After three years of planning, discussion and several drafts, the new curriculum proposal for undergraduates was put on hold at the end of the Spring semester.

In September 2014, the Imagining Duke Curriculum committee was formed to design an improved curriculum for students in the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, reassessing undergraduate requirements at the University. The Arts and Sciences Council was scheduled to vote on the curriculum—called "The BluePrint"—at its April 13 meeting. However, the voting process was postponed to Fall 2017 in order to incorporate additional faculty feedback. 

“Our commitment to enhancing the Duke undergraduate curriculum remains unchanged. We have the freedom to take our time and thoughtfully create a curriculum that showcases the signature strengths of Duke, energizes our faculty and departments and prepares our students for success in any way they desire," wrote Valerie Ashby, dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, in an email. "The Imagining Duke Curriculum Committee has conducted interviews, gathered research and data analyses and we will use these resources moving forward."

In the April meeting, Ashby proposed pausing the curriculum revision process after speaking with a majority of the 32 Trinity department chairs about the proposed changes, noting that she wanted faculty to cast aside all "negative energy."

“A narrow passing [of the curriculum] doesn’t feel great to me as a start for a successful implementation, which is our responsibility,” she said at the time.

Faculty feedback 

Some faculty members said they felt that the process for creating a new curriculum has been relatively successful.

“The process seemed reasonable to me in that the IDC committee conducted a lot of meetings, where if you were paying attention as a faculty member or an administrator, there were many opportunities to meet with people in the IDC,” said Owen Astrachan, professor of computer science.

However, Astrachan noted that he believes the IDC committee made a decision about the direction of the new curriculum early on and did not take into account other faculty members' thoughts on what the curriculum should look like. 

Other faculty members were more opposed to the IDC committee’s process.

“There was an overall sense they were evacuating any rigor from the undergraduate curriculum," said Frances Hasso, associate professor in gender, sexuality and feminist studies. "Essentially, it seemed there were multiple agendas and not all of them were being transparently communicated."

She explained that in the proposal some majors in the sciences had many requirements—which seemed designed to reduce requiring students to take classes in other areas to expand their knowledge. 

Hasso also voiced concerns that the re-engineering of the curriculum was being used as a solution for larger problems in student life that had little to do with Curriculum 2000, the existing curriculum for Trinity students.  

“To me, the process was poorly thought-out and promised to produce more problems for students,” Hasso said.

Through meeting with faculty members and students, the IDC committee has found that many members of the Duke community regard Curriculum 2000 as inflexible and counterproductive, said Alexander Rosenberg, R. Taylor Cole professor of philosophy. Students appear to take classes to fulfill the distribution requirements rather than actively engaging them.

“We all know that the current curriculum—Curriculum 2000—is almost no part of any student’s calculation in deciding to come to Duke, as opposed to attending one of the other comparable universities,” Rosenberg said. 

He explained that he wants a curriculum that would instead be a magnet for potential Duke students, citing Brown University's curriculum as an example of success in this area.

Making changes

During the 2016-17 academic year, amendments were added to the curriculum proposal, which the IDC committee hoped would resolve different concerns. For example, a program called “The Duke Experience” was initially proposed. This would be a “multidisciplinary team-taught” year-long seminar that all first-years would be required to take.

Under the proposal, students would not only have to complete a major but also a “secondary depth,” along with a “mentored scholarly experience,” which could be satisfied with anything from a traditional capstone course to an independent study to a Bass Connections program.

“[The Curriculum 2000] is very label-oriented, so anything we can do to move away from labels would be great,” said Astrachan in regard to some of these revisions.

The IDC committee hoped that revamping the curriculum to include these elements would encourage students to take ownership of their educations, rather than simply crossing off requirements.

However, different faculty members remained dissatisfied with the IDC committee’s ideas. As the months passed, additional amendments were made to the curriculum proposals, including lowering the original 36 credit requirement for graduation to 32. The number of  “credit/no credit” classes that students would be allowed to take also decreased from six to four.

In February 2017, the “Duke Experience” component proposed in earlier drafts was renamed “Frameworks.” Under this new label, students would be required to take three thematically organized courses—one in social sciences, one in the natural sciences and one in the humanities—and a Focus program could be substituted for “Frameworks.”

The new draft also required students to complete a “Foundation” by the end of their second year, which consisted of one course corresponding to a Writing 101 class, one in a second language and one with quantitative inquiry objectives. The shift to mandate a class in a second language was a notable departure from the position outlined in the previous draft, in which students were required to fulfill one “Languages and Culture” requirement without necessarily taking a class taught in a language other than English.

The path forward

Astrachan noticed that many faculty members’ objections to the new proposal seemed to arise from self-interested concerns.

“Who was angry that the language requirement was going to go from three classes to one?" he said. "Everybody in the languages. If they had allies that weren’t in the languages, I think their objections would have had a little more credence."

He explained that these "self-interested parties" are a main reason why the BluePrint has initially failed. 

Ashby is now involving chairs of various departments much more centrally than before, as well as speaking with many directors of undergraduate studies, she noted.

“We are now discussing next steps in this process," Ashby wrote in an email to Trinity staff in regard to the future of the curriculum’s approval process. "To begin, we anticipate a series of fall retreats with chairs, the DUS Board, [the Executive Committee of the Arts and Sciences Council], and other stakeholders, as well as a variety of town hall meetings for faculty and departments across divisions."

Hasso explained that Ashby's efforts are productive. 

“This is compelling cross-disciplinary discussions,” she said.

Previously, there were a flurry of meetings that did not encourage such discussions, Hasso said. Meetings were very divisional, and some faculty assumed that criticisms of the curriculum proposals were primarily driven by self-interests of particular departments rather than overall concern for the curriculum.

“It’s also not true that faculty in different divisions or departments have one position," Hasso said. "They don’t. We all have enough friends and colleagues throughout the University to know that a lot of colleagues are concerned that students receive a high-quality cross-disciplinary undergraduate education."