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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Faculty to reevaluate credit requirements, create task force to revise curriculum goals

Amidst proposals from the Student Government Association (SGA) to change the credit limit from 36 to 34 and institute a climate distribution requirement, the faculty Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) will appoint a taskforce to revise curriculum goals during the 2024-25 academic year. 

The task force decision comes after faculty discussed reducing the credit limit, adjusting the distribution requirements and how to best provide developmental support for students at the April faculty meeting. According to Associate Professor of Theater and Faculty Council member Dana Yeaton, however, an impulse for curricular changes had been building for a while. 

“I get the impression there is a fair amount of momentum behind all of this,” Yeaton told The Campus. “There is some sense among faculty that it is almost overdue.”

Attendees at last month’s faculty meeting split off into three breakout rooms to discuss the topics of support for students with less pre-college preparation in key academic areas, the credit reduction and academic distribution requirements. Bert Johnson, professor of political science and a member of faculty council, said conversations around these topics at the April meeting led to a feeling of need for broader curricular changes, prompting the creation of the taskforce. 

While the taskforce begins to assess the possibility of changing distribution requirements and implementing more developmental support over the next year, according to Johnson, there is also the opportunity for more immediate change. 

Johnson described the possibility that the faculty could introduce motions to reduce credit requirements from 36 to 34 and revise the AP credit policy as early as the September faculty meeting, the first one of the new academic year. From there, faculty would be able to vote on the proposals at the subsequent full faculty meeting in November. 

In the discussion room on the credit reduction, faculty brought up the fact that such a credit reduction had been considered back in 2004, when faculty voted to change from requiring four to two Winter Term classes, but it did not end up being taken up at the time. Attendees cited the fact that other schools with a Winter Term, such as Williams College and Oberlin College, only require 32 credits. 

SGA Academic Affairs Committee representatives present at the discussion described the benefits of a credit reduction in providing more flexibility for students during a challenging semester mentally, or during a semester when they are taking a particularly intensive class, such as writing a thesis. The representatives stated that they had considered proposals to adjust the credit/no credit policy or other alternate grading modes, but ultimately decided a credit reduction was the easiest solution to achieve the goals of greater academic flexibility. 

Faculty members and administrators at the meeting expressed support for the greater leeway the change would provide for students who need it. 

“Our admissions department is capable of changing the demographics of this campus faster than we’re capable of adjusting our student support systems and our expectations,” one person said. “And this is a moment when we could quite quickly make a meaningful difference for those students that we are choosing as an institution to bring here.”

Still, faculty stated concerns that the credit reduction could eventually lead to a faculty reduction, narrow a student’s academic focus if they take fewer courses overall, or simply give students more time to “take Jell-O shots.”

The discussion room on academic distribution requirements talked about the disparity between the current distribution requirements, established in the early 1990s, and the college’s learning goals. Faculty expressed disappointment with the fact that they were not given the chance to vote on the new institutional goals – known as the Four Fluencies – which were added to the college website last year. 

Faculty present noted that of the eight distribution requirements, students are most likely to skip language, science or literature. They described the possibility of requiring all eight distribution requirements, instituting a mandatory language requirement, or creating thematic distribution requirements, such as AI, climate and social justice. 

Members of the SGA Environmental Sustainability Committee were present at the meeting to discuss their proposal for a climate distribution requirement. The committee had been doing research on such requirements at peer institutions, talking to faculty and garnering support for the proposed distribution requirement from environmental groups across campus throughout the academic year, Maya Millner ’26.5, a member of the committee, told The Campus.  

According to Millner, the committee looked at how courses across a wide range of departments, from Apocalyptic Writing to The Chemistry of Climate, could fit into the proposed distribution requirement. Millner added that she found the discussion of the climate distribution at the April faculty meeting to be productive, and she hopes it is picked up by the taskforce looking at curriculum revisions. 

“We want to make sure that climate education doesn’t get left behind,” she said. 

The third discussion room on developmental support for student success and access discussed solutions to the fact that more students are coming to Middlebury without necessary prerequisite knowledge for introductory classes in subjects such as calculus and chemistry. They characterized the academic curriculum as having been designed around the expectation that students come to Middlebury with a prep-school knowledge level, and increasingly more students are from diverse backgrounds makes this curriculum design flawed. 

“If we are going to broaden our scope to bring in students who have more diverse educational backgrounds, then it is on us to make sure we have the programs and the curriculum,” Yeaton said. 

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Some proposed ways to provide more developmental support included expanding the program — which invites a cohort of first-year students to come to Middlebury early and get introduced to specific professors and courses — increasing support for students in STEM courses through the Center for Teaching, Learning and Research (CTLR) and adjusting alternative grading options. 

Across the board, faculty described the need for reevaluation of the curriculum to meet current needs and learning goals of the college, given that it has been at least a decade since any substantial changes have been implemented. 

“We have to look at the moving target that is our student body and the curriculum,” Yeaton said. 

Maggie Reynolds

Maggie Reynolds '24 (she/her) is the Editor in Chief.  

Maggie previously served as the Senior Local Editor, a Local Section Editor, and a Staff Writer. She spent this past J-term interning for VTDigger, covering topics from affordable housing in Addison County to town government scandals. She also interned for Seven Days VT as an arts & culture reporter summer 2022 and as a news reporter for the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY summer 2021.   

Maggie is majoring in History and minoring in Political Science and Spanish. She was a three-year member of the Women's Swimming and Diving team. Maggie enjoys running, hiking, and iced maple lattes.