By Published: Dec. 5, 2016

Dean Steven R. Leigh

Dean Steven R. Leigh

The College of Arts and Sciences at the University Colorado Boulder is the "gravitational center" of our entire campus, primarily responsible for research and teaching in the liberal arts. When we speak of serving a "liberal-arts education," we imply what the American Association of Colleges and Universities describes as one emphasizing "a broad knowledge of the wider well as an in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest."

Our campus’ dedication to the liberal arts drives research that expands the breadth of human knowledge and offers innovative solutions to myriad real-world problems. Such faculty research underpins a top-quality liberal-arts education yielding outcomes that include developing a broad set of practical skills that are applicable throughout life in a range of circumstances, strengthening our critical and intellectual capabilities, growing our sense of social responsibility, and nurturing a lifelong commitment to learning.

The new core will present our students with expanded opportunities to satiate their scholarly interests and nurture a liberal-arts education in ways well attuned to today’s academic and professional climates."

Research and education in the liberal arts are vital to the future of our society, and, given our species’ impact on our planet, perhaps essential to our future. Attaining the goals of a liberal-arts education requires the thoughtful development and effective delivery of our curriculum. Thus, liberal-arts colleges within universities like ours rely on faculty to establish educational frameworks, pathways and standards. Our departments’ dedication to serving a first-rate liberal-arts education is reflected in a recent significant accomplishment: Earlier this semester, College of Arts and Sciences faculty voted to revise and implement a new undergraduate core curriculum. The changes will put the college in an even better position to recruit and educate the most promising and qualified students that our state and nation have to offer. We in the College of Arts and Sciences on the Boulder campus take this responsibility seriously and are devoting a tremendous collective effort toward meeting our goal.

The new requirements improve upon a curriculum that was originally implemented in 1988, then evaluated and retained in 2000. In that time, it served our students well. Later, however, a thorough review by a faculty panel in 2013 (led by molecular biologist and Distinguished Professor Norman Pace, now retired), called attention to areas in which we could update our curricular offerings to better serve our students who strive to receive a competitive, comprehensive liberal-arts education. The revision process is noteworthy, for it underscores our faculty’s investment in meeting our students’ needs and answering an important call to action.

With the oversight of the faculty-governance body, the College of Arts and Sciences Council, and in response to the Pace committee report, our faculty set about a curriculum-revision process. This effort was led by Professor Cora Randall (of atmospheric and oceanic sciences) and Professor Ann Schmiesing (of Germanic and Slavic literatures and languages). Drs. Randall and Schmiesing, two faculty members whose expertise embodies the breadth of the liberal arts, assembled a remarkable committee from faculty throughout our college. They spent countless hours carefully researching our 1988 core. They examined data, evaluated curricula at dozens of other universities with like-minded standards and goals, interviewed peers from outside universities, and had dialogues addressing fundamental educational questions with campus colleagues and students, alike. The College of Arts and Sciences Council leadership during this time, Professor Catherine Labio (English, 2013-2015) and Professor Robert Rupert (philosophy, 2015-2017), guided the process and engaged the broader faculty with diplomacy and wisdom.

The outcome of this multi-faceted effort provides students a more flexible and open core menu. They will still be required to demonstrate skill mastery in mathematics and language arts, essential cornerstones of a liberal-arts education; and students will still need to engage deeply with matters of diversity, increasingly important in our current global landscape (see my last letter). However, while many deemed the old core to be prescriptive, the new core affords students considerable freedom to define their individual educational pathways. Briefly, students will be expected to complete substantial coursework within our three academic divisions (arts and humanities, natural sciences and social sciences). Instruction in these areas will confer the depth and breadth of content that is so essential to personal achievement and lifelong intellectual renewal. The new core will also benefit students who wish to complete multiple majors, minors and certificates. Our hope is that it will encourage students who may not have had the means to enter CU Boulder right after high school to transfer here, which will increase our impact in the state, and increase the number of students we can serve. Overall, the new core will present our students with expanded opportunities to satiate their scholarly interests and nurture a liberal-arts education in ways well attuned to today’s academic and professional climates. I congratulate our committee leaders and faculty for their remarkable achievement, and for advancing the liberal-arts education we deliver at CU Boulder, with high expectations for the future successes of our college and its people.