AU Core Curriculum Blog
What is a Liberal Arts Perspective?
What is the Undergraduate Core Curriculum?
The ideal of the core curriculum at Ashland University, consistent with that of the liberal arts, involves the development of the wise person. This requires certain competencies, which in turn require a curriculum with certain essential components. These components in turn require a variety of teaching formats to develop those essential competencies.
In general any core curriculum seeks to get students to be able “to think.” Suffice it to say, “to think” is to not merely do one kind of thing, but a variety of different things, the most important of which find representation in the core, understood as modes of inquiry. All Ashland students eventually designate a major in a specialized discipline, but the core should be thought of as the undergraduate common major of the university. All undergraduate students have to take 44 credit hours across a variety of areas to satisfy the requirements of the Undergraduate Core Curriculum.
Top Ten: The Core Demystified
(Responses to frequently asked questions about the Core, by Dr. William Vaughan, University Core Director)
The Undergraduate Core Curriculum is the foundation of the Ashland University education. It is a requirement of all undergraduates that they satisfy between 44-60 hours of the core curriculum. The core is comprised of 11 different areas of inquiry, including logic, mathematics, history, communications, aesthetics, natural sciences, wellness, humanities, composition, social sciences and religion. There is also a new initiative designed to internationalize our curriculum called the Global Passport Strategies (GPS) program which offers language, travel and coursework options.
The core curriculum is important because it orients your thinking to university levels. It involves preparing you to be a wise person, on a par with other university-educated people. The wise person orients their thinking toward the capacities and inclinations for rational action, on the basis of conclusions that have been derived by rational methods and grounded in rational principles. In other words, to successfully complete the core curriculum prepares you to think with reason, to act with skill in the conduct of practical affairs, to live a morally-reflective life with the aid of good character and habits. The conception of a wise person thus yields essential general competencies: empirical and normative knowledge, theoretical skills and principles, and practical skills of wellness and evaluation. These competencies never become technologically outdated.
If you were to ask for a one-sentence definition of a liberal arts course, it is fundamentally that no premises are exempt from criticism in a core course. When you are already in your major, you have to accept the boundaries and parameters of that discipline as a given. In the professional programs, and in a lot of majors, those paradigms must be accepted uncritically. But most core courses, to varying degrees, teach you to think and question in ways that exceed traditional boundaries and parameters. These critical thinking skills are of intrinsic value and have been part of a university-education for centuries.
All Ashland students eventually designate a major in a specialized discipline, but the core should be thought of as the common major for all undergraduates at the university. Higher education tends to specialize, and that is necessary in research and professional advancement. Securing credentials for such advancement is important, but we should not lose sight of the fact that over-specialization also tends to blind us to more general ways of thinking. Your specialized major is a little like seeing through binoculars: it allows you to see an amazing distance, but often it prevents you from seeing what is right next to you! The core teaches you to see in more general terms and in larger contexts. You can still get the best of both of those worlds here at Ashland.
The Core courses are what the faculty as a whole have determined are critical components to becoming a university-educated person, over-and-above any particular major or college or program. Because the University sees the skills developed through the Core courses as critical to success in any career, the undergraduate core curriculum is part of the University requirements for graduation. These requirements are spelled out to all incoming students. Thus any student is only "bound" to them to the degree to which they freely chose to attend Ashland University. Regarding "generalism," the professions and pure academic research areas at Ashland have made enormous strides. Our recent investments in facilities get students started on a path toward becoming experts in a variety of fields. The challenges of the modern world, however, also require "specialists of the general" who can understand the larger whole, can maneuver within and comprehend greater contexts of value, and serve as a counterweight to the dominance of narrowly trained experts. That is what the core curriculum here tries to foster.
I once had an incoming freshman make the above comment to me at a freshman drive-in event and I mischieviously asked him: "Do you love your mother?" The student replied "Yes." I then asked him "Why? She is not in your major! Do you love music or art or poetry or religious ideas or discussing important ideas or historical events or great works of literature? Why bother with these if they are not in your major either?" The point is that some of the most important things in human life may not happen to be in your major. The undergraduate core curriculum calls for a level of thinking that can transcend the "major-o-centrism" that often accompanies specialized training or research.
Satisfying our core requirements is a tremendous intellectual accomplishment, but it is only the beginning - it is a path toward wisdom. One could do all sorts of things to make things "easier." Professors could give students all A's in core courses - that would make it easier. Or we could exempt students from the core entirely - that would make it easier. Or we could stop hiring top PhD's from the finest programs in the country. Or we could reduce the work-load by preventing the reading of books for all university core classes. The fact is that Ashland's core is marked by rigorous academic inquiry. I would invite students to never think of the core as something to "test out of" or just something to be "gotten through" on their way to something else, but as something to be savored. It would be the equivalent of testing out of friendships with others so as to not have to participate in them.
Ashland University is a University, not a trade-school. In many respects, a University education is much more comprehensive and as a result, much more challenging than any trade-school. Think of it in canoeing terms: One does not develop the skills of a proficient canoeist just by being handed a paddle and a canoe. One does not become an autonomous thinking person merely by being formed and swept by the dominant currents of various world-events, or even majors or professions. One must be ready to challenge and be challenged on all intellectual fronts. In that regard our core curriculum prepares one both "for" and "against" one's future career.
The overwhelming number of students on the campus easily accommodate the core in their schedules. The present core was established in 1999. It has not grown significantly in the past decade. It comprises between 44-60 hours of credits, depending on which paths you take, and so is less than half of the required credit hours to graduate from the University. It is also very similar in size and scope to many other schools in Ohio and around the country. Some Ashland University programs, however, have been approved to include over 90 or 100 credit hours. These programs are valuable and an important part of Ashland University, but students need to know what they are signing up for when they major in such a program. Our University presumes that students have made this choice on their own, and accept the challenge that it brings, without seeking to "get out" of core requirements as a result.
The University has worked hard, in response to student demand, to offer a wide variety of courses in most of the core areas. Students thus have many courses, sections, times, and professors to choose from. With such a menu of choices will invariably come differences of levels of experience, with some courses being percievd to be more difficult or more time-consuming than others. All of these differences even out in the end. With regard to transfer students, the University has very specific policies governing what courses taken elsewhere count as equivalencies with the core. Students are encouraged to meet with their adviser and get permission from the registrar to transfer in core equivalent courses prior to taking a course elsewhere than at Ashland.