Columbia and Ursinus College are teaming up to study and improve their core curricula, powered by a $300,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Ursinus, a liberal arts college in a Philadelphia suburb with an enrollment of about 1,700 students, created its main core course in 2002, more than 80 years after Columbia instructors taught the first Contemporary Civilization classes. Now, the two schools will collaborate, with the Mellon Foundation grant funding visits from Ursinus professors and students to Columbia, and vice versa.
Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis said in an email that Ursinus used “the Columbia College model” to develop its main core course, a year-long class called the Common Intellectual Experience.
The CIE syllabus includes a combination of texts that are taught in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization.
“We are extremely pleased with this opportunity to formalize those earlier links by sharing institutional knowledge about the challenges and opportunities of running a successful Core program,” Yatrakis said.
While Ursinus doesn’t mandate any other classes for all students, like Art Humanities and Music Humanities at Columbia, it requires that students fulfill distribution requirements across disciplines ranging from music to mathematics, in addition to completing the CIE.
The Mellon Foundation funding will support “visits from Columbia scholars whose expertise pertains to works in the CIE syllabus,” as well as visits to Columbia from Ursinus Junior Fellows and select first-year students, according to an Ursinus statement. Additionally, an Ursinus professor will teach a Core class at Columbia.
Roosevelt Montas, the director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum, said that the partnership would help Ursinus troubleshoot as it continues to develop its core, and that Columbia graduate students would be able to take summer workshops at Ursinus that would introduce them to a “liberal arts pedagogy.”
“The main benefit to Columbia from this collaboration comes in the opportunities it will create for our graduate students to learn about teaching in a liberal arts college,” Montas said, adding that some of the grant money will be used to create post-doctoral positions for Columbia doctoral students who teach in the Core.
The Mellon Foundation funding will also fund the establishment of post-doctoral fellows at Ursinus, as well as the creation of the Mellon-CIE Junior Fellows program, which is being modeled after Columbia’s Core Scholars program.
Classics professor Gareth Williams, who is currently chair of Literature Humanities, said that he hoped that the new partnership would generate more interest in teaching in the Core among Columbia faculty members.
“Any exposure to outside influence can only be good to reflect on what we teach here,” he said.