Goal #4: Carleton will model the interdisciplinary approaches needed for students to address the complex challenges of the future

Action 11

Faculty will be charged with reviewing graduation requirements to ensure balance, coherence, inclusiveness, and equity.

An excellent liberal arts education is defined by its breadth and integration, and Carleton’s graduation requirements seek to ensure that students encounter many different disciplines in addition to their major. In addition, the global experiences offered through off-campus study provide a particular lens that students can connect to their on-campus coursework.

In the Advancing the Liberal Arts Task Force discussions, both students and faculty expressed a concern that students sometimes see graduation requirements as a box-checking exercise, and do not have a clear sense of how the current requirements come together into an integrated set of educational goals. In addition, many faculty expressed concern about imbalances in enrollment in programs across the college, with students increasingly clustering in a small number of majors.

A review of Carleton’s graduation requirements, including institutional learning outcomes and the senior integrative exercise known as “comps,” will provide an opportunity to study how the current requirements drive enrollment patterns, to consider how they satisfy our goal of broad exposure to the liberal arts, and to assess their impact on the goals of the IDE Plan.

The recent Higher Learning Commission Year 4 Assurance Review Report completed in June 2023 endorses the recommendation of IDE Plan strategy 4.1.1 that the Education and Curriculum Committee (ECC) “review the Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs) and the graduation requirements to ensure that they reflect the values of inclusion, diversity, and equity, and propose changes or additions as needed,” noting that “this strategy would strengthen the ILOs and potentially the graduation requirements.”

In addition, strategy 3.1.8 of the IDE Plan recommends that faculty “examine disparities in curriculum structure that hinder student progression through major/minor requirements and consider increasing opportunities for additional skill building throughout the curriculum (e.g., Math 101, Q-bits, courses with problem solving, pre-algebra, English 109).” As we continue to broaden the reach of our admissions efforts, it will be important to understand the varied preparation of students and the curricular pathways needed to allow them to explore all parts of the curriculum.

Action 12

The Provost’s Office will work with faculty and the Perlman Learning and Teaching Center to develop structures to better support current interdisciplinary work as well as future pedagogical collaboration and innovation.

Curricular innovation has long been a hallmark of teaching excellence at Carleton. Carleton’s strong national reputation for undergraduate teaching reflects not only the dedication of individual faculty, but also the faculty’s adoption of innovative college-wide curricular structures like the Writing Portfolio program and comps.

Many faculty members have also created individual opportunities to collaborate across or within courses, including in off-campus study programs, and a number of interdisciplinary programs bring together different approaches in creative ways that can provide exposure to contributing disciplines.

Currently, however, interdisciplinarity at Carleton is more visible at the individual course level than at the curricular level. Carleton has devoted limited resources to foster and support inter- or cross-disciplinary teaching innovation. Formal interdisciplinary programs do not have the level of dedicated staffing and programmatic support needed to ensure consistency and growth.

Support of interdisciplinarity and innovation may involve not only expansion of the funds necessary to make such innovation sustainable, but also support for the commitment of faculty time to ongoing pedagogical and curricular experimentation.

Additional faculty FTEs (full-time equivalents) will likely be needed to add capacity for interdisciplinary work across the faculty. Additional FTEs could serve interdisciplinary programs or add teaching capacity to departments whose faculty contribute multiple courses to interdisciplinary programs.

Action 13

We will consider piloting a new team-taught course cluster, Activating the Liberal Arts, designed to introduce students to the value of multidisciplinary learning.

A student’s entry to Carleton should lay the foundation for their understanding of the need to combine STEM, humanities, and other disciplines in order to address critical challenges such as climate change, AI, or economic inequality. We will explore the development of a cross-disciplinary pilot program that could be built around the first-year Argument and Inquiry courses, or alternatively as a separate sophomore year cluster. This would broaden the range of departments and disciplines students encounter in their first years at Carleton, help students understand how the challenges of today can be addressed through a variety of disciplines, and cultivate reflective and integrative liberal arts habits of thinking early on.

Action 14

We will strengthen student engagement in the humanities.

The humanities play an essential role in a robust liberal arts education. While there are always shifts in enrollment patterns over time, the consistent decline in humanities enrollments seen at Carleton, as at other colleges and universities, over the last decade means that students may have a more limited experience of these foundational areas of study. It is important to provide students with many opportunities to appreciate the richness and relevance of fields dedicated to understanding human thought, creation, and culture.

Recognizing that student interest is often sparked by the kinds of hands-on research experiences available to students in the sciences, Carleton’s Humanities Center has recently begun exploring ways to create experiential learning opportunities in the humanities analogous to its successful Student Research Partnerships program supporting faculty-student research collaborations, and the existing Digital Humanities initiative. New approaches might include pursuing a humanities cohort program similar to the FOCUS curriculum-based cohort program in the sciences, and expanding funding for other types of humanities practica or internships. At the same time, the Humanities Center will continue its longstanding mission of support for faculty research and scholarship in the humanities. An investment of additional resources, such as identifying or creating an expanded physical footprint for the center, or adding more staff support, could help advance these initiatives.

With strength on both sides of what has traditionally been seen as “Two Cultures,” and a notable spirit of faculty collaboration, Carleton is distinctly positioned to demonstrate the importance of understanding issues from multiple disciplinary perspectives. The Humanities Center has already sought funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to plan and launch a Curricular Bridge project that would pair faculty members across divisions to collaboratively teach an array of special courses that cross disciplinary and divisional boundaries and help students see the many connections between STEM fields and the humanities.