Last December, full-time faculty voted to replace the College of William and Mary’s traditional GERs with a more interdisciplinary approach. Instead of allowing students to take GERs 1-7 at their leisure, the new College Curriculum (referred to as COLL) requires students to take certain COLL-labeled courses during each of their four years at the College. The subject areas and credit requirements remain much the same, but College faculty will design COLL courses that integrate knowledge from various departments. These changes could be extremely beneficial for future College students; however, in its present (although unfinished) form, the College Curriculum is much too vague, and it presents problems for non-traditional students.
While COLL classes may have potential, right now they seem like a mystery. So far, details have come in the form of platitudes like critical thinking, inquiry and “wider liberal arts perspective,” all of which are important, but easier said than done. Naturally, an overhaul this big will take years to develop, and it is not possible to know how every aspect of COLL will function. It is unclear, however, how the College will achieve its goals through COLL. It will likely require a great deal of experimentation, with the class of 2019 acting as guinea pigs.
Additionally, the College has yet to explain how COLL will account for non-traditional students. COLL is structured for College students who start here as freshmen, beginning with COLL 100 and 150 in their first year and continuing until COLL 400 — a senior seminar which will require students to synthesize information from previous COLL courses. How will COLL handle transfers and Prime Tribers? What about students who want to graduate early? COLL also prohibits students from using AP or IB credit to satisfy its requirements, which may frustrate students with more credit-intensive majors.
A strength of the current GER system sorely missing from COLL is schedule flexibility. COLL forces students to take classes in specific subject areas during specific years. For example, sophomores will be required to take three COLL 200 classes, one in each “knowledge domain” — physical sciences, social sciences and the humanities. This restricts students’ ability to fulfill their education requirements at their own pace. A curriculum structure this rigid ought to be reserved for high school. Also of concern is the fact that, as of yet, it’s unclear how the COLL 400 seminar will function; a seminar too intense may interfere with already existing senior seminars and honors projects.
The lack of formal support the faculty gave COLL is also distressing. Out of the 450 full-time faculty members eligible to vote, fewer than 200 voted, and it passed with only 55 percent of those votes. Granted, no one likes change, but a change this massive needs to have more than tepid support from the people charged with implementing it.
For COLL to be effective, it needs to be more concrete and flexible. Professors need to have a grasp on how their COLL courses will tie into the broader COLL goals of content integration and critical thinking. In addition, there is no reason why students past freshman year should not take certain COLL classes out of order to fit their own educational preferences. The College Curriculum’s goals are noble and ambitious, but it has a long way to go before it can inspire the enthusiasm of its creators.
Abby Boyle recused herself from this staff editorial to remain unbiased in her reporting.