the matter and studied models being used at other institutions.
“We’re saying, ‘Can we do better? Can we imagine an even more dynamic, more creative, more inspiring core that balances what’s good about what we have, but builds in opportunities for improvement?’” he said.
The new core would also require a three-credit oral communication course for all SLAS students. While Millen emphasized that employers want “to see communication skills regardless of major,” the idea received a mixed reaction. The debate is ongoing among staff whether or not to make a one- or three-credit course in oral communication, or whether the requirement is practical at all.
“Although I am not at all opposed to this idea of an oral communication requirement in principle, I’m not sure that Rider can afford to implement it,” Nicholson said. “It would probably result in hiring a large number of adjuncts to teach the course to all students at a time when we are committed to improving our ratio of full-time to part-time faculty.”
Many students, on the other hand, feel as though oral communication is a skill that can be useful regardless of their major.
“I learned a lot of things from that class,” said sophomore elementary education major Hannah Bass. Bass said that she felt that making a public speaking class mandatory would be a step in the right direction, as she “learned how to put slides together effectively, something I would’ve never learned otherwise,” she said.
In a statement, Dr. Myra Gutin, Dr. David Dewberry and Dr. Sheena Howard expressed similar feelings on the oral speech requirement.
“The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is essential to the success of graduates in the 21st century,” they said. “Rider’s College of Business is mandated by the American Association of Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) to require a three-credit course in speech,” the statement noted.
Similar to the sentiments expressed by students, the professors emphasized the important skills that the class teaches.
“We continually hear from former students who tell us that without a speech course, they would have never been able to face audiences or even small groups and that the skills learned in the course have served them very well after graduation,” they said.
Though some faculty worried that credits were taken from history to give to oral communication, Millen assured that this was not the case.
“We started with a blank sheet of paper and said, ‘Let’s envision a core,’” he said. “We didn’t start with the core we have and say, ‘How do we change it?’”
Perhaps the largest difference between the old and the new core would be the element of vertical integration. This aspect would allow students to understand their majors more deeply by taking classes in writing and mathematics that directly relate to their major.
Additionally, every student would be required to have another area of study to explore, which “ideally would lead to a minor or second major,” Millen said. To achieve this, students would need to take two related courses at the 200-level or above, but not in their primary major. It would be in the hands of the individual departments to decide which classes would fulfill the vertical integration requirements.
Another forum sponsored by Liberal Arts and Sciences Committee on Academic Policy (LASCAP) will be held later in the semester, where an update on the new core proposal will be given based on the faculty’s feedback. The final proposal will ultimately need approval from LASCAP before being implemented.