Selected Reviews and Reports for Studying the History of the Curriculum at Williams College, 1970-1996

1973 "Review of Curricular Developments and Discussions of Educational Policy Since 1966/7" : Authored by Don Gifford, this overview describes the expansion of curricular offerings at the College, springing from such innovations as the 4-W-4 calendar, the variety of interdisciplinary programs, and more flexible sequences in achieving majors. With this has come a need for a corresponding increase in student responsibility for making choices. The review also finds, however, a 'passive' or 'extremely conservative' reaction among a great many faculty to the emerging varied curriculum.


1973/4 "Current State of the Curriculum - Brief Interpretation and Implications of the Historical Review" and "Proposals for Clarification of the Present Curriculum" : Sometimes referred to as the Gates report and proposal, these documents from the CEP find that the curriculum generally does not provide students guidance, with the result that there is a sense of 'sequence unraveling' and many Winter Study programs are being seen as 'frivolous'. The Committee's major proposal to reorganize divisional categories in order to reset distribution requirements is withdrawn without a vote. Additional proposals to develop senior courses and multiple methods to achieve a major are passed after protracted debate.


1975/6 "Report of the Committee on the Freshman Year" : Headed by Andy Crider, the Committee worries that the lack of unity and curricular coherence in the proliferation of first year courses is forcing first year students to define their own liberal education. The Committee proposes "Inquiry Courses", concentrating on modes of understanding rather than subject matter. Faculty reaction is reported to range generally from apathetic to hostile.


1977 Two "Reports on General Education" : Submitted by the CEP and its Subcommittee on General Education headed by Mark Taylor, the reports revive issues of core or general education needs and argue that encouragement and coordination of these and other cross-disciplinary courses is needed. These ideas are also echoed in the College's 1977 self-evaluation report.


1979 Ad Hoc Working Group on the Non-Major Curriculum's report "Curriculum at Williams: a report on the non-major segment" : One of the major finding's of the Committee is that there is no College policy that explains or encourages a true liberal arts education. A proposed solution, a year-long 'Great Works' course that would be required of first year students, causes heated discussion and is voted down in May. A proposal to locate, and provide courses for, those students found to be deficient in mathematical and/or English comprehension and writing skills is passed.


1979 "Some Observations and Reservations Concerning the Working Group's Curricular Proposals" : Authored by tenured faculty drawn from all three divisions, this rejoinder to the Ad Hoc Working Group's report questions the necessity of a required course for first year students (which might rob enrollments from departments), what is seen as a superficial and arbitrary syllabus, and the composition and expertise of those faculty who might be teaching such a course.


1985, 1987 James Wood's "The Williams Curriculum, 1973-85: an Overview of Curricular Discussions and Actions During the Presidency of John W. Chandler" (1985) and his "Epilogue: the College Curriculum, 1985-1987" (1987): Like Gifford's review in 1973, this overview recounts major developments and confrontations in the curriculum. Wood concludes that, although few major changes occurred, this period was marked by constant curricular struggle, numerous proposals being discussed and discarded. He sees the struggle emanating, not only from departmental concerns about staffing and increased requirements, but also from stresses between change-resistant and innovation-seeking faculty.


1987 "CEP Report on the Curriculum" and "Report on the Curriculum: the Non-Major" : The Jorling reviews find that generally the major is in good shape but significant proposals are presented regarding the non-major segment. The proposal to increase distribution requirement passes faculty vote, as does the motion to create a tutorial program. A proposal for departmental minors, however, is tabled.


1994/5 CEP "Review of the Williams College Curriculum" : Under the direction of Tom Kohut, the Committee finds that the curriculum "lacks systematic oversight and planning", that the curricular interests of departments are overshadowing those of the College, and that enrollments appear to be driving the rationale for increased FTEs. The Committee's spring 1995 report on curricular priorities advocates several programmatic or topical curricular 'advances' and offers a number of implementation strategies including interdisciplinary courses, minors, basic skills courses, and Division III laboratory course requirements.