History of the Core
Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, students working toward any of the four undergraduate degrees certified by the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences began following a totally redesigned core curriculum. The unified core curriculum is designed to impart a shared foundation of knowledge, essential skills and moral and intellectual virtues while providing increased academic flexibility and interdisciplinary learning.
The new Arts & Sciences core curriculum applies to students seeking the Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Science (BS), and Bachelor of Science in Aviation Sciences (BSAS) degrees. More than half of all Baylor undergraduates are now pursuing one of these four degrees.
A Thorough Evaluation
Baylor has a long legacy of excellence in its core curriculum. The University is one of only about two dozen academic institutions nationwide to routinely earn an "A" for the high quality of its core from the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). As Lee C. Nordt, Ph.D., dean of the Baylor University College of Arts & Sciences, explains, “The high ranking that ACTA has given to Baylor’s core curriculum is in part due to the breadth of course offerings we require of our students in the sciences and liberal arts, but since change in our culture and our world is continual, we can’t simply rest on our laurels. We must periodically review our essential academic skillsets and core curriculum, with the goal of assessing what we teach, and why.”
Nordt’s belief that a broad assessment of the Arts & Sciences core was long overdue led him to initiate a formal review process within the College of Arts & Sciences. In 2012, as a major piece of the College’s strategic plan, A&Spire, Nordt appointed an A&Spire subcommittee to —as called for in ProFuturis, Baylor’s long-range strategic vision— “strengthen the undergraduate core curriculum and deepen our excellence in the liberal arts.”
A&Spire was approved by the College’s Council of Chairs in 2014. As a result, Nordt appointed a task force under the leadership of Paul Martens, Ph.D., associate professor of religion and director of interdisciplinary programs for the College of Arts & Sciences, to write a Vision document for the core curriculum. After 13 months of work by the task force, the Council of Chairs unanimously approved the Vision in May 2016.
The next step in the process was the appointment of a 40-member task force led by Blake Burleson, Ph.D. senior lecturer in religion and associate dean for undergraduate studies, strategic and enrollment initiatives in the College of Arts & Sciences, to determine the size and content of the new core based on the Vision. “The appointment of Dr. Burleson to direct the vision document planning process and then the final design of the new core was instrumental to its success,” Nordt said. “His leadership was indispensable for the coordination on numerous committees working simultaneously in different areas that then had to be integrated to create the whole.” The result of the 16-month study by the task force was a recommendation on the components of a new core made to the Arts & Sciences Council of Chairs.
After input on these recommendations was received from faculty in all 25 departments in the College of Arts & Sciences, amendments were introduced. A final vote on the revised core curriculum was taken in October 2017 and passed by a 20-to-4 vote. Soon afterwards, Baylor’s Provost provided final approval.
18 committees totaling more than 180 members, including 22 student members, were tasked with implementing the new core. Before the start of the fall 2018 semester Nordt appointed Lauren Poor, Ph.D., senior lecturer in history, as the first director of the Core, and she was instrumental in implementation efforts. In 2021, Nordt appointed Danielle M. Williams, Ph.D., senior lecturer in English to continue the work of implementing the Vision of the Core.
When the new Arts & Sciences core curriculum took effect in fall 2019, it became a unified core –– meaning that students pursuing each of the four degrees had the same core requirements.
Students are required to complete 15 hours in seven common courses: Chapel; Christian Heritage; Christian Scriptures; Creative Arts Experience (CAE); The U.S. Constitution, Its Interpretation and the American Political Experience; The United States in Global Perspective; and American Literary Cultures.
As Poor explains, “The common courses provide students with a foundation of shared religious and civic knowledge, and the opportunity to develop essential skills that Baylor has identified as central to the mission of the University and to preparing students for a future in worldwide leadership and service through our Christian commitment.”
The CAE common course requires that students attend two approved cultural events on campus during each of six semesters. These events include art and museum exhibits, theater productions, concerts, poetry readings and other cultural events. “The purpose of requiring the CAE is to allow for maturation and growth in out students’ reception, interpretation and appreciation for fine arts and cultural events,” Poor said.
The remaining 35 hours of the core will be fulfilled in distribution list courses –– where students must choose at least one course each from nine different areas: Communication and Media Literacy; Contemporary Social Issues; Fine Arts; Foreign Language and Culture; Formal Reasoning; Literature in Context; Research Writing; Scientific Method I and II; and Lifetime Fitness.
The unified core curriculum is required for freshmen and transfer students; however, students who entered Baylor prior to fall 2019 were given the option to change over to the unified core.
The changes to the core curriculum provide for many advantages. The expansion of required common courses from five to seven will allow students to share more vocabularies, texts, and experiences in common with their classmates. The unified core also has multidisciplinary courses and upper-level courses that were rarely available in the previous core. “Our new core curriculum is better because it is now more intentional in its course offerings, and how the courses are sequenced and interconnected,” Nordt said. “It will be more impactful than before.”
Students also have more flexibility in course selection for their general education requirements and in their elective areas. For example, the former requirements for the BA and BS degrees called for between 65 to 79 hours of general education –– comprising one of the largest core requirements in the United States. By contrast, the new unified core requires 50 hours –– giving students approximately 20 to 30 more hours to take additional electives or pursue second majors, minors or certificates.
A Broadening Focus
While the unified core will apply to all Baylor undergraduates within the College of Arts & Sciences, other Baylor academic units have mapped on to the unified core to varying degrees.
“These units are interested in the flexibility the new core provides for students to pursue double majors, minors and even certificates, as well as the unified nature around which the courses and experiences were intentionally chosen to best reflect Baylor’s greater mission,” Poor said.