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Drake’s recent curriculum cuts: behind the scenes

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Undergraduate students will have fewer requirements to complete before graduation, after recent decisions by the Drake University Faculty Senate. 

The senate voted to eliminate three Areas of Inquiry (AOI) requirements and the Blueprint for Success course requirement, as well as other changes to the curriculum. The curriculum revisions are expected to make a difference toward Drake’s goal to balance its budget. 

Fewer curriculum requirements could result in more students picking up a second major, according to Matt Bruinekool, chair of the Faculty Senate Budget Committee. Bruinekool said making changes to the curriculum will hopefully result in fewer changes made to academic programs, which include majors and minors. The Times-Delphic reported that Drake has laid out a timeline to review its academic programs and decide which to keep, improve and eliminate. 

“Students come for programs,” Bruinekool said in the Faculty Senate meeting on Dec. 6. “They don’t come for Drake curriculum, and that’s why we started with the Drake curriculum.”

Despite the budget pressures, Faculty Senate President Carrie Dunham-LaGree said the changes “also have pedagogical curriculum value” at the Dec. 13 meeting. 

Current students can choose whether or not to opt into curricular cuts, which will take effect in fall 2024. In an email to students, Provost Sue Mattison said if a student opts in, they will have to follow any changes made to their major, minor and concentration requirements for the 2024-2025 academic year. 

“Therefore, this decision should be made in careful consultation with your advising specialist, faculty advisor or college or school dean’s office to ensure your path to graduation does not change,” Mattison said in the email. 

Mattison said the curricular changes apply to all undergraduate students, with the exception of Bright College students and students graduating in May or August 2024. 

How will the curriculum change?

Faculty Senate eliminated three AOI requirements: one of the two Historical Foundations courses, one of the two Scientific Literacy courses and the Critical Thinking course.

A laboratory course for the Scientific Literacy requirement is still required. Students can take either a physical science or a life science course instead of both, according to Hockman. 

The senate received recommendations for what curriculum changes to make from the Faculty Senate Budget Committee. In the Dec. 6 Faculty Senate meeting, Faculty Senate President Carrie Dunham-LaGree gave insight into the committee’s thought process. She said the Historical Foundations and Scientific Literacy have two course requirements, and almost every major has a course that meets the Critical Thinking AOI. 

Senators also voted to no longer require Drake’s colleges and schools to have a capstone requirement. Individual departments and faculty have the freedom to require a capstone or not, Hockman said over email to the TD.

“Each academic program is unique and has different needs,” Hockman said. “Some programs greatly benefit from a capstone, while others may find more value in other types of culminating projects, presentations, exams or theses.”

Additionally, senators eliminated the requirement for first-year students to take the Blueprint for Success course. It might be replaced by changes to the First-Year Seminar curriculum and Welcome Weekend, according to Associate Provost for Campus Equity and Inclusion Terrance Pendleton. 

The senators also voted to update Drake’s equity and inclusion designation so that students are required to complete it in their major. Another successful motion recommended that the Deputy Provost for Academic Affairs assign First-Year Seminar courses to only full-time continuous faculty as part of their regular teaching load. Hockman said the recommendation would be followed.

In her email to students, Mattison said it’s possible additional changes will be made to the Drake curriculum before the end of the semester. 

Responding to budget challenges

The curricular changes will play a part in addressing the budget challenges Drake is currently facing. In an interview, Arts and Sciences Faculty Senator Faber McAlister discussed advantages and disadvantages to making curricular changes with this level of urgency. 

“We’re not used to working on this timetable with curricular change,” McAlister said. “There are some advantages, like sometimes curricular change moves a little too slow. And it seems good that students could start benefiting from it soon…[Changes to curriculum can take] sometimes longer than several years to get going.” 

McAlister doesn’t think anyone wanted to have this many curricular changes happen on this timetable, but “that is a feature of the situation that we’re in.” 

Faculty senators received recommendations for what changes to make to the curriculum from the Faculty Senate Budget Committee, in a report dated Nov. 17. The senate passed a somewhat different set of curriculum changes on Dec. 13. 

The TD asked Hockman how much money the curricular revisions will save for Drake. Drake is working to determine budget savings “from reducing curricular dependence on adjuncts, overloads, and visiting faculty,” Hockman said.

Drake is currently aiming to balance its operating budget for fiscal year 2026, according to a Drake internal website called “Shaping Our Future.” Drake gave students access to the website, which gives information about the budget issue and Drake’s response. Declining enrollment is leading to budget adjustments in colleges and universities across the country, the website says. 

Professors debate curriculum change

Most of the Faculty Senate’s decisions passed by an overwhelming majority, including the three AOI requirements that have been eliminated. Some supporters of eliminating the Critical Thinking AOI said that Drake covers critical thinking learning outcomes elsewhere, so an AOI is not necessary. 

Arts and Sciences Senator Melissa Klimaszewski told the Faculty Senate that as a department, the history department is “not really opposing” the elimination of one of the history requirements “in the spirit of shared sacrifice.” 

Natural Science Senator Jill Allen said her natural science constituents didn’t have a consensus on this issue. She asked the senate to consider whether eliminating one of the Scientific Literacy AOIs was too premature. Losing the distinction between physical and life sciences would “almost ensure” students can’t meet the current learning outcomes, she said. 

To make her point, Allen first mentioned two particular learning outcomes: “articulating [the] relationship between society and the natural world and being stewards of the natural world.”

“I think we need physical science there,” Allen said. “To combat things like global warming [and poor] water quality as notable examples. And in the same breath, if you want to contribute to living organisms, we need to appreciate how humans function. From genes, to cells, to brain and behavior. And we really need life sciences to be able to contribute to things like the pandemic, vaccine development and reducing mental health crises.” 

Offering a counterpoint, Humanities Senator Megan Brown said Allen’s argument about the physical and life sciences could be made about other fields as well. She said that people think differently about fields within the humanities, such as rhetoric and literary study, but students are not required to take a class in each of those fields.

Social Sciences Senator Debra DeLaet said she was compelled by the idea of a Science AOI that helps students “understand the big scientific questions.” She was unsure whether the current Scientific Literacy AOIs are accomplishing this. A student taking a course about psychology won’t learn about the science of climate change, she noted.

DeLaet raised the idea of making fundamental changes to the Scientific Literacy AOI in the future. In an interview, she said it would be better to not have larger curricular discussions during a crisis. 

“Some of these bigger, more innovative, potentially inspirational conversations about how we can better achieve outcomes that create globally engaged citizens as part of our mission — I’m all here for those conversations,” DeLaet told the Faculty Senate.

How will diversity, equity and inclusion programs change?

The motion to eliminate the Blueprint for Success course requirement was decided by the closest vote of the meeting. Opponents of keeping the course prevailed with 65% of the vote, according to Hockman.

In Faculty Senate, senators expressed different views on Blueprint’s impact on retention — whether or not a Drake student chooses to stay at the university. According to Hockman, Blueprint has not existed long enough for Drake to determine retention outcomes.

Senators also talked about diversity, equity and inclusion. School of Journalism Senator Ryan Stoldt sees Blueprint as one of the few areas that provides a coordinated message around DEI that reaches incoming students that students don’t have a chance to engage in elsewhere. He said he has served on the JEDI (Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) committee for the last two years. 

“I know that in the JEDI community, we’ve had a lot of conversations about where incoming students are able to become familiar with conversations around DEI, and how to make the campus more inclusive through that, especially for students who have less experience in more diverse situations,” Stoldt said. “I know that in the last year or so, we’ve made changes in Blueprint for Success to bring more of that in.”

Opposing arguments included students expressing dissatisfaction with the course and/or faculty not wanting to keep it. 

“My experience talking to first-year students is that they not only don’t find it particularly valuable, but that it may actually be counterproductive because they find it insulting,” Professor Jennifer McCrickerd said, “and they find it talking about stuff that they think should be so obvious that it’s unclear to them why they’re spending time in a class talking about it.”

Drake colleges and schools can choose to offer Blueprint, according to Hockman. Pendleton, the associate provost for campus equity and inclusion, said he is not aware of any plans for this. He said that could change in the future. 

“Although I am saddened by the elimination of Blueprint for Success, I recognize the necessity of challenging budget decisions to prioritize Drake University’s overall support for its community,” Pendleton said over email. 

Senators raised the ideas of parts of Blueprint becoming part of the First-Year Seminar curriculum or making changes to Welcome Weekend. According to Pendleton, the University is currently “in the planning stages of investigating ways” to bring some of the DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice) components from Blueprint to the First-Year Seminar curriculum and Welcome Weekend. 

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3 Comments

  1. John Agliata February 12, 2024

    As an alum (JO ’96), I am reading with interest the coverage of the budget issues the university is facing. I am late to the game, admittedly, and am catching up by reading the fine coverage in the T-D.

    What I haven’t seen — and if I’ve missed it, please let me know where it so I can read it — is an explainer as to why Drake found itself with such a big budget problem. Is this unusual compared to other similar universities? What decisions were made in the years leading up to this shortfall that showed bad prognostication on revenue vs. expenses, who is being held accountable for those decision, and how are things changing such that those bad prognostications won’t be made again?

    As an alum who is regularly asked to give money to my alma matter, I’m extremely hesitant about donating to any institution that can’t demonstrate financial responsibility and accountability. Does such an explainer about how Drake ended up in this situation exist and, if so, where can I find it?

    Reply
    1. Andrew Kennard February 16, 2024

      Hi John! This is Andrew, the reporter of this piece. I’ve included a link to a TD article that might be helpful. Perhaps we’ll come out with an article in the future that will provide more answers. Feel free to continue letting us know your thoughts in the comments or over email.

      https://timesdelphic.com/2023/11/budget-town-hall-raises-difficult-questions-about-faculty-and-programs/

      Thank you!
      Andrew Kennard

      Reply
  2. Paul LeFort February 15, 2024

    Drake is in solid standing with exceptional leadership. The right sizing effort described in this fine piece of reporting is an expected and natural reaction to a systemic and seismic shift in population and enrollment. A modest google search will provide immediate context. For example:
    https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/12/18/fewer-young-men-are-in-college-especially-at-4-year-schools/
    For a detailed view of how and what Drake is doing to address these structural changes in higher ed, contact the Alumni Office. Now is the time for strong alumni to increase their support of our Alma mater, not pull back.
    A proud Bulldog!
    SJMC ‘91

    Reply

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