The Trinity College Arts and Sciences Council debated the current edition of their proposed curriculum overhaul one last time Thursday before a final vote next Spring. 

A question-and-answer session with members of the Imagining Duke Curriculum committee covered several topics, from how to implement the five "signature core" classes requirement in the current draft as well as how to finance the proposed changes. Committee members noted that a number of additional changes—based on faculty feedback during town hall forums and council discussions—would become clear in a revised January edition. Faculty expect to vote on the revised edition in February.

“We are trying something different,” said Lee Baker, former Trinity dean of academic affairs and member of the IDC committee.

If it were to be approved as it currently stands, the draft would create significant changes to the system Trinity currently employs. It includes a new year-long course for first-years, which students will select from a cluster of thematic seminar courses called "The Duke Experience." 

The proposed curriculum would also require students to take courses in five different categories during their first two years, which would replace the 11 different "Areas of Knowledge" and "Modes of Inquiry" requirements currently in place. Those five courses would be selected from a "curated subset" of the course catalogue, taught by Trinity's best professors. The curriculum would also require students to complete a "secondary depth" as well as a "mentored scholarly experience." 

During the council's discussion, however, concerns were raised about some of the proposed curriculum's other specific provisions. For example, the proposed curriculum would increase the required credits for graduation from 34 to 36. But in response to a "wave" of faculty questions, David Bell, professor of French studies and a member of the advisory committee to the IDC committee, said the January draft would revert to 34 credits. 

The number of credits required to graduate had been debated at length at previous Arts and Sciences council meetings, particularly in conjunction with the proposed removal of credit for Advanced Placement courses. The College Board has raised concerns about the removal, said Owen Astrachan, director of undergraduate studies for computer science.

“What concerns us, really, is by potentially not counting AP credit toward graduation, Duke may be discouraging low-income and minority students from even applying,” said Maria Alcon-Heraux, director of media relations for the College Board. “By eliminating AP credit, Duke would be out of step from institutions like Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern, University of Chicago and on.”

The current draft allows for up to six courses to be converted into "credit/no credit" courses, with "no credit" courses being removed from the student's transcript. Bell said the IDC committee would dial that back to four courses—two of which would have to be taken during students' first two years. 

Chris Walter, an associate professor of physics, expressed concern that the curriculum would not sufficiently encourage students to explore the breadth of a liberal arts education. 

But Bell responded that the edition of the curriculum passed by faculty would not be “concrete,” and that adjustments were made to Duke Curriculum 2000 to address shortcomings even after its implementation.

“Any curriculum, when it is enacted, is an experiment,” he said.

Faculty also discussed where the funding for the changes would come from, particularly in regard to advisors who could help students navigate the new curricular structure. 

Trinity Dean Valerie Ashby said the funding was “not there” in Trinity’s budget. 

She noted that if the curriculum gets approved, she would provide Provost Sally Kornbluth with a funding proposal, although it is currently unclear what the cost would be. However, she said that she has been in contact with Kornbluth, and that Kornbluth is working on the funding problem.

Kornbluth is aware that she would be saying “yes” to an unknown, Ashby said. 

“She knows I’m coming," Ashby said. "My message to her is that I do not care what you all pass, whatever it is we are going to do it well."