Faculty Council at The University of Texas at Austin Approves Proposed Changes on Curricular Reform

Nov. 21, 2006

AUSTIN, Texas—An initiative that would significantly change the core curriculum for all undergraduates at The University of Texas at Austin in future years received pivotal support Monday (Nov. 20) from the Faculty Council, which voted overwhelmingly to allow Dean of Undergraduate Studies Paul Woodruff to move forward in developing a plan.

Linda Golden, a professor of marketing administration who chairs the Faculty Council, said the vote during a meeting in the university’s Main Building Monday “opened the door” for Woodruff to work with the schools, colleges and departments to assess the feasibility of some of the proposed changes.

Among the proposed changes would be a requirement for undergraduate students to take two interdisciplinary “signature courses” that would be taught by distinguished faculty members using the unique resources of the university, for example museums, as a critical part of the course. The Faculty Council asked that these and other changes be implemented by 2010.

Golden said the Educational Policy Committee recommended that students take courses that include a focus on six skills and experiences needed by citizens and professionals in the 21st century. They are writing, quantitative reasoning, global cultures, cultural diversity in the United States, ethics and leadership, and independent inquiry.

“You really should congratulate yourselves,” Golden told Faculty Council following the voice vote opposed by only a handful of members. “You’ve just made history, so give yourselves a hand. You’ve done a wonderful job.”

Golden said we all live in a changing world and the goal is that these changes in core curriculum will contribute to the changing needs of a changing student body.

David Hillis, a professor of integrative biology and chairman-elect of the Faculty Council’s educational policy committee, said the Faculty Council’s action provides a “blueprint for curricular change.” He said the signature courses would demonstrate to students why an education at The University of Texas at Austin is fundamentally different from an education at other colleges and universities.

The motion approved by the Faculty Council did not address resources that would be involved in changing the core curriculum. Hillis said those issues would have to be worked out in the years ahead.

“Some resources will come online slowly, others much more quickly, but it’s not something to address today,” Hillis said.

Following the meeting, Hillis said endorsements by representatives from the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly on the motion showed student support and may have been a factor in decisions by some faculty members to vote in favor of allowing the core curriculum proposal to move forward.

“The support from all the different constituencies was important in the final vote,” Hillis said.

The initiative for changing core curriculum came into the spotlight in 2004 when the university’s Commission of 125, convened to express a vision of how the university can best serve Texas and society during the next 25 years, completed a two-year analysis of the university. Its report noted that the university’s curriculum system “fails to equip undergraduates with a core body of knowledge essential to a well-balanced education” and that “for too many degree plans, the current curriculum resembles little more than a vast a la carte menu.”

Soon after the commission’s report, a Task Force on Curricular Reform was appointed jointly by the university’s former president, Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the provost and the chair of the Faculty Council to make recommendations on how the core curriculum could be changed to improve the overall educational experience of undergraduates. The task force was headed by William Powers Jr., then dean of the School of Law who since has become president of the university. The task force’s report issued in October 2005 agreed that the core curriculum needed to be updated. The Educational Policy Committee, which was asked to review the task force recommendations relating to signature courses, flags, thematic strands and a 42-hour core curriculum, formed working groups and received input from a variety of groups that led to the final amended motion approved by the Faculty Council.

More information about the Faculty Council is available online.

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