New general education curriculum adopted at Centre College

After a long process dating back to 2016, the Centre College faculty voted on May 6 to adopt a new general education curriculum. The updated model will replace current requirements created in 2001.

All students arriving in the fall of 2020 will begin using the new curriculum, allowing faculty an additional year to make decisions about final implementation.

According to NEH Associate Professor of English Stacey Peebles, who chairs the Committee on Curricular Design, the new model provides the opportunity “to offer students more flexible course options, highlight experiential learning and further emphasize interdisciplinary thinking.”

Peebles added that the new general education curriculum will be bookended by a signature course sequence that owes its name to the motto of Centre College, Doctrina Lux Mentis, which translates from Latin as “Learning is the light of the mind.”

The three Doctrina Lux Mentis (DLM) courses will be taken in a student’s first year as well as the junior or senior year and focus on, Peebles said, “the importance of learning as an act of exploration that illuminates not only the world but also oneself.”

DLM I and II will emphasize written and oral communication, respectively, and may be selected from a range of courses taught by faculty across the College, each of which will focus on a specific topic and be taught in a small-group learning environment.

The DLM III course will also be topic-based, though it will emphasize interdisciplinary thinking. This will be considered a capstone experience, integrating skills and knowledge from previous coursework and the major course of study. Students will work with a faculty member to develop their own approach to the topic, perhaps collaborating with other students on a larger project.

Other elements of the new general education curriculum include exploring the liberal arts across all three of Centre’s academic divisions: arts and humanities, social studies, and science and mathematics. Students will also incorporate an experiential learning component that could include community-based learning or independent research.

Centre President John Roush has been impressed with the due diligence brought to every aspect of this process.

“General education reform on any campus is a challenge of the first order,” he said, “particularly on campuses where the faculty care deeply about the student experience and how best to prepare students for meaningful lives of work and service.”

Because Centre is such a place, he finds it as no surprise that that this process has taken considerable time, effort and compromise.

“I appreciate the willingness of our faculty to think openly and broadly about this matter,” he added, “and am pleased that they reached a conclusion in a way that demonstrated faculty governance at its best.”

After a faculty vote in 2016 to review the general education curriculum and consider redesigning it, the 2017-2018 academic year was devoted to a series of faculty conversations and gathering of feedback from students, staff and Centre trustees to create learning goals and revise the mission statement.

A Centre College education, the revised statement made clear, should challenge students “to solve problems, be creative, be curious and begin their search for purpose,” so that Centre graduates are prepared “for a life of meaningful work, engagement in their communities and sustained curiosity.”

From there, starting in summer 2018, a Committee on Curricular Design began exploring different models, a process that extended throughout the 2018-2019 academic year.

Faculty repeatedly emphasized the desire that both students and faculty have additional flexibility in the kinds of courses included in the general education curriculum, that more academic disciplines have a chance to offer general education courses, that the curriculum have a compelling rationale and that it embrace Centre’s strengths while also opening up opportunities for innovation.

Ultimately, several models were presented for consideration in spring 2019, and the May 6 vote allowed faculty to select from three new models or keep what was already in place.

“At most colleges and universities, the process of curricular reform is in the hands of the administration,” noted Lori Hartmann, who has served as faculty president since 2016. “Here, the faculty initiated and led the process from start to finish, and I’m proud of everyone’s engagement and collegiality over this three-year period.”

The implementation process during the 2019-2020 academic year will involve planning, preparation and anticipation, and all new students starting at Centre in fall 2020 will be the first to move through this newly redesigned curriculum.

by Michael Strysick
May 16, 2019