How the Curriculum Committee Evaluates and Offers Feedback on Course Descriptions/Program Proposals and Revisions

The Curriculum Committee operates both at the macro and micro level: asking broad questions about how a course or program fits into the overall curriculum of the College, while asking more detailed questions about the clarity of course descriptions and program requirements.

The committee trusts first and foremost in faculty expertise (since faculty members know best how they’ll teach their classes or structure their programs), aiming instead to pose questions on behalf of the institutional long view, which means the committee is often working to make sure faculty intentions are communicated clearly (in terms of course and program descriptions and requirements) for students and advisors who read the Bulletin, and for faculty members who might want to teach those courses in the future.  

In general the committee asks questions regarding course descriptions that cohere around the following categories: 

  1. Intelligibility — Would the students who read the description understand what they will be doing in the course? Is the use of discipline-specific language appropriate? Are there ways we can help the faculty member make the description more appealing to students without undercutting their academic freedom? Does it make internal sense?
  2. Longevity — How easily do we think the description will become dated? Does it refer to specific assignments or sources (we discourage both)?
  3. Program — Does the course make sense in the context of the program in which it is being proposed? Does it overlap or replicate other courses in helpful or unhelpful ways? If it is a course in a sequence, does the sequencing make sense? How will it be used (if at all) in other programs? (Course Learning Outcomes mapped to the Program Learning Outcomes are requested to help us assess this)
  4. Requirements — Are the prerequisites consistent and clear? If the course is applicable for distribution, is there a clear rationale for why it should carry a certain distribution tag? Does the course description offer any contradictions or concerns from that point of view? 

In general the committee asks questions regarding new and revised program descriptions that cohere around the following categories:

  1. Alignment to LA mission and institutional LO’s – Is the program clearly designed with attention to the Liberal Arts mission of the institution?  Are the program Learning Outcomes clearly aligned with the Institutions Learning Outcomes (Learning Outcomes map is requested for all programs in order to assess this.)
  2. Intelligibility and trackability – Would students and advisors clearly understand the requirements for the program as laid out in the Bulletin language?  Is the program easily tracked via a degree audit in Self-Service?  Are there ways to make the program requirements easier to navigate for students and advisors and easier to track in Self-Service without undermining the intention of the requirements and the coherence of the program overall?
  3. Curricular coherence
    1. Within program – Do the requirements help students meet the stated program Learning Outcomes?  (Curricular map is part of each proposal to help assess this). Is there a progression from introductory to advanced level learning for the major?  Is there either depth (introductory to advanced) or breadth (overview of ideas important to the discipline) for a minor?  (see definition of majors and minors in the Bulletin)
    2. Within broader curriculum – Does the program make sense in the context of current curricular offerings?  Does the program replicate the intended outcomes of other programs in helpful or unhelpful ways?  (Brief summary of conversations with other programs that may be impacted is part of each proposal to help us assess this)

It’s useful to remember that there is very rarely a peer subject-expert on the committee and so course  and program proposals are usually being evaluated by educated lay people, including faculty, staff, and students. That variety of vantage points and experience levels is one of the strengths of the committee and the perspective it can offer. 

The approval process for all proposals includes two readings at the Curriculum Committee level. After the first reading authors are informed of the Curriculum Committee’s level of recommendation (revise and resubmit or recommend) along with talking points to provide context for the recommendation.  The authors will be given a chance to respond and/or revise following the first reading.  The response and/or revision will be considered at a subsequent Committee meeting for a second reading.  After the second reading the Committee will vote up or down.  Proposals with a majority “don’t recommend” vote at the Committee level will not be forwarded to the faculty.  However, committee rationale will be forwarded to the authors’ of any proposal with a “don’t recommend” vote and they are welcome to revise and resubmit their proposal in the next yearly cycle.