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Interim President Hunter Rawlings requested faculty input on a core curriculum

September 14, 2016

Interim President Rawlings Calls for Review of Undergraduate Curriculum

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Interim President Hunter Rawlings called on Cornell faculty to re-examine the University’s undergraduate curriculum, stressing the need to teach students to “think for themselves” and use “intellectual and moral reasoning.”

In his opening remarks at the Faculty Senate’s September meeting, Rawlings called 2016 a “good year” to discuss Cornell’s undergraduate offerings, citing both the College of Arts and Sciences’ current initiative to review its curriculum and his personal interest in promoting liberal education.

Several faculty members agreed upon the need for discussion, raising concerns over decreasing numbers of Arts and Sciences faculty members, paired with an increasing student focus on “careerism.”

A “number of faculty members” have shared their interest in promoting courses geared toward all Cornell undergraduates, regardless of college or major, Rawlings said.

These foundational courses would focus on information necessary for all students, including statistics, data science and critical thinking. Rawlings also raised questions about whether these classes should be only encouraged or mandated for students, and if all of the University’s colleges should aim to offer a liberal education.

“I leave these as questions, not answers,” he said. “At the current time I do not think it is possible to answer them because the faculty of Cornell has not, to my knowledge, opined on the subject.”

Rawlings also stressed that his comments were suggestions and not demands, calling the curriculum “a faculty matter,” and emphasizing that his interim appointment means he will not have a long-term role in curriculum changes.

Prof. Charles Van Loan, computer science, then introduced the senate to new features on the Dean of Faculty website, which he remodeled over the summer “to make everything much more visible and democratic and participatory.”

The changes include making transcripts and resolutions available from meetings available online, descriptions and contact information for senate committees and a “stay informed” page that provides information on initiatives like the re-evaluation of the academic calendar.

“The whole message here is that you can pay attention and be as involved as you want,” Van Loan said.

Finally, the senate discussed selection criteria for a new university librarian, who will replace Carl A. Kroch University librarian Anne Kenney in April 2017.

A committee has been created to fill the position and is currently identifying candidates within and outside of Cornell, according to Gretchen Ritter ’83, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“We’re certainly looking for a librarian who will both be attentive to traditional book collections and someone who is looking forward, to digital archives in curation,” Ritter said.

She added that a candidate should also have connections to library systems worldwide.

“We need to have someone who is both very attuned to the needs and interests of faculty, and someone who has an international and national profile who is connected to some of those broader networks of conversation,” Ritter said.