Staff and faculty surveys aim to reassess Core Program

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Julia Koh/The Occidental

Vice President of Academic Affairs in Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Oli Vorster (junior) emailed a survey to students Jan. 22 to get student feedback on the current Core Program as the Core Steering Committee (CSC) is reevaluating the core curriculum. The student survey was emailed in tandem with a similar faculty survey sent out by the Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs and Core Program Director Ron Buckmire. The CSC — made up of staff, faculty and student representatives — is reviewing the student and faculty surveys’ open-answer and scaled multiple-choice questions to better understand how the Core Program is advancing Occidental’s current goals and improving students’ academic experience, according to Buckmire. Vorster says the student survey feedback is showing promising new ideas for core requirements, including an LA-based community engagement and Black Studies course requirement. Buckmire said these ideas are being explored by the CSC, who are in the beginning steps of revising the Core Program.

Vorster said students’ survey responses highlighted certain successes such as the diversity and global connections requirements, and many called for new requirements. They said they were impressed with how precise and eloquent students were in conveying their needs in the open-response questions. According to Vorster, many students wanted a core requirement that allowed them to get involved with Los Angeles and engage with local communities. Vorster said other common suggestions include a climate change, intersectionality, interdisciplinary, financial literacy or world skills requirement.

Will Canavan (senior) said there are both pros and cons to the Core Program. According to Canavan, it would be helpful to have more flexibility in the program. However, he said many of his core classes helped him explore new topics he might not have otherwise explored and widened his worldview.

“Reviewing how useful the core requirements were, in one sense I took some really cool classes and in another sense those classes are so unrelated to my major,” Canavan said. “At the end of the day, the financial reality is that time was wasted.”

According to Buckmire, the core curriculum was last revised in the 2010–2011 academic year. Buckmire said the survey data may lead to a new round of changes which would involve a years-long process. He and the CSC had hoped to have a draft of potential new versions of the core curriculum by the end of this spring semester but that is unlikely to happen due to the lengthy process of the CSC’s work, according to Buckmire.

According to American Studies professor and CSC member Julie Prebel, the CSC has not yet fully evaluated the faculty survey results, but will likely follow up with certain faculty departments to get more information regarding each specific core requirement. Prebel said the views of faculty and CSC members differ greatly in what the core should be along with if or how it should be changed — if there are changes to come, it will be several years from now.

“There has been a lot of contention about how much we change it. Can we just define the requirements better or do we change the whole system?” Vorster said.

According to Associate Dean of Students, Director of Student Success and CSC member Vivian Garay Santiago, the Core Program is an important part of the Occidental experience because it provides students with a breadth of knowledge. Buckmire said the Core Program is a key element in the Occidental experience.

“I think it [the Core Program] is the way in which Oxy articulates its connection to the mission of equity, excellence, community and service. That’s what I think it should be,” Buckmire said. “Some people call it the Occidental silhouette, that when someone has a degree from Occidental and you know that they went through a core program.”

Amy Sarkisyan ’01 said the Core Program’s writing classes helped her throughout her professional life. After taking several classes to fulfill core requirements, Sarkisyan said she figured out what she did and didn’t enjoy, which may not have been possible without general education requirements.

According to Santiago, one of the main issues CSC members have generally found is that many of the core requirements lack specificity. Buckmire said core requirements such as the Fine Arts requirement or the Global Connections requirement have no explicit definitions for how classes fit under each requirement, so a class may not be properly defined as fulfilling that requirement.

Buckmire said the CSC must produce a proposal to be analyzed by all relevant parties such as staff, faculty, students and alumni, in order to produce a draft of Core Program changes. According to Buckmire, the approval process requires the draft to be presented to all department chairs and the Academic Planning Committee before being voted on at an all-faculty meeting — if approved, it goes into effect the next academic year. Once in effect, he said incoming students would be under the new program and continuing students would be able to participate in either the new program or the old program.

“We are steps and steps and steps away from any changes per se, and would probably take years if anybody wanted to make any changes,” Prebel said.

Buckmire said students who are interested in changing the Core Program should either respond through the survey or directly email him or the Core Program.

“Rest assured that whatever process we engage in, the intent will be to be informed by what the whole community thinks,” Buckmire said.