Williams, Task Force Re-Examine Current Transy Curriculum

by Josh Travis

Under the direction of Transylvania University President Owen Williams, a task force has been formed to produce a proposal of what could become the foundation for a brand-new design of Transy’s academic curriculum.

“One of the things Dr. Williams did when he arrived was start talking with a number of campus constituencies, and as he was talking to all of the faculty … it became clear to him that we had wanted to look at curricular revision,” said Dr. William Pollard, vice president and dean of the college.

While the outcome of the curriculum’s re-evaluation has yet to be determined, the members of the task force recognize that this is no small endeavor.
“I’ve been here 25 years and we’ve never taken on a project of this size,” said professor of religion Dr. Paul Jones.

Jones is also serving as the task force’s presiding officer of the faculty. This committee consists of Williams, Pollard and 13 members of the faculty with representatives from every academic division. It has already been deliberating for dozens of hours. The members of the committee hope to produce what they believe will be a curricular plan that is unique, and will best serve the needs of the students and will improve Transylvania’s reputation.

“So the first thing was to create the best possible learning experience and intellectual experience for our students and assume that, if we do that, then we might very well have a program that other colleges would like to know about and perhaps even emulate,” Pollard said.

According to Jones, this may be a part of President Williams’ goal to make Transylvania one of the top 50 liberal arts colleges nationwide.

“The president has simply empowered us to find a way in which the curriculum can be improved with the intention of being distinctive, so that the distinctiveness of the curriculum will in one sense elevate the reputation of the institution,” Jones said.

While it has been announced that the redesign proposal is well underway, the possible contents of the new curriculum are being kept confidential, including how extreme or not extreme the changes will be.

“This is a chance to look at the entire curriculum and ask ourselves if we want to make some new majors that we don’t have, do we want to do a radical revision to the general education requirements or a more modest one,” Pollard said.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean a radical reformulation, but it could,” Jones said. “We’re not secretive. It’s only because we want to allow the task force members to be creative and imaginative and, if things are flying left and right in the committee, and people then hear one or two little rumors, then they can speculate wildly and totally misinterpret.”

The task force hopes to complete a “skeleton” of the curriculum by Tuesday, Nov. 23, which they will then hand over to the faculty for evaluation and revision. Once a redesign has been finalized, the faculty will then begin creating the detailed coursework to fit the curriculum.

According to Jones, the time frame for when the new curriculum will be implemented depends on how quickly it can be finalized, but it is possible that the beginning stages of the implementation could be seen as early as the fall term of 2011.

These changes may sound like something current students should be concerned about, but Jones and other faculty say they have nothing to fear in terms of having their curriculum changed. The curriculum that current students adhere to will always be available for them, regardless of what changes for incoming classes, Jones said.

“As I understand the curriculum in the last 25 years I’ve been here, students who seek graduation come in under a certain catalog and it’s the rules under that catalog which guide your curriculum. So we cannot change the rules of the current catalog to accommodate the new curriculum and impose that upon you,” Jones said. “We’re not trying to change the rules of the game midstream on current students, so that needs to be understood.”

“It seems to me that this college has a golden opportunity that doesn’t happen very often,” said professor of classics Dr. John Svarlien, a member of the task force. “I think we need to do everything in our power to make this successful. … The next stage is to bring the larger community into the process, and again I think students play a very big role in this, because it won’t work unless we’re all really involved.”

“I’m hopeful that the proposal that we advance both to the faculty and to the students will in some sense honor the passions (of the liberal arts) and also galvanize them in a way that we have not experienced at Transylvania,” said Jones.


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