I appreciated reading Madeline Hossler’s “Magis Core Signature Elements Aren’t Reaching Their Full Potential” in the April 20, 2022 edition of The Mirror. I’m grateful to hear that the writer supports the Social Justice element and recognizes its importance in helping students understand how structures of inequity exist and are perpetuated in our society and globally.
The writer’s larger concern, however, seems to be the availability of the Social Justice element and SJ2 courses in particular to all undergraduate students. In 2018, when the General Faculty approved the new Magis Core curriculum, the decision was made not to “phase in” the core with several modified versions but simply to end the old, “classic” core with the Class of 2022 and initiate the new, Magis core with the students in the Class of 2023 and beyond. While this decision meant less confusion perhaps for faculty advisors and students, it also meant that we were committed to offering the core curriculum with Signature Elements before sufficient courses had been approved. The result has been that we began with fewer courses than we needed, and we are still in need of more.
In addition, the writer mentions the “inconsistency” in multi-section courses in which one section out of several may count for the SJ element. To have a course designated as SJ or any Signature Element, individual faculty members must submit the course for approval. Some students may not understand that academic freedom ensures that professors have the right to teach their sections of a course according to their expertise and pedagogical aims. Unless several members of a department have collaborated and decided to teach all sections of a single course in the same way, it would be impossible and dishonest to designate every section of a course with the same signature element. In fact, the Magis Core Curriculum Committee is now working with Departments and the professional schools to identify multi-section courses that can be designated for SJ and other Signature Elements using a more streamlined method.
Students may also be less familiar with our review process in the Magis Core: prior to the beginning of the semester, any faculty member can submit their courses with an application to demonstrate how they plan to achieve the student learning outcomes of Magis Core Signature Elements. A revised syllabus and assignments are also required. After being reviewed by the SJ, ID, and WAC/WID Subcommittees, the Magis Core Curriculum Committee reviews and sends approved courses to the Registrar. By ensuring that the Signature Elements follow the faculty member, the process ensures a pedagogical approach and syllabus consistent with the student learning objectives of the element. Without this process, the Magis Core Signature Elements simply would not have any integrity.
The writer also claims students should be able to study Social Justice within their major. Those of us leading the Magis Core and the Social Justice signature element couldn’t agree more. We hope every major will offer courses that meet the SJ, WAC/WID, and ID signature elements. However, if students do complete a course outside their major to meet the signature element requirement, we also support this move, for the Signature Elements are a Core requirement,and most Core requirements do in fact not fall within a student’s individual major. I also invite students to remember that SJR classes can “count” for the SJ2 requirement; thus, there are 31 of these SJ2 sections offered next fall, not 14 as was previously stated.
A few other points might be important to consider: the Magis Core Curriculum Committee
cannot make faculty develop and teach more classes that satisfy Signature Elements, nor can we insist that Departments offer more courses in the SJ element, though we encourage them to do so. My colleagues on the Magis Core Curriculum Committee and I continue to work at great speed to ensure we pass as many courses as possible. We also offer ample incentives for faculty, including three separate faculty development events this May that provide faculty an opportunity to plan signature element courses. Students, however, can reach out directly to their professors in cases where they believe a course should count and encourage the professor to submit the course for approval for a subsequent semester.
Finally, enrollment pressures play a role here in the need for more courses. For example,
current seniors (Class of 2022, who are completing the traditional core, not the Magis core)
enrolled in many courses that had Signature Elements, and as these students will be graduating, there should be more seats in courses with Signature Elements available. I hope that the points expressed here will inform students about the process of approving courses and reassure them that they should expect to find more Signature Element courses in the future.
Professor of English
Director of the Magis Core