Northwestern faculty developing courses for diversity requirement

Jeanne Kuang, Campus Editor

More than 18 months after the University Diversity Council proposed the Social Inequalities and Diversities requirement, two of the six Northwestern undergraduate schools have implemented the requirement in their curricula, while other schools are awaiting the creation of enough courses to consider it.

The February 2013 proposal from the University Diversity Council’s Academics/Education working group asked the six NU schools to include Social Inequalities and Diversities as a distribution requirement by Fall Quarter 2015. If approved by faculty in all six schools, it would be the first University-wide undergraduate academic requirement.

The academic component of the requirement would mandate students take a course designed to achieve four learning outcomes, including demonstrating the ability to think critically about social inequalities and the diversity of social, political, cultural, economic and scientific experiences. The requirement also includes an extracurricular component involving Sustained Dialogue discussions.

In an interview with The Daily in February, Dona Cordero, former chair of the University Diversity Council, said the requirement’s goal is “to interact with people who have different life experiences, who come from different cultural backgrounds in order to one, work together in the academic environment, but two, to work together in the larger society.”

The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications implemented the requirement for its freshman class this academic year, Medill Prof. Patti Wolter said in an email to The Daily.

Wolter, chair of Medill’s curriculum committee, said faculty are developing more courses that would fit the new requirement.

The School of Education and Social Policy adopted the academic requirement in Spring 2013 for students who entered the school that fall, Susan Olson, SESP assistant dean of student affairs, told The Daily in February.

The requirement’s approval in Weinberg is pending the hiring of a new dean.

Weinberg faculty are developing courses that would fit the potential requirement, said Mary Finn, associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. When enough courses have been developed and a new dean has been hired, faculty will bring the proposal to the new dean for review, in the hopes of putting it through the faculty’s curricular approval process, she said.

“What we’re doing in anticipation of the new dean coming is we’re working on the big challenge Weinberg has, which is scale,” she said.

There are currently 12 courses in Weinberg being offered this academic year that would fit the requirement. Finn said Weinberg needs more courses from across many departments before “we could in good conscience require it.”

Faculty can develop a new course with the learning outcomes outlined in the proposal or alter existing courses to include those outcomes.

“You have to do the work of embedding the learning goals,” Finn said.

The requirement can be added in Weinberg no earlier than Fall 2016, Finn said, a year later than the original proposed time of implementation.

“We’re going to develop curriculum this year, come up with a plan to show the new dean and hopefully put it through the curricular process next year,” she said.

Faculty in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science are also waiting on more courses before revisiting the idea of a requirement.

“The (curriculum) committee took the position that when some courses became available that were more overtly along the lines that were suggested by the diversity council, then we could open up the discussion,” said Stephen Carr, associate dean of undergraduate engineering. “At some point we will bring it back on the table when there’s more to talk about.”

Carr said he believes the required McCormick freshman course “Design Thinking and Communication,” in which students work in teams to design and present a solution to a problem, teaches students the learning goals of the proposed diversity requirement.

“McCormick is only one-half majority students,” he said. “It’s a course that puts students out of their comfort zone immediately … These teams are very heterogenous in terms of background. You right away are jarred by needing to accommodate the different approaches and different ways of communicating that people have.”

Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music faculty have not yet discussed the proposed requirement, said Linda Garton, Bienen’s assistant dean for student affairs. Garton said the topic is “very likely” to come up at the school’s next curriculum committee meeting in December.

The School of Communication has also not approved the requirement, said Communication Dean Barbara O’Keefe.

O’Keefe said in an email on Monday that Communication faculty do not have plans at this time to discuss the requirement.

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Twitter: @jeannekuang

Previous stories on this topic:

    Implementation of diversity requirement in the ‘hands of the deans’
    Diversity Council rolls out proposal for university-wide diversity requirement