A Brief Core History

A pile of 20-odd year old memos and some informal historical anecdotes I've heard indicate the following:



Before 1985, we did not have a "Core" curriculum. That is, we had no set of classes designated "Core" in the catalog. There were required courses and free electives from the pre-existing academic categories of Math, Psych. Phil. and so on. The Core Curriculum was a set of guidelines within which students could select these courses:

Area # of Courses Credits
1 3 9
2 2 x 3 = 6 18
3 4 12
Theology 2 6
Free 5 15
Total 20 60

For details, see the old Core brochure (poor quality scan)

page1    page2    page3    page4    page5   page6

As for the course descriptions, one would have to look into some old catalogs. That sounded like even less fun than writing this up, so I resisted the temptation. An interesting comment made by Ed Napieralski was that the core was empty. (Take another look at the brochures above.)

These 60 credits combined with a target 60 credits for a major, yielded the magical, mythical, mirthful 120 credits needed to graduate. Where did that number come from? Maybe tradition, maybe Scripture (most likely Leviticus or Numbers....) but 120 was then and still is the standard for most colleges.

Dissatisfaction with the Core

The chief complaints about the then core curriculum were:

The earliest memo I have is a communication to the faculty from the C&T Committee (Chaired by Margaret Corgan) from April 10, 1980. The points above stand out clearly. Also noteworthy is that this memo calls on ALL to get involved, especially in DIVISIONAL MEETINGS. Amazingly enough, the divisions responded. What's crucial here is that the Core did not develop in the isolated C&T Committee. The faculty at large was involved. This made it slow, yes, but thorough. 

Keep in mind that for us in 2004-2005-(?) the goal is perhaps a revision of an already solid Core, so don't despair.

There was an initial effort to standardize syllabi for Core courses so that students could easily determine; where the course fit in the core requirements, what skill and concepts would be developed, what skills and concepts were expected of students at the outset. Then Dean, Denton May helped the C&T Committee enforce this reformation of the syllabi. What began here was the notion of course goals and objectives.#goalsobj Essentially, still letting the students choose all their courses, but giving them more accurate information up front.

It was quickly decided that just revamping the syllabi wasn't enough. Proposals for a whole new curriculum were drafted. The Humanities division in particular formed its own group to form a proposal. There was also an Ad Hoc committee of the Faculty Meeting. The Science division critiqued those proposals. The C&T Committee came up with a compromise between these two main proposals.

The "New" Core

For an approximately 4 year period the exact form of the New Core was debated. The late Don Farmer (after whom the Sheehy-Farmer Campus Center derives half its name) then "Director of Planning", later VPAA and previously full-time professor of History, was the intellectual glue that bound the new effort together. Drawing on the strengths of all the proposals, he largely provided the cohesive vision for the redesigned Core, but the details were slowly being hammered out in the C&T committee, in personality conflicts and in turf battles across campus.

Realizing the wisdom in the old aphorism, The perfect is the enemy of the good,  then President Lackenmeier demanded that SOMETHING be implemented. So what was ready in 1985 became the New Core. It has been tweaked a few times since, one of the major changes being the addition of Core 115, the Effective Oral Communications course. What we have now is largely what was implemented then.

Very few details of these old turf battles and personality conflicts remain in documents (small wonder, huh?). I'll add, to this document, as many details as I can gather. I urge long-time faculty members who were present for all this excitement to add their comments when possible to guide us through another review and possibly reinvention process. Your wisdom can help us avoid some of the same mistakes. That of, of course, will free up our time to create refreshing new mistakes, oh, and perhaps some new good ideas as well. Maybe there was something that some wanted to do in 1985 but just wasn't possible but might be now? Were there some compromises in 1985 that perhaps compromised too much? There were barely-spoken (or, at least, barely documented) issues that were of major importance, e.g. staffing implications.

Need More Info?

If you want to see some of the original documents, please contact me. Also, if you would like me to further illuminate some of the points above, let me know.


Thanks to Ed Napieralski, Donald Grimes and Margaret Corgan for finding and explaining to me some of the original documents used in writing this. Don Stevens has also pointed out to me that his collection of notes and documents from this era are available in the Library archives. If we really need to dig deep, we have that available to us.


In the language current at King’s, an “objective” is just that, an objective measure of the student’s knowledge. That is, for a math course an objective might be “The student will learn to calculate the mean, variance and standard deviation for any set of data.” This, of course, can be unambiguously determined via an exam. A “goal” is a more subjective thing. For example, the same math course may have a goal the following: “The student will develop an awareness of the use of statistics in the world around them and the ability to understand its uses and misuses.” This is laudable, but hard to test conclusively. The thinking here is that we must tell the students, up front, what we expect of them, so that they may be in the best possible position to see the course in the context of our broader educational goals.