Sep. 16, 2014

Letter: Myths about COLL requirements

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January 23, 2014

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We write in response to your Jan. 16 editorial about the new general education curriculum (denoted as the College Curriculum, or COLL).

College of William and Mary students played important roles in developing the College Curriculum: Caroline Yates ’12 was an outstanding undergraduate representative on the Curriculum Review Steering Committee, and each year three students serve on the Educational Policy Committee (EPC). We value students’ continuing contributions, and we want to help you provide accurate information about the goals and courses of the College Curriculum.

A central criticism in your editorial is that the new system is inflexible in its scheduling of courses over four years. In fact, there is flexibility in the new COLL system. Although the editorial states “sophomores will be required to take three COLL 200 classes,” in truth, students can take COLL 200 courses whenever they fit appropriately in their academic plan. There is no requirement that such courses must occur during their sophomore year.

Students will necessarily take two courses, COLL 100 and COLL 150, in the first year, as these introduce them to the rigor of college-level work, orient them to academic resources, and lay the groundwork for subsequent study. COLL 100 presents scholarly inquiry on a big idea, while COLL 150, much like the current freshman seminars, trains students in the deep reading of sources and the critical assessment of a narrower topic.

The COLL 200 courses are anchored in one or more of the three knowledge domains — humanities, social sciences and physical sciences — and look “outward” to another, in order to demonstrate how different academic disciplines illuminate a single topic.

The point of COLL 300 is to lift students off campus, whether literally or figuratively, and to expose them to cross-cultural or global issues. We expect that a number of courses will fulfill

COLL 300, including study abroad, which most students undertake in the third year. Students choosing the on-campus option of the COLL 300 Colloquium, “William and Mary in the World,” would ordinarily take this course in the third year. But the timing of COLL 300 is not mandated.

Finally, COLL 400 asks students to have a capstone experience in their major during their senior year. We expect that senior capstone courses now required in most majors, along with departmental Honors, will fulfill the criteria for COLL 400.

As a state institution, the College adheres to statewide agreements regarding transfer students and co-enrollment programs with community colleges. While we hope these students can participate in the College Curriculum as fully as possible, we also want them to graduate on time. The faculty’s mandate in this area extends only to requiring COLL 150 of all transfer students. Determination of the remaining details has been postponed until new state agreements are finalized later this spring.

We agree there is more work to do before we fully implement the new curriculum. It took substantial research, discussion and debate for faculty to get to this point. This January, the A&S Dean’s Office named the first four Fellows in the new Center for the Liberal Arts, which is charged with providing intellectual leadership for the College Curriculum. Together with members of the EPC, these faculty leaders will design courses as well as refine and evaluate the requirements. This will be a deliberate, flexible and thoughtful process. We will pilot some COLL courses in fall 2014 while we prepare to implement the first year of the COLL system for the fall 2015 entering class. The new system will then be phased in over four years. Throughout this time, faculty will assess and review the system to determine what works best and what needs to be tweaked. Students will be part of that process.

The editorial is absolutely correct that the College Curriculum represents potential. This is a bold and innovative curriculum whose goals are to create astute, flexible, and self-reflective thinkers; to expose students to different disciplines; to produce graduates who communicate effectively, and to enhance our students’ understanding of the liberal arts.

The entire effort has underscored the importance of the general education requirements as a central strength of the undergraduate curriculum.

John Griffin, A&S Dean of Undergraduate Studies

Lu Ann Homza, A&S Dean for Educational Policy

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