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Hamilton College Faculty Votes For New Curriculum

By Mike Debraggio
Posted March 10, 2000
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A new curriculum that eliminates distribution requirements and adds a unique multidisciplinary seminar at the end of the sophomore year has been approved by the faculty at Hamilton College. The new curriculum will be effective for the class entering Hamilton in the fall of 2001.

"Hamilton's faculty has approved a new plan for liberal education that provides highly motivated students with both the freedom and the responsibility to make educational choices that emphasize breadth and depth," said college President Eugene M. Tobin.

To implement the new curriculum, Hamilton's trustees, meeting on campus March 3-4, enthusiastically endorsed adding five permanent faculty positions to staff the new sophomore requirement. An additional three endowed chairs will result in a total of eight new faculty positions by the start of the 2001-2002 academic year and drive down Hamilton's student-to-faculty ratio to 9-to-1.

The new sophomore program, also called the "gateway," will take the form of a required seminar that emphasizes inter- or multidisciplinary learning and culminates in an integrative project with public presentation.

The college views the gateway as the ultimate liberal arts requirement in that it requires students to synthesize what they have learned in their first two years, Tobin said. "We will, in effect, certify that our students are liberally educated by requiring them to demonstrate publicly their ability to make connections across courses and disciplines."

"This demanding new addition to the Hamilton curriculum," Tobin said, "will require both our faculty and our students to stretch their intellectual boundaries. In particular, our faculty believes that students who must publicly demonstrate and explain what they have learned become more effective critical thinkers and develop the creativity, self-reliance and versatility that will make them valued members of society — not to mention better-prepared students as they begin their concentrations."

"For faculty," Tobin added, "teaching across disciplinary boundaries reaffirms the College's commitment to intellectual breadth and lifelong learning."

At the same time Hamilton's faculty members instituted the new sophomore gateway, they voted to eliminate distribution requirements in favor of a strengthened advising system that focuses students on a series of curricular goals. The faculty also committed to offering special first- and second-year seminars — small, rigorous courses of no more than 16 students that offer intensive interaction among students and between students and instructors by emphasizing writing, speaking and discussion. Hamilton's three-course writing-intensive requirement remains in effect with the adoption of the new curriculum.

Taken in its entirety, the Hamilton College Plan for Liberal Education includes two distinct capstone requirements — one at the end of the general education sequence (The Sophomore Gateway) and one at the conclusion of the concentration (The Senior Program) — that serve as integrating and culminating experiences for students at decisive points in their undergraduate careers. With the addition of the sophomore gateway (the senior program was adopted by the faculty in 1987), Hamilton officials believe the new curriculum may be unique among national liberal arts colleges in systematically assessing the quality of teaching and learning for both general education and the concentration.

"These curricular changes represent for me the most momentous changes at Hamilton since I joined the faculty in 1980," Hamilton President Eugene M. Tobin said. "By addressing general education at the end of the sophomore year, the faculty has masterfully created a rigorous rite of passage that will raise the intellectual tone on campus from the first day students arrive on College Hill."

Hamilton is a highly selective, residential liberal arts college offering its 1,670 students a rigorous liberal arts curriculum. The college is located in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.

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