Boston College should expand access to interdisciplinary Core Renewal courses beyond first-year students in order to keep upperclassmen engaged in the core curriculum.
BC’s process of revamping its core curriculum began in 2012 and was most notably marked by the creation of the Core Renewal Enduring Questions and Complex Problems classes for first-year students. These classes are team taught by two professors and aim to create an interdisciplinary approach to exploring important questions and topics.
Enduring Questions and Complex Problems classes are traditionally only open to first-year students. Classes of only freshmen help students feel more comfortable in their courses and bond with one another more, which can facilitate more open discussions in class.
Core Renewal classes have been opened to sophomores in the past, especially when the program was in its pilot phase from 2015 to 2018. When this happened, sophomores registered, which demonstrates that there is interest in these courses among other class years.
The University should offer similar interdisciplinary classes to upperclassmen. BC’s core curriculum—with 15 core requirements—is relatively large as compared with other liberal arts schools like Northeastern University’s core curriculum of 11 courses and the University of Notre Dame’s 13 courses. Students in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences must also demonstrate intermediate level proficiency in a foreign language. It would take a student starting from scratch four courses to meet this requirement. Students having to budget so many courses into their schedules can make completing the core a challenging process.
BC’s core curriculum is comprehensive, but it would benefit from adding Core Renewal courses for all students. Such interdisciplinary and engaging courses should not be limited just to first-year students. Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses should continue to exist in their current forms, as separation by class year helps to facilitate comfortable and engaging conversations during class. Freshman-only classes are an extremely valuable experience for BC students and an integral part of the first-year experience. Especially during the pandemic, having engaging, mostly in-person discussions has been extremely beneficial to the freshman learning experience. These formative experiences should not stop after students’ freshman year.
The goal of Core Renewal courses is to tackle multifaceted issues that core classes with a singular focus can miss. They facilitate intersectional and critical thinking, which BC recognizes is an advantage of a liberal arts education. BC’s core curriculum should not be seen as boxes to check off, and the interdisciplinary, real-world nature of the Core Renewal courses helps students engage in the core in a more meaningful way.
Fulfilling the cultural diversity requirement is especially important, and Core Renewal courses should not act as stepping stones to skip over difficult conversations that this requirement facilitates. Instead, they should provide a focused lens through which cultural diversity and other core requirements can be questioned and discussed.
As BC students make their way through their four years, the core can weaken and become a less meaningful component to students’ education. Classes like Perspectives or PULSE offered for freshman and sophomore students are strong ways to complete the philosophy and theology requirements. Upperclassmen do not have intensive courses separated by class year, however, and often end up taking less stimulating classes such as Geoscience and Public Policy—known among students as “Rocks for Jocks”—just to fill their core requirements for graduation.
Throughout their education, BC students should be consistently enrolled in challenging and focused courses that keep them engaged. Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses have proved their strength, and expanding access to similar Core Renewal courses would be an effective way to keep all students engaged in their education.