My department should reform its undergraduate curriculum. I've been thinking about this for a while, and some may recall that this was a priority when I ran for chair. This isn't about improving teaching. We're a pretty phenomenal teaching department. It's about looking at the big picture and considering whether and how programatic changes would help our students transition after graduation.
The current curriculum is pretty standard. Students must complete 30 hours. Among those hours, students must complete:
Most of our students will not become political scientists. We instill these skills, and expect that students will do something else, be it journalism, secondary education, non-profit work, law school, or political organizing and campaigning. The problem is that I'm not sure it's obvious to students how to translate the skills and substantive information they learn in the major to the job market. I was reminded of this the other day when I saw the following tweet by a former student:
I'm not suggesting we give up our commitment to liberal education, but couldn't we also restructure the major in ways that help our students figure out what's next? One possibility would be to include civic engage projects in the curriculum, in order to facilitate student connections with the wider community. Another approach would be to establish undergraduate tracks or certificates in, say, political campaigning, international affairs, political advocacy, and political data analysis and visualization. With that, we would need to ramp up our internship program, perhaps making it a required component of the major.
I understand why faculty might balk at large scale curriculum reform. It would be a bureaucratic pain in the neck. It would require work and reflection. It might involve building partnerships with other departments. It would definitely require us to be more intentional about our course offerings. However, "[a] political science major 'program' ... is not just the roster of whatever courses happen to be in the college catalogue." Nor is it the roster of classes offered in a given semester. It is important, then, to consider how course offerings advance the overall goals of the program and our students. That's not to say we don't currently think about programatic needs, but to a non-trivial extent course selection is driven by faculty personal preference.
I can imagine reasonable and conscientious colleagues asking, why bother? As long as we're generating sufficient credit hours to keep the administration at bay, why open this can of worms? That's a fair question, especially given that the major is really healthy at present. As you can see in the figure below, our enrollments have been increasing steadily since 2013.
For me, the imperative for curriculum reform lies with our students. While Millennials are the most highly educated generation in American history, Stella Rouse and Ashley Ross point out that they face higher levels of debt, unemployment, and poverty than the previous two generations. Generation Z is likely to face the same constraints. Looking at men of color, African American and Hispanic students in Texas have lower college completion rates than their white peers--African American 8%, Hispanic 24%, and White men 46%.* Among UNT undergraduates, 64% are non-white and 42% are first-generation college students.
All of this is to say that by and large our undergraduates are not coming from a place of privilege. As educators, we owe them serious reflection on our curriculum, in order to determine how we can best help them to succeed once they leave UNT.
*These data are reported in the UNT Institutional Site Visit Report prepared by the Texas Educational Consortium of Male Students of Color.