Proposal for Core Revision

15 September 2015

Proposal for Revision of the

Fairfield University Core Curriculum

I. Executive Summary

First published in 1599, the Jesuit Ratio Studiorium formed the basis for the distinctive and influential tradition of Jesuit education. The curriculum drew on the medieval tradition of the “liberal arts,” fundamental to the founding of the first Western universities as centers of Roman Catholic learning:instruction via disputation and collective search for truth in areas of general knowledge,in order to shape inquisitive and versatile patterns of thought before students proceed to specialized or professional studies. With a Renaissance Humanist emphasis on eloquence in written expression and engagement with classical forms, the Jesuit curriculum prescribed instruction in philosophy, religious studies (in theology and sacred texts), mathematics, grammar and syntax in the essential languages of Latin and Greek, and the study of Humanities via literary and historical texts. These pedagogical goals have remained hallmark features of Jesuit education ever since, and they informed the Core curriculum that has been central to Fairfield University from its beginning.

Part of this educational tradition is engagement with the world, and it has therefore sought philosophical continuity while adapting to the needs of students in specific times. There have been changes to the Fairfield University Core curriculum over the years, but the last full revision of the Core was in 1969. This document summarizes the process through which the proposal for a revised Core curriculum was devised and lays out the main elements of the proposal. The goal was to develop a Core model that was uniform among all the undergraduate schools, clear and easily comprehensible in its requirements and purpose, divided into distinct levels, and intellectually integrated, while remaining faithful to the ideals of the Jesuit educational tradition and the mission of Fairfield University. The proposed Core seeks to providean education that is rooted in the Jesuit and Catholic tradition of a vibrant humanistic liberal arts experience and responds to the needs of 21st-century students and the world in which they will live and serve.

The proposed curriculum consists of two tiers. The first tier, to be completed in the first two years of study,grounds students in the intellectual approaches essential to philosophical, religious, rhetorical, historical, quantitative and cultural inquiry. The second tier introduces students to how various disciplinary approaches frame and engage important intellectual issues, and also allows students, with the encouragement of innovative pedagogy, to make the connections essential for integrative learning and for exploring pressing issues that call out for a just resolution.

This proposal is the product of a wide-ranging and ongoing process, led by faculty but benefitting from the input of all members of the university community. In order for the proposed changes to the Core to be adopted, they would have to be approved by votes of the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee and the General Faculty.

II. Process and Purpose of Core Revision

In 2014, as part of the Fairfield 2020 initiative, a Core Curriculum Task Force was established. The primary goals of the Core Curriculum Task Force were to (a) undertake a comprehensive analysis of the undergraduate core curriculum in order to determine if revisions were warranted, and (b) if warranted, develop a set of recommendations for a revised core curriculum grounded in a rationale based on that analysis.

Fairfield University’s Core curriculum has remained relatively unchanged for the past 35 years. As outlined on pages 50-51 of the undergraduate course catalog, the current core requires students to complete 60 credits distributed across five areas, including (1) mathematics and the natural sciences, (2) history, and the social and behavioral sciences, (3) philosophy, religious studies, and applied ethics, (4) English and the visual and performing arts, and (5) modern and classical languages. These areas of study were established prior to 1969, at which time the first documented review of the core curriculum was conducted. In 1969, undergraduate students were required to complete 81 credits (27 courses) of general education. Subsequent core curriculum reviews were undertaken in 1979, 1988, 1991, 2001 and 2005. The 1979 review resulted in substantial change, reducing the 81 credit core to the 60 credit core in existence today. Reviews in the following decades involved attempts to introduce interdisciplinary science courses, articulate the mission of the core and student learning outcomes associated with each area, and introduce applied ethics into the third area. The Core Pathways initiative sought to unify and animate the core via descriptive language. During the past 35 years, specific accommodations to the core requirements were proposed and accepted, such that there are currently exemptions to some core requirements for students in the schools of engineering and nursing, as well as the school of business.

The charge of the Core Curriculum Task Force was to consider revisions to the undergraduate core curriculum, and make recommendations based on those considerations for a core curriculum that is rooted in the Jesuit and Catholic tradition of a vibrant humanistic liberal arts experience and responds to the needs of the 21stcentury learner. In order to fulfill this charge, a 22-person Core Curriculum Task Force, comprised of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and administrators, engaged in a comprehensive analysis of the core curriculum, which involved multiple meetings, subcommittee work, consultations with members of the University community, collaborations with other Fairfield 2020 Task Forces, and solicitation of feedback from the faculty. Through these processes, the Task Force amassed a large amount of evidence about Jesuit education, Fairfield University’s students, and current trends in higher education, which informed its final conclusions and recommendations.

From the beginning of its process, the Core Curriculum Task Force maintained the conviction that any recommended changes to the core curriculum would need to be approved through the establishedchannels of faculty governance for curricular revision. Ultimately, the Core Curriculum Task Force handed off the recommendations for revision to the Director of the Core, who has been working with a faculty advisory group, selected by the Director of the Core, to finalize the recommendations and shepherd them through the University’s approval processes.

These bodies, in developing a proposal for a revised Core Curriculum, have been guided by several pedagogical goals:

A. Uniformity of the Core Experience

The main concern of most members of the task force, and particularly the faculty members, was that the Core Curriculum requirements once again be made uniform for all Fairfield undergraduates in all schools. Since various accommodations have been granted over that years that resulted in fewer course and credit requirements in the Core for undergraduates in the professional schools, a uniform Core will necessarily mean a reduction in the total number of course and credit requirements in the Core.The goal of this change, however, is not to shrink the Core, but rather to reaffirm institutional commitment to an experience for all undergraduates that provides a sounds liberal arts education.

B. Clear and Rational Reflection of Liberal Arts Tradition

The current Core Curriculum has the virtue of including courses in all departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, but over the years many faculty have come too see it is a relatively complex set of requirements. Much of the undergraduate advising experience has been committed to guiding students through the Core requirements, which can seem to undergraduates like a checklist that they must complete, with little consideration of the rationality of the overall curriculum or the value of individual courses. Those involved in revising the curriculum, therefore, have sought a model that students can easily grasp, and that manifests in its form its rationale and its purpose, and that expresses the liberal arts as they are taught and practiced at Fairfield University.

C. Tiered Experience

Much pedagogical literature indicates that students find a curriculum more meaningful if they understand how they are proceeding upward through levels of an educational experience. The members of the Core Curriculum Task Force, therefore, sought a tiered model, with specific rationales for each tier of the curriculum.

D. Integrated Learning Experience

Both students and faculty have regularly reported that their most meaningful and valuable classroom experiences have been those that intentionally designed as interdisciplinary. The members of the Core Curriculum Task Force felt strongly that a revised Core, in addition to being multidisciplinary, should also include an interdisciplinary component. An interdisciplinary component should allow students to look for commonalities and intersections among their various areas of study, to perceive their Core courses as more integrated rather than atomized educational experiences, and to think more holistically about the universe of intellectual engagement and their place within it. Although the Task Force was not intentionally following national trends, in practice the multidisciplinary element of the proposed revision accords precisely with current views of educational reform that is seen as most essential and most practical for contemporary students.

The Task Force felt strongly that embracing an interdisciplinary curricular modeldoes not constitute a rejection of disciplines. The traditional disciplines, as represented by departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, remain essential for defining the lines of inquiry that shape academic life and for testing and affirming the rigor and legitimacy of methods of teaching and research.

III. Proposal for Revised Core Curriculum

Whereas the current Core consists of 60 credits, the Core Curriculum Task Force devised a model for the Core that would require 48 credits. Here are the proposed new Core requirements:


  • 1 English writing course
  • 1 Religious Studies course
  • 1 Philosophy course
  • 1 History course
  • 1 Mathematics course
  • 2 Foreign Language courses, at any level


•Humanities: 4 courses in 4 different departments (PH; RS; HI; VPA; EN)

•Natural Sciences and Mathematics: 2 courses in 2 different departments (MA; BI; PS; CH)

•Social and Behavioral Sciences: 2 courses in 2 different departments (SO & AY; EC; PO; PY; CO)

•Integration: 1 pair of cluster courses, or 1 team-taught or individually taught interdisciplinary course

Remarks on the tiers and the requirements:


The first element of the revised Core would be a set of foundational courses, to be completed by most students before the end of the sophomore year.

In addition to serving as foundational for the remaining elements of the Core curriculum and for the rest of students’ work in their individual schools and majors, the courses in Tier One represent the most traditional elements of Jesuit education, with roots extending to the Jesuit order’s establishment of its educational mission.

The Tier One requirements would include one Mathematics course; the Task Force decided that it should be left to the Mathematics Department to determine what the exact course requirement would be.

Students would be required to take two courses in a foreign language, at any level. The Modern Languages Department would work to assure that students continuing a language that they studied in high school are placed in the appropriate level.

The largest component of Tier One is to be a set of four courses in the Humanities: one writing course in English; one course in History; one course in Philosophy; and one course in Religious Studies.

In the current Core curriculum, all first-year students take a two-semester English writing sequence in composition and literature. The proposed curriculum requires only one English writing course in Tier One, but the Task Force absolutely did not intend to diminish the place of writing instruction in the curriculum. No skill is more essential to educational success or more essential to the modern workplace and the contemporary world than fluidity and self-confidence in written expression. Therefore, the Task Force proposed that the three other Humanities courses in Tier One—History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies, be integrated with the English course in a Writing Across the Curriculum model. Writing Across the Curriculum [WAC] is based on the principlethat writing should be an integral part of the learning process throughout a student’s education, not merely in required writing courses but across the entire curriculum. WAC programs can take a number of forms. If implemented, the faculty of the departments involved would have to work with the director of Core writing, the Center for Academic Excellence, the Director of the Core, and other administrators to develop a model appropriate to the goals and requirements of our program. It is understood that necessary resources must be made available for the success of this essential component of the Core, including administrative positions, programs for faculty development, appropriate class sizes, and academic support.

As this Tier One of the Core is intended to be a common educational experience for all Fairfield undergraduates, there are to be no place-outs for any element of Tier One. This would mean that transfer and Advanced Placement credits could exempt students from required elements of Tier Two of the Core, but not Tier One. Students with advanced English credit, for instance, would still have to take an English course in Tier One; students with advanced language skills would have to take two language courses, either at an advanced level or in a new language.


The second tier of the proposed Core curriculum would set minimum course requirements intended to guide students as they explore their interests and make connections within the liberal arts. Students would be allowed to take courses fulfilling Tier Two requirements before completing Tier One.

The Core Curriculum Task Force recommended that Tier Two required one course each in Literature, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Visual & Performing Arts, Natural Science, and Social/Behavioral Science, as well as one additional course in Math or Natural Science, and one additional course in History or Social/Behavioral Science.

The Director of the Core and the advisory council felt that this model could be simplified by grouping the required courses according to the traditional organization of the liberal arts into Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social/Behavioral Sciences. The plan has been revised, therefore, to recommend that in Tier Two students be required to take four courses in four different Humanities departments; two courses in two different departments in Math and Natural Sciences; and two courses in two different departments in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Importantly, all departments in the College of Arts & Sciences would be expected to designate specifically designed Core classes for Tier Two. Interdisciplinary programs can be represented in Tier Two through cross-listing of courses.

Considerable administrative oversight would be required in managing course offerings and enrollments to assure that enough Core classes are offered each semester, while also assuring that each department is sufficiently represented within the Core. It is hoped, however, that students will engage more thoughtfully with the curriculum and the intentions of the Core when they have clear choices of classes and disciplines to choose from within the Core.

TheCore Curriculum Task Force recommended that the Core also include an “integration” component. Students would be required to take at least one course or set of courses with an interdisciplinary component: a cluster of two courses in two different disciplines; a team-taught course with instructors from two different disciplines; or, less commonly and with approval, a specially designed interdisciplinary course with a single instructor. Though the Task Force labeled this “integration” component “Tier Three,” it was understood that students would complete it, whenever possible, as part of the Tier Two requirements. Therefore, for the sake of simplicity, the Core Director and Advisory Council have recommended presenting this component as an element of Tier Two, and Tier Two has been labeled “Exploration and Integration.”

The Integration component is one of the most essential elements of the proposed Core revision, but also the element that may require the greatest amount of institutional support to ensure its viability and success. Specifically, faculty will need to be provided with sufficient incentive and support to develop among themselves a wide array of interdisciplinary offerings in the form of cluster courses and team-taught courses. This support would entail internal funding, ideally supplemented by outside grants.