ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Redefinition of liberal arts curriculum under review at William & Mary

October 5, 2012 by Armand B. Alacbay

ACTA has consistently reminded governing boards that ensuring academic quality is one of their highest fiduciary obligations. Although it is never appropriate for a trustee or administrator to interfere with the academic freedom of the faculty to conduct their classes according to the professional standards of their academic disciplines, academic policy remains a quintessential governing board issue. When trustees of public institutions fail to discharge that responsibility, they are not only letting the students of their institutions down, they are avoiding an obligation they have to the citizens of their state.

It is for this reason that we praise the College of William and Mary Board of Visitors.

A proposal being developed by a curriculum review steering committee is expected to recommend sweeping changes to the College's general education requirements that would weaken, rather than strengthen, general education. The framework for the proposal, presented during an on-campus event last August, replaces requirements in core disciplines such as foreign language, mathematics, and science, with coursework emphasizing abstract concepts such as "continuity and change," "ways of knowing," and "W&M in the World." Over the past year, ACTA has made several presentations at the College and written to the Board of Visitors drawing attention to the College's need to restore a stronger core curriculum.

Although the core curriculum was not on the agenda for its September meeting, the board properly took the initiative informally to ask the faculty committee to revisit its curricular revisions and to report back to the board.

The board should rightly give due deference to the faculty in matters of course content. But the undergraduate core curriculum is one of the defining characteristics of any liberal arts institution, and especially the alma mater of Thomas Jefferson himself. On it the College stakes its integrity—which is why the William & Mary board deserves praise for acting in a manner both proactive and judicious.

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