Arts and Sciences Starts Three-Year Review of Undergraduate Curriculum

Since Duke's undergraduate curriculum was last overhauled in the late 1990s, programs such as DukeEngage and Bass Connections have opened new interdisciplinary opportunities; study abroad and independent study participation has skyrocketed; and the Internet and the digital revolution has changed the classroom.

Arts and Sciences Dean Laurie Patton said Thursday it is time for the curriculum to catch up to the changes in the classroom.

Following an informal, 18-month faculty review of the curriculum, Patton told the Arts and Sciences Council that two new faculty committee will lead a three-year formal revision of the curriculum to take advantage of global education, new pedagogical initiatives and online learning.

Describing it more as a "big tweak" than an overhaul, Patton laid out three goals of the process:

-- Clarify and simplify the logic of the curriculum;

-- Create more opportunities for exploration and creativity in the curriculum;

-- Rethink Duke's vision of disciplinary education.

The current curriculum, known as Curriculum 2000, was developed to ensure a Duke graduate received an education that provided a broad spectrum of critical thinking skills and in-depth knowledge in a chosen discipline. Prior to Curriculum 2000, students were able to avoid skills or areas of knowledge such as foreign language or math and science.

But the Curriculum 2000 requirements were being challenged as Duke offered many new learning initiatives and students tried to take advantage of them.  Last year, Patton heard from the Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee, which suggested that the curriculum was basically working well but called for adaptions to make it work better in face of the new academic environment.

"[The committee] wrote that some significant simplifications and functional enhancement would both lend greater coherence to student pathways and make it easier for students to participate in important new initiatives" such as Bass Connections, DukeImmerse and experiential certificates, Patton said.

While students want to take advantage of greater interdisciplinary opportunities, Patton underscored that the departments are still essential. "Majors should be more, not less, significant," she said.

Patton said she was deliberately ambiguous in the proposal, as she wants the specifics to be decided by a faculty-led, data-driven process under the direction of a newly appointed Imagining the Duke Curriculum Committee, chaired by Suzanne Shanahan, professor of sociology and associate director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics.  The committee will consult with the Arts and Sciences Council, department directors of undergraduate studies, other faculty and a special Faculty Advisory Committee comprised of faculty known for their curricular innovations.

In the first year, the committee will diagnose the issue, the second year will focus on developing proposals and in year three the faculty will consider approving the new curriculum.

In addition to the Arts & Sciences curriculum committee, many faculty have expressed support for the review, and Patton noted that two-thirds of the current Duke faculty "have come on to the faculty since our current curriculum was created."

"We need to think together again, as a community, to create new focus and logic for a curriculum that is working well, but in our new context could work even better," she said.