Core Program set for revamp

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Author: Noel Hemphill

The Core Program will soon be getting a makeover after Occidental received the $750,000 Andrew Mellon Foundation Grant. The grant will go towards adding two distribution requirements to the Core Program while also making it more interdisciplinary. The proposed changes are awaiting a vote from faculty.

President Jonathan Veitch, Dean Jorge Gonzalez and Chair of the Core Program Professor John Swift worked together over a two year period to apply for the grant. The intent was to use the grant exclusively for improving the Core Program and enhancing the curriculum to fit Occidental’s mission of “Equity and Excellence.”

“Occidental is a very mission-driven institution,” Swift said. “Whenever we work on the curriculum, we have the mission in mind.”

In order to further the idea of mission-driven education, Swift has proposed two additions to the distribution requirements of the school. The new requirements would necessitate that each student take a course dedicated to diversity in US culture and a course in global interconnectedness. Swift believes this change would better align the Occidental education with the school’s mission.

“Our mission is very well known that it has to do with multiplicity of culture, diversity, equity and justice,” Swift said. 

If the faculty votes to approve these changes (a vote which will occur before the end of the fall), distribution requirements will change quickly. The old requirements are not changing, but an element of cultural and global importance will be added to classes in addition to the two new additions that will require students to take classes surrounding the concept of global interconnectedness. Incoming students for next fall will be introduced to the updated requirements, and current students will have the option of keeping the old system or adopting the culturally augmented requirements.

The grant will also go towards funding interdisciplinary programs for first-years, like the California Immigration Semester (CIS) and the California Environmental Semester (CES). Both of these programs exemplify educating with the ideals of the school mission in mind by employing a 16-unit, demanding schedule that requires students to look at subject matter from multiple perspectives and in different departments of the school. Funding will also be used towards developing first-year courses similar to CIS and CES as well as paying for adjunct professor replacements and the Cultural Studies Program (CSP) Lecture Series.

The Los Angeles Community Semester and the Health and Humanity seminar, new courses developed for the spring semester, eludicate the interdisciplinary focus the college wants to see more of in the future. Another new course for this year is a colloquium called “Revolutions: Africa and Beyond;” a study in History and Politics taught by professors in both fields. Swift believes courses like this provide the sort of multiple-perspective, global education Occidental strives for. 

Swift is pleased with the Core Program this year but would like to see a stronger Core over the next several years. He believes that the Core Program has one big hurdle to overcome. 

“The Core Program has suffered over the years because it has had an undeservedly bad reputation,” Swift said. “Requirements always don’t seem as exciting as freely elected courses.”

While the Core Program is often viewed as inferior to more specialized departmental courses, Swift feels strongly that the program is exciting and innovative, especially in the case of CSP seminars.

However, the criticism does not just come from students. A few years ago , the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Accreditation criticized the Core Program, citing that the program required further attention.

Any past or future updates made to the Core Program and the CSP seminars are made with an eye toward 16 institutions similar to Occidental. Occidental makes it a goal to set itself apart from the others with its global, highly multicultural education. With the proposed changes to Core distribution requirements and large funding for changes to be made, Occidental looks to distinguish itself among its comparison schools.

Student responses to these proposed changes were mostly negative.
While students agreed that it is important to learn about culture,
having it become another requirement was not a favorable measure.

“Trying to force cultural studies into a class setting isn’t always
successful; it can become very jaded and repetitive.” Aviva Alvarez-Zakson (sophomore) said.

With the proposal of the new Core Program, Occidental hopes to turn these negative connotations associated with the current program around and create a vibrant, culturally aware program, all encompassing of the Mission Statement.

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