Meeting of the Core Curricula in Research Universities project


April 27-29, 2018

Charlie Blaich and Kathy Wise are working with Columbia University, Yale University, and the University of Chicago as external evaluators on “Core Curricula in the Research University: Challenges and Prospects,” a project funded by a Teagle Foundation grant. The project is designed to strengthen the participating institutions’ core text-based programs and to engage others in similar work. A summary of their findings to date:

  • Both students and faculty find the experience of Core courses to be intellectually transformative in ways that set them apart from other courses. For students, they seem to create a framework that allows them to make better-informed curricular decision in their academic careers and to give them a repository of skills and perspectives on which they draw throughout their entire educations. For faculty, these course open new lines of interdisciplinary inquiry and create relationships across disciplines and departments that are unique and highly valued.
  • These courses are very hard for faculty to teach, especially the first time they do it.
  • Students are often overwhelmed by the amount of reading these courses demand and often do not keep up with the readings assigned to them. Still, students value the curricula and wish to see them strengthened.
  • The commonality and shared intellectual experience these courses introduce is perhaps their most impactful characteristic. The commonality of the material studied fosters a sense of community and helps balance centripetal forces pervading the student experience. The common curriculum also facilitates a powerful connection across different cohorts of students, connecting lower and upper class years as well as alumni from different generations.
  • Good teaching is utterly central to the success of these courses. To quote one student, “the teacher makes or breaks the Core.”
  • Maintaining consistency of teaching quality across sections is one of the greatest challenges of these programs.

The lead colleges have begun implementing changes in how their core programs are run based on these findings. For more information, see the Teagle Foundation Website.