Visiting Committee to recommend changes to the Common Curriculum
story Spandana Bhattacharya | Yonatan Gazit
Now in its fourth semester, Yale-NUS College’s distinctive Common Curriculum will undergo a review by two committees—the Self-Study and the Visiting Committees—over 2015.
The Self-Study Committee, comprising Yale-NUS faculty, will consolidate feedback from faculty and students about the Common Curriculum and present “options for change” in September 2015, according to President Pericles Lewis. Afterwards, a Visiting Committee will review the report and send final recommendations to the Yale-NUS Governing Board for approval in December 2015. The composition of the Visiting Committee has now been revealed.
The Visiting Committee consists of four members from Yale University, four from the National University of Singapore and two from Yale-NUS, President Pericles Lewis revealed in an interview with The Octant. Representatives from Yale are likely to be Psychology Professor Marvin Chun, Political Science and Humanities Professor Bryan Garsten, and Ecology Professor David Skelly. Representatives from NUS have yet to be finalized. The committee will also include Professor Steven L. Bernasek, Science Divisional Director at Yale-NUS, while Professor Tan Tai Yong, Executive Vice-President (Academic Affairs) at Yale-NUS, will chair the committee.
The members of the Visiting Committee were chosen by Mr. Lewis in consultation with Mr. Tan and leadership at Yale, NUS and Yale-NUS. “We wanted representatives from a large range of disciplines, who are understanding of what we are trying to do [in the Common Curriculum] and [are] of good stature in their fields,” said Mr. Lewis.
Different aspects of the Common Curriculum will be evaluated in this review. Mr. Lewis said that discussion about the number of courses in the Common Curriculum is “on the table” and student voices will be important throughout the process. Similarly, Mr. Garsten said that in designing the Common Curriculum, the Curriculum committee had been aware of the concerns around fulfilling major requirements with limited elective slots, especially for science majors. Yet they ultimately felt that the critical thinking skills that students acquire with the Common Curriculum will equip them to do well in their future pursuits.
Students interviewed expressed concerns about the Science component of the Common Curriculum, and felt major changes should be made. Jacob Schneidewind ’18 said that while the idea for the science component is good, its execution could be improved. He pointed out that Scientific Inquiry, a course all first year students take in their first semester, did not prepare students adequately for the science track in the second semester. “Especially given … that [students’] backgrounds are so diverse—we’re from 40 different countries—you cannot expect that everyone received the same mathematics background, even if everyone took a calculus class,” he said. Michael James Anthony ’17 felt that the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences components were better executed than the Sciences.
In addition to looking at the balance between the Common Curriculum and major requirements, Mr. Garsten said that the Visiting Committee will also be exploring questions about areas of noticeable weaknesses in courses as a whole and look into big-picture concerns of whether the original aspirations of the Common Curriculum were being realized.
Yet the magnitude of changes eventually made during the review remains to be seen. Mr. Garsten said that the Visiting Committee would “just put together a set of impressions and maybe a few recommendations, if we all agree on recommendations.” According to Mr. Garsten, much depends on what the Visiting Committee finds in the process. But, “I think it’s fair to say that we’re not going in looking for revolutionary changes,” Mr. Garsten said.
Regarding concerns over the sciences, Mr. Bailyn said, “It would not at all surprise me if there was structural change in the sciences, but I wouldn’t have any guess as to what that might be.”
Some students interviewed pointed out the importance and effectiveness of student feedback in the past. Seow Yongzhi ‘18 referred to corrections that have been made to the Quantitative Reasoning course. “It shows how quickly the syllabus and curriculum, when changed to tailor to student needs, can effect real appreciation of the Common Curriculum,” he said.
On the final recommendations, Peter Salovey, President of Yale University and a member of the Yale-NUS Governing Board, hoped that they will be substantial. “If there were no serious recommendations for improvements, that would be disappointing. It means we weren’t very adventurous,” he said.
According to an email sent by Mr. Lewis, changes approved at the end of the review process will take effect in the Academic Year 2016/17.
David Chappell | Scott Currie | Ying Tong Lai contributed reporting.