Trinity College of Arts and Sciences supports the liberal arts in name, but does the University support them in practice? Undergraduate Trinity requirements, also known as T-Reqs, indicate that the Duke has at least conceptualized a liberal arts education. But considering the lack of an auditing system for either of the two course designations—Modes of Inquiry and Areas of Knowledge—Trinity seems to have botched the execution of the curriculum.
There is currently no comprehensive, centralized system to determine which academic courses should be designated as MOI or AOK. The two designations are assigned fairly arbitrarily, largely up to the discretion of individual professors and department heads. Examples of incorrect or missing MOI or AOK designations abound. For example, Quantitative Studies—an AOK—has garnered a particularly bad reputation. For years, CompSci 92 masqueraded as a rigorously quantitative course, boasting an undeserved QS but notoriously quantitative Econ 101 lacks QS recognition.
Using course evaluations to collect student and faculty opinion on the appropriateness of MOI or AOK designations would fix this problem. We propose that the following question be included in every course evaluation: “Do you believe this course adequately achieves the goals of the following academic requirements?” The question would be followed by a list of all five MOIs and six AOKs. The course evaluation should also include a short section defining each MOI and AOK in clear terms. The definitions should be detailed enough for students to be able to consider them in the context of their class work. But they should also be flexible enough to accommodate the evolving character of MOIs and AOKs as the landscape of academia inevitably shifts.
By using course evaluations to collect data, the administration will suddenly have access to broad student opinion about which courses deserve specific MOI and AOK designation. The administration should also survey professors—who know the content of their courses best—about which MOI and AOK designations are appropriate. Examining quantified student as well as faculty input, the administration will easily identify the problem courses. This will function as a flagging system of sorts. Afterward, administrators can do nuanced auditing for a handful of courses—perhaps by reviewing syllabi or sitting in on lectures—to determine which MOIs and AOKs should be added or removed.
One possible criticism of this auditing system is that both students and professors are incentivized to overstate the number of MOIs and AOKs a course fulfills. Current students would lie so that future students could easily fulfill their T-Reqs; professors would lie to boost enrollment. However, we believe that this is unlikely—especially on the student end. We trust that students approach course evaluations generally with honesty, especially because T-Req auditing would not affect them after finishing the course.
This auditing system would be comprehensive and easy to implement. Most importantly, it would be a true check on MOI and AOK designations, a step toward seriously implementing T-Reqs and filling the goals of the curriculum. Currently, no mechanism exists to ensure that MOIs and AOKs do what they are supposed to do. Trinity must invent such a mechanism to fulfill its promise of a liberal arts education.