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Postpone faculty vote on curriculum review

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On Wednesday, roughly 40 representatives from a variety of majors in Trinity College of Arts and Sciences met with Sociology professor Suzanne Shanahan, Duke Student Government President Tara Bansal and DSG Chief of Staff Kushal Kadakia to discuss the curriculum review. I was nominated by the Psychology department to attend the meeting. Although I consider myself a very informed Duke student, this my first first in depth exposure to the proposed sweeping curricular changes, on which the faculty will vote in February.

Throughout the hour-long meeting, I became increasingly concerned about the lack of student input regarding such drastic proposals as introducing a completely new curricular coding system, requiring students to fulfill distribution requirements before they declare a major, abolishing the foreign language requirement, instituting a required yearlong “Duke Experience” first year course and compelling all students to take part in a mentored scholarly experience. The committee is also considering allowing students to take up to six courses pass/fail.

To their credit, the 12-member Curriculum Committee has attempted to seek student feedback at various points during the curriculum overhaul. Unfortunately, Committee Chair Suzanne Shanahan informed us that they primarily sought feedback from DSG, which is not representative of the academic and professional interests of the student body at large. Likewise, The Chronicle reported that although the committee held a number of town hall meetings last semester, only five to ten students attended any given meeting, implying that they were poorly publicized. It is certainly difficult to get Duke students to participate in a lengthy process like this, but these changes are too significant to not expend the effort necessary to involve students in the process. Yet despite The Chronicle's coverage of the curriculum review at several points over the last three years, most students are still entirely unaware of what the proposed changes would entail.

Where was the email from President Brodhead? The opinion survey and published results? The well-publicized meeting?

Wednesday’s hour-long meeting—which both started late and ended abruptly—included only a select group of students and was certainly not sufficient to gather meaningful feedback. Indeed, the purpose of the meeting seemed less to actually solicit opinions and more to encourage students to sing the praises of the new curriculum to our classmates.

Furthermore, the committee does not seem to have sought opinions from alumni, who likely have valuable insight about which aspects of their own Duke academic experiences were most rewarding. Alumni are perhaps the most valuable resource in considering these changes, as they are certainly better equipped than faculty and administrators to evaluate what elements of the Duke curriculum aided them in their future endeavors.

This is not a value judgment on the proposals themselves. Rather, it is a serious call to include students and former students in the process of critiquing them, with enough time for suggestions to be implemented. Continuing without collecting diverse student and alumni feedback on the proposed changes is irresponsible. It is unclear what will happen after the faculty vote, but it is safe to assume that opportunities for student feedback will decrease significantly after such a vote, as the proposals move to the Academic Council and Board of Trustees for consideration. Postponing the vote is the only conscientious way to ensure widespread confidence in the new curriculum.

Katie Becker is a Trinity senior. She was nominated by the psychology department to represent psychology and neuroscience at the curriculum review meeting on Nov. 30. 


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