Over the next few years, Vassar students will be registering for and taking fewer classes. Their schedules, however, will be no less rigorous. According to a recently passed policy, students will trade classes for more one-on-one learning experiences and non-traditional teaching opportunities. On Oct. 5, the faculty passed this plan, the “Proposal on balancing the curriculum and the teaching load,” also known as the 2-2-1 or “dash-1” proposal by a near 80 percent majority among the faculty. The proposal will be phased in over the next two years and will begin to be implemented in the 2018-2019 academic year, meaning that current senior and junior students will not experience changes to their class offerings or major requirements.
Under this new curricular policy, participating departments will reduce their course offerings so that their tenure-track faculty teach only two courses per semester, instead of two courses in one semester and three courses the next. Instead of the third course, faculty members will be asked to increase their one-on-one projects with students, including theses, fieldwork and other newly created courses and programs that would expand the non-traditional learning experiences of Vassar students. This proposal would also reduce the number of courses required per major and the number of courses each student can register for per semester. According to the proposal, “[The policy will] enhance and grow student opportunities for wide range of learning activities with faculty…[and] give faculty opportunities and time to focus attention on existing (and to imagine new) ways to engage productively with students on credit-bearing work outside the classroom.”
According to Professor of Political Science and Associate Dean of Faculty Steve Rock, the proposal has been a long time coming. He said, “It failed a procedural vote last spring, so we needed to have 2/3 majority of the faculty to bring it to an actual vote, and we didn’t get quite that many.” Over the summer, the Faculty Policy and Conference Committee (FPCC) made changes, including raising the maximum number of units students could take to 4.5 and making the major requirements more flexible in response to departmental needs.
Professor of Greek and Roman Studies and FPCC Chair Bert Lott said, “The number of units that can be required to complete a major in the proposal is set at 10 classroom units, plus a unit and a half of intensely mentored work … Some departments would like not to do as much of [dash- 1] work, they would like to keep their classroom curriculum, and when that happens, then they can keep their major at 11 and a half.” He and Rock hope that the new flexibility will make the 2-2-1 proposal work for all of Vassar’s diverse departments. Departments that offer a lot of half-unit courses like music and dance, as well as lab-heavy departments like chemistry, will each be able to maintain their curriculum while accommodating the kind of work that the “dash-1” part of the proposal stands for.
Lott and Rock said that the “dash-1” element of their proposal is what will be key to diversifying Vassar’s curriculum in a way that will allow for greater student independence, faculty creativity and the development of mentoring relationships. Rock said of the “dash-1” segment, “We’ve left this deliberately vague, partly because we want departments and programs to think imaginatively about the kinds of things that could count as dash 1 units … We could imagine courses that involved artistic projects, musical presentations, multimedia presentations, small group seminars, which would be smaller than most of our traditional classroom seminars, maybe small group independent projects.” During the planning and implementation phases, Rock explained, the faculty committee will solicit feedback from students through the VSA, which was also consulted in the crafting of the original proposal.
Rock has high hopes for the faculty’s adoption of the “dash-1” element, and wants to encourage creativity: “In some ways the sky’s the limit: if you can imagine it, and you can make a good case for it, then we would probably consider it.”