Report of the Task Force on Curricular Reform recommends changes in core curriculum

Nov. 1, 2005

AUSTIN, Texas—Major changes in the core curriculum of The University of Texas at Austin, including the creation of a “University College” to serve as the guardian of core undergraduate education, have been proposed in a newly released report by the university’s Task Force on Curricular Reform.

William Powers Jr., dean of the School of Law and chair of the task force, announced the recommendations on Oct. 27, during a faculty meeting. The recommendations have been delivered to the Faculty Council for consideration.

A copy of the report by the Task Force on Curricular Reform may be viewed online.

The report of the task force endorsed findings by the university’s Commission of 125, a group of citizens who in 2004 completed a two-year analysis of the university. The commission and task force agreed that while the current system offers students many courses of study, it fails to equip undergraduates with a core body of knowledge essential to a well-balanced education.

The report said the present core curriculum is “outdated” and that today’s graduates require a broader education, particularly in the areas of science, technology, the humanities, global cultures, multicultural perspectives and leadership.

“The current curriculum lacks sufficient common intellectual experiences shared by all undergraduates, whatever their disciplines,” the report said.

The task force said, “We seek to establish a core curriculum that does more than regulate the distribution of unconnected area requirements among the disciplines. The core curriculum should be a vehicle that brings the extraordinary resources of this great research university to all undergraduate students from the moment they arrive on campus and should continue to do so as they progress through their specific courses of study. It should serve to give coherence and integrity to a student’s overall undergraduate education. The core curriculum should serve as a ‘spine’ that supports an undergraduate student’s overall educational experience.”

The proposal to create a “University College” was one of five recommendations by the Task Force on Curricular Reform, which said the change in administrative structure was needed to provide “a single portal for entering freshmen.”

The proposed University College would fill the need for an administrative unit whose primary responsibility is maintaining the core curriculum. It would provide ongoing, focused and sustained attention to core undergraduate education, which the task force considers necessary for students to make meaningful progress.

“It is critical that the core curriculum not be an academic orphan over the next 25 years,” the report said. “The core curriculum needs a home and champion to exert gravitational forces back to the core, to manage and oversee reform over the long run, and to keep the goals of broad-based undergraduate education high in the university’s priorities.”

The proposed University College would provide advising and career counseling that would enable entering students to “chart a coherent path in the university” and would be led by a dean who would report to the provost, according to the report. The proposed University College would not award degrees or have a separate faculty. All faculty members would be responsible for the core curriculum and therefore be included as members of University College.

Other recommendation by the Task Force on Curricular Reform included a proposal that all undergraduate students take specially developed “Signature Courses” in each of their first two years to expose students to “broad issues that transcend individual disciplines and demonstrate how different disciplines discover and expand knowledge.”

The Signature Courses would introduce students to top faculty and to the “rich array of resources available only at a great research university.”

According to the report, incentives would be established to encourage faculty to develop and teach Signature Courses or other special core courses and to assist in the work of University College.

Another recommendation is that core courses be coordinated into clusters or “thematic strands” that would provide a deeper, more coherent learning experience than does a group of unrelated courses selected from a vast menu.

The task force report also proposed a set of changes to enhance a student’s ability to use undergraduate education to find a path in life. It said undergraduate students should have adequate opportunities to explore different areas of study before declaring a major. It also is critical that these students have access to “considerably more university-wide academic and career counseling,” the task force said.

A task force recommendation considered essential for the others to be implemented focused on the need for the university to generate additional financial resources for the core curriculum and undergraduate education. The report proposed that funding the core curriculum, and especially the new University College, should be the central focus of an ambitious new capital campaign to create a permanent endowment.

“The possibilities for external support for this cause seems to us to be extraordinary,” the report said.

Closing remarks by the Task Force on Curricular Reform’s report assert that curricular reform is a difficult process but that “now is the time to overcome institutional inertia, territoriality and habit. The university has been charged to do so by the Commission of 125. We have the encouragement of the administration and many of the most influential friends of the university. Most important, it is in the best interests of our students and the future of the institution. Let us seize this opportunity.”

For more information contact: Robert D. Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847.