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), 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 descriptions and requirements) for students 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?
  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? 

It’s useful to remember that there is very rarely a peer subject-expert on the committee and so course 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. 

Asking questions is a routine part of the evaluative process undertaken by the Curriculum Committee. Approximately half of all course descriptions and all new or revised programs are returned to the originating faculty member with questions. The overwhelming majority of those courses and programs are then approved by the committee after some conversation and revision.