Senior Joann Cowley, a film and television major with a minor in English, believes the University’s Core Curriculum takes up too many of the total credits she needs to graduate.

“In my senior year, I am still working on the Core. So, yeah, I do think it is a bit excessive,” Cowley said.

For the past 35 years, the basic structure to Fairfield’s Core Curriculum has stayed the same. The Core is worth a total of 60 credits; however, the courses required by the different colleges within Fairfield make switching majors between schools difficult.

Junior Karen McKeough, a management and music major, expressed her concern that because of the Core, she cannot begin concentrating on the reason she came to Fairfield to study.

“I’ve had to push off business classes,” McKeough said. Feeling the pressure of not having been able to start her major until her junior year, in addition to being a member of the Honors Program, has left her to be cautious around registration when scheduling courses.

 

A Change Is Coming

Recently, the administration implemented a committee called the Fairfield 2020 Steering Committee which will collectively decide what the University should look like in the year 2020. On this committee, there are multiple task forces, including affordability, varsity athletics and continuing education. One of the task forces is solely focused on revising the Core Curriculum.

Christine Siegel, vice president of academic affairs and chairperson of the Core Curriculum Task Force, spoke about what this steering committee is looking at. In addition to the fact that the Core hasn’t been significantly revised in over 30 years, the committee noticed that with the current Core requirements, there is no common experience among undergraduate students because the requirements are different for each school.

The task force took a survey of current students, alumni and admitted students regarding the Core. While the majority can appreciate the well-rounded education the Core provides, the general consensus is that it is too large a burden. There was even a handful of faculty members who found it confusing.

“It defines who we are,” Siegel said of the Core. “There are some really good things about it. It exposes students to disciplines and as a Jesuit institution that is important.”

Fairfield’s Core Curriculum revolves around Jesuit values, an aspect of Fairfield that administrators, faculty, alumni and students are proud of.

Dr. Bruce Berdanier, dean of the School of Engineering, said that Jesuit values play a very important role in the engineering curriculum. His main interest when coming to Fairfield was the Jesuit values and how perfect they were for engineering.

“As engineers, we try to address society’s greatest needs,” Berdanier said. “Fairfield has the strongest, more purposefully educated core, but it is very large. We have to market that,” Berdanier said.

 

So, Where’s the Problem?

If the Fairfield Core Curriculum is being marketed the way it is, why is the administration looking to change it? “Alumni say the best part of their Fairfield experience was the Core and taking courses in areas that have served them greatly since graduating,” said Dr. Yohuru Williams, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and member of the Fairfield 2020 steering committee. But the number of required courses in the Core can be tedious, he noted, saying that to most students it feels like a shopping list.

The committee’s goal is to preserve the essence of Jesuit education the Core represents, but to reconcile it with the changes that have taken place over the past 35 years, including ways the Core can work with the rest of the curriculum to best prepare for long-term employment challenges.

“The primary goal needs to be making Fairfield a place for students to reach goals,” Williams said.

One of the concerns about the current Core is not only its size, but its lack of flexibility. The committee, headed by Dr. Robert Epstein, associate professor of English, has been looking for a way to offer students more choices in their Core education.

Epstein said one of the biggest changes the committee is recommending is to implement an interdisciplinary component called Integration. Epstein noted that most of the faculty at Fairfield have taught interdisciplinary courses at other institutions, and he is hopeful that every student at Fairfield will get at least one experience like that.

Currently, everything is provisional. Every faculty member must vote and agree on the new curriculum. The voting will happen in three stages, according to Epstein. The first stage of voting will be in February 2016 by the undergraduate curriculum committee. If the Core revision proposal is approved at that stage, Epstein will bring it to the academic council for a second round of voting. If the council votes to approve it, then the vote will go to the general faculty for the final stage. The time frame depends on the outcome of each vote. “That could all happen this semester, but the plan will have to be approved at each stage,” Epstein said.

The proposed Core will be organized in three tiers. The first tier is titled Orientation and will be made up of one English course, one math, one religious studies, one philosophy and two foreign language courses. The biggest differences between tier one and the current Core is that nobody will be able to place out of these courses with AP credits and the foreign language courses can be of any level, not only intermediate.

The second tier is called Exploration and is made up of eight courses, including literature, visual and performing arts, natural science, social science, math and history.

While there are only two tiers, both of which will be required to be completed in the first two years as a Fairfield student, there is a third tier of the new Core called Integration. This will use interdisciplinary education by connecting two seemingly different courses together. There are three options for Integration. The first is Cluster courses in tier two. This will take two separate courses with two different professors who will work together to structure their courses to connect with one another. The second option of Integration is a team taught course. The third option is a regular, individually taught three credit course in tier two.

At the time of this article’s publication in Spring 2015, the information regarding Fairfield 2020’s proposals for Core Curriculum revision was available online. Since then, the information has been taken down.

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