June 3, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 65°F


Curricular revisions alter course requirements for students

Departments across Ithaca College have been undergoing major curricular revisions as part of the objectives in the Shape of the College — a review that has not been done on this scale in several decades.

The college is now in phase two, “Restructure and Reorganize,” and phase three, “Growth,” of the Shape of the College recommendations. These recommendations were made in Spring 2021 by the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee and are rooted in the goals of the Ithaca Forever Strategic Plan

Following faculty reductions made to realign the faculty-to-student ratio, one of the many recommendations made was for departments to revise their curricula. The revisions were necessary to match the current faculty with the appropriate number of courses and to better allow students to explore courses outside of their majors, according to the Shape of the College.

All departments have been revising their curricula by following the Framework for Comprehensive Curricular Revisions through methods like reducing the number of credits required in a major, restructuring content into new courses with a different number of credits and increasing options to fulfill a requirement. Melanie Stein, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, said the goal of these revisions is to simplify and reduce obstacles for students and support interdisciplinary education.

“One of the things that came out pretty strongly in terms of student feedback was students expressing concern that the curricula for their various major programs was so packed and so rigid that they weren’t able to explore across the campus,” Stein said.

Many programs submitted revisions between September 2022 and March 2023, which are reflected in the Fall 2023 course catalog. The Curricular Revisions Liaison Committee made up of 11 representatives was created to provide guidance during the process.

Stacia Zabusky, associate provost of academic programs and co-chair of the CRLC, said the committee was disbanded in February once the bulk of the college-wide revisions were completed. She said the Academic Policies Committee reviews the proposals and, if accepted, moves them to the provost but does not provide guidance. 

“​​There were so many proposals that were coming through we thought, ‘Well, maybe it would be helpful to give this guidance to folks so that what they create is really strong, which makes it even easier for everybody to review it and move it along in the process,’ which is a pretty long process to get everything through,” Zabusky said.

Zabusky said over 50 majors and about 40 minors have been revised since the Shape of the College recommendations were released. 

“The faculty … and students also on APC had to read hundreds and hundreds of proposals in a very small amount of time this year,” Zabusky said. “They did incredible work.”

Lauren O’Connell, professor in the Department of Art, Art History, and Architecture and CRLC faculty representative from the School of Humanities and Sciences Curriculum Committee, said some of the revisions were to ensure students only need to take four subjects each semester rather than five.

“There’s a perception that students juggling five subjects every semester is a bit much and that it is causing stress levels to skyrocket,” O’Connell said. “The idea is you’re still getting the same amount of learning, but it’s not quite as fractured or fragmented.”

O’Connell said that maintaining the rigor of programs was discussed extensively. She said some program requirements did not change but for those that did, the idea is to allow students to be able to choose what is best for their career path.

“One baseline that we always came back to is that in reducing requirements, we’re not reducing what’s available to the students,” O’Connell said. 

Junior Mal Mallory, an emerging media major, said some requirements in her major, like computer science, have been removed, which she appreciates. However, she said that as she is now looking to substitute those credits with other electives, she is unsure how they are helping her education.

“I’m not 100% sure how this is going to fully help me with what I want to do once I graduate,” Mallory said. “And then a lot of classes that I needed to graduate are not being offered right now [in the fall]. So, I’m having to pick up random classes that I don’t necessarily need.”

Mallory said that because her remaining requirements are not offered in Fall 2023, the changes to her major complicate her Spring 2024 schedule. 

“If I get considered [part-time] then I’ll probably lose any scholarships or just financial help that I get through the school, which is a bit frustrating because [to be full-time], I’d be paying more for more classes that I technically don’t need, but to be considered full-time I have to take them,” Mallory said. 

Peter Silberman, associate professor and chair in the Department of Music Theory, History, and Composition, said the new curriculum is designed to streamline requirements and better integrate fundamental skills. For example, starting in Fall 2023, what were formerly three introductory courses will now become a four-credit course called Introduction to Music Studies. 

“The idea is to help students integrate and learn those skills in a more realistic environment in their first semester,” Silberman said. 

Silberman said faculty in the Center for Music have been talking about changing the curriculum since 2015 so they had a headstart in the revisions process. 

“It was a lot of work very quickly, but we did succeed in implementing a new curriculum,” Silberman said. “My department is really basing our new curriculum on the one that we’ve been talking about for a few years. … So it wasn’t as much of a stretch for us as it could have been.”

Craig Duncan, chair and professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion, said via email that the changes do not come without consequence; the faculty positions that were cut through attrition — reductions made by not replacing faculty who voluntarily leave — have forced his department to make difficult decisions regarding the curriculum. 

“[Because of attrition and cuts] we will have gone down from seven full-time philosophers in 2019 to five full-time philosophers,” Duncan said via email. “We are simply not able to offer as many sections of philosophy courses as we used to be able to offer prior to the APP process.”

O’Connell said the few number of sections per course stems from the faculty positions that were reduced as a result of the APP process and not as a result of the curricular revisions. 

“Our faculty has decreased in size in recent years so that certainly would have an impact on the number of courses offered, but then it’s kind of made up for by the fact that all the faculty will be teaching a few more credits per year than they used to,” O’Connell said.

Junior Kaitlyn Layne-Holmes, a business administration major, said the School of Business waived requirements for two courses in her major. 

“I’m in this weird imbalance,” Layne-Holmes said. “In the spring semester, I’ll literally only need to take two classes to graduate … and I don’t want to lose my scholarship [by being part-time].”

Layne-Holmes said she does not know what she will do in Spring 2024 because there is not much to choose from for electives. Generally, she said she feels the electives available are not courses that will help prepare her for her career.

“It is unfortunate that classes that I was actually interested in learning in my senior year are being taken away because they feel like it’s not useful to the curriculum at all,” Layne-Holmes said.

In addition to curricular revision, the college is creating a new grid to accommodate more four-credit courses, which many departments have opted to shift to, to reduce course time conflicts among schools. Schedule grid proposals have been made but not accepted.

Duncan said the two programs in his department made different decisions in switching to four-credit courses. The philosophy program made eight of 10 courses offered in Fall 2023 four-credit courses and the major and minor curricula were revised to accommodate that change. He said the religious studies program has decided to continue offering mainly three-credit courses with some four- and one-credit options.

Within the Center for Music, many one- or two-credit courses have been consolidated into four-credit courses as the college transitions to a primarily four-credit model.

To manage the transition from the old to new curriculum, the college suggests that — on a case-by-case basis — departments provide overrides for courses that have changed prerequisites and provide course waivers or substitutions so students can fulfill a requirement with a new course. Departments adopting a four-credit model may have to waive credits for some students in order to allow for program completion.

O’Connell said the new requirements will apply to all incoming students and existing students will have the option to follow it or not depending on what makes sense for their program. 

“I certainly appreciate the anxiety that students would feel about this change,” O’Connell said. “It’s shared with the faculty as well, and it was a difficult process. But I do feel optimistic about its ability to maintain the high quality of our student experience and the education that we offer. … Every proposal we looked at had to be justified on the grounds of, ‘How is this going to improve learning for students?”

Staff Writer Aubren Villasenor contributed reporting.

Lorien Tyne can be reached at ltyne@ithaca.edu