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The Death of a Curriculum

With the class of 2003's graduation less than two weeks away, the era of students forgetting about taking Spanish or skipping out on calculus is quickly coming to a close.

All undergraduates who matriculated to Duke during or after the fall of 2000 will graduate only if they can navigate their way through their Curriculum 2000 matrix.

The pre-2000 curriculum, proposed in 1986 and put into effect in 1988, allowed students to drop one of the six areas of knowledge: arts and literatures, civilizations, foreign languages, natural sciences, quantitative reasoning and social sciences.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences William Chafe made the curriculum review a priority in the 1997-1998 school year because he felt that graduates needed to be more prepared.

"I thought that we should be educating Duke students to be ready to engage the world of the 21st century, and I did not believe we could do that without exposure to all the fundamental disciplines, familiarity with different cultures, understanding of the ethical dimensions of all we do, and sensitivity to different ways of knowing," Chafe wrote in an e-mail.

Aside from a need to improve the University's writing program and give students more research exposure, Chafe felt that letting students omit any areas of study was not acceptable.

"I proposed that we consider major changes because nearly 50% of graduating seniors were leaving Duke without taking one of the following: a science, math or foreign language course," Chafe wrote.

But like many graduating seniors, Rebecca Koenig, a French and public policy double major who has not taken a natural science course at Duke, believes it is still possible to get a good liberal arts education when one area of knowledge is omitted.

"There are so many academic opportunities at this school...and so little time," she said. "It's important to try new subjects," she added, but more important to delve deeply into a subject of interest.

The most commonly dropped area was foreign language, which seniors Nick Hunt and Naz Onuzo both omitted because it was their worst subject in high school.

"To be honest, if I had to do Curriculum 2000, I wouldn't have come here," said Onuzo, an English and economics double major.

Hunt, also an English major, believes Curriculum 2000 was a good idea, but is glad he was not subject to the changes.

"[Dropping an area] makes it easier, obviously, but if you want a well-rounded experience, [the new curriculum] would be good," Hunt said.

Portia Borden, a junior philosophy major who is graduating early, did not agree that the new curriculum made for well-rounded students.

"[Curriculum 2000] is the most preposterous way to manipulate students into being well-rounded," Borden said, adding that the new curriculum makes students find ways to "tweak the system" or accept a lower GPA because they had to take classes they were not interested in.

Nevertheless, as time goes on, the University is adjusting better to the new curriculum. Advisors and students alike were confused with how the matrix would work out, leaving some rising seniors struggling to finish their requirements, noted Borden. But as the years pass, more classes are fulfilling more requirements and advisors are more knowledgeable.

Although students have mixed emotions about Curriculum 2000, Chafe said he is "pleased with the results of C2K, especially the wonderful changes that have occurred in writing, research, cross-cultural inquiry and ethical inquiry."

So does that mean only students graduating after the year 2003 will be "ready to engage the world of the 21st century?" Perhaps this year's seniors hope it does not make much of a difference.


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