As a result of the College of William and Mary’s current undergraduate curriculum review, the Society for the College hosted a panel to discuss curriculum standards at the College Thursday.
The society is a nonprofit corporation founded in 2008 to “help the College of William and Mary be the best public university in the country” by promoting good school governance, preserving its history and traditions, and maintaining excellence in its liberal arts education.
College Provost Michael Halleran moderated the discussion. Participants included faculty representatives from the Curriculum Review Steering Committee, a representative from American Council of Trustees, other College faculty and an ACTA summer fellow from George Washington University.
“Given the fact that the College is reviewing its curriculum, the timing is important for this panel discussion,” society President Andrew McRoberts ’87 said. “The Society is hosting a year-long discussion which will continue into the spring when the faculty committee is expected to make its recommendations.”
The College’s General Education Requirements were a key topic of discussion. In its recent project entitled “What Will They Learn?” the ACTA graded universities in the United States based on the comprehensiveness of their core curriculums. The College received a C.
“An ACTA grade does not pretend to be a grade of overall institutional quality or even overall academic quality. It is a grade of General Education Requirements,” ACTA Vice President of Policy Michael Poliakoff said. “But I want to note the general education statement here. William and Mary says to students there’s a lot of flexibility in how you choose to mix and match your general education courses. This is a good chance to stretch your comfort zone and experience academic fields you’re less familiar with or explore what you know and like from a different perspective.”
Although all of the College’s requirements were discussed in some detail, many participants stressed the importance of writing proficiency.
“Now here’s what business leaders have to say,” Poliakoff said, citing a survey of 450 business leaders. “26.2 percent said that they found the writing skills of newly-hired, four-year college graduates to be deficient. That’s an alarming statistic.”
Philosophy professor Paul Davies agreed that students lack necessary writing skills. “I teach freshman seminar a lot, and if I say this in public, maybe this will be the last time I teach it. I also teach advanced seminars a lot, and if I were to give the attention that those students need to improve their writing, I would end up teaching very little substance.”
Meanwhile, George Washington student and ACTA fellow Greg Lewin offered a student’s perspective.
“The broader a core requirement, the more it allows empty and facile content to undermine its value. In this way, requirements slip from educational priorities to bureaucratic obstacles, which students will circumvent as best we can,” Lewin said, referring to the common practice among students of fulfilling requirements with the easiest courses they can find. “If the school doesn’t care about the fundamentals of general education, neither will we.”
The College will continue to review the undergraduate curriculum throughout the academic year and will present the new curriculum in the spring.