Inside Academics Part II | Core Curriculum short $400k

Butler University is $400,000 short of funding next year’s core curriculum, the 30-hour set of required classes for all Butler students.

Administrators said they are trying to find creative solutions to fix the problem—such as rewarding students credit for high AP test scores—but the funding shortage could signal future tweaks to the current core, which was instituted fall of 2010.

“It is an open question about whether we can afford the core as it’s currently constituted,” said College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean Jay Howard. “You could make an argument that we can’t afford this one. All of that hasn’t been fully fleshed out.”

Associate Provost Laura Behling, who also serves as the senior core administrator, said it is always a challenge to allocate money.

“Sometimes we have resources in the places we need to have them, and sometimes we don’t,” she said.

Howard said part of the challenge with directing the core is that the authority over the curriculum should come from the bottom up, but administrators control the purse strings.

“Faculty need to control and own the curriculum,” Howard said. “I’m a little cautious as an administrator to start telling the faculty what to do, but there are resource constraints on what can be done.”

Behling said the university is still offering “a robust selection of courses in all of the areas” and is able to staff the number of seats needed, but that it has made them reevaluate staffing.

“I think we’re able to do some interesting things given the way we’re able to staff,” Behling said. “On that level, students are seeing positives in the way we’re able to staff the core curriculum.”

Interim Provost Kathryn Morris said the core looks “pretty good” for the fall, although the university is in the process of hiring four more instructors and adjuncts as needed.

Biology professor Tom Dolan, who serves on the university’s core curriculum committee, said the core requires additional resources even though the university tries to staff it internally.

Staffing decisions are made by individual departments and colleges, but the committee can ask them to “step up and embrace the core,” Dolan said.

“We are in our resource constricted environment, but I think we deliver a fine and unique core,” Dolan said. “We can be vigilant and cover what we offer.”

One change that was approved in Faculty Senate on March 27 was to allow AP credits from high school to fulfill relevant core requirements for incoming freshmen. This would start next spring.

The AP credit policy also would be applied retroactively to all current students.

Sophomore Tako Iwai said that since he achieved at least a four on two AP tests in high school, the new policy would help him and other incoming freshmen.

“It would give me more time to take on a minor now,” Iwai said.

Freshman Carly Messinger said it would have been helpful to know this in high school because she took four AP classes but decided not to take the tests because Butler didn’t recognize them.

“Knowing that now, I would’ve taken the tests,” Messinger said.

Howard said that tweaks like this could begin to solve the core deficit.

“If you accept AP courses as equivalent then you reduce demand,” he said. “With a number of tweaks, we may be able to solve this problem. There’s no single magic bullet that solves everything.”

Dolan said that while accepting AP credit will reduce staff and student numbers in certain areas of the core, that was not its initial intention.

“It’s an evolutionary move that looks at what students are bringing into the core while taking into account that it existed in the old core,” Dolan said.

Also, since Indiana’s public universities must accept AP credit, Butler would be following the state norm.

Morris said that this motion is part of a “fine-tuning process” that attempts to make the core as effective as possible.

It’s not realistic to go back to the old core, Howard said, but he put the authority on the faculty.

“I think it would be a mistake for administrators to top-down say, ‘here’s what’s going to happen,’” Howard said.

Behling said the curriculum should be part of an ongoing conversation, and that it is an important concern.

“Our commitment,” she said, “Is that students get the courses they need over the years they are here in order to graduate.”

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