Getting to the Core: Ursinus, Columbia Have an Intellectual Experience in Common

Three Ursinus faculty have been offering expertise at Columbia University in New York City as they mentor Columbia’s core curriculum teachers and explore what the two schools have in common.

Over the last two years, the two very different institutions that share a deep commitment to liberal arts education have worked together to strengthen their core curricula, supported by a $300,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Ursinus Professors Jonathan Marks in Politics, Robert Dawley in Biology and Paul Stern in Politics have been leading workshops at Columbia, offering expertise on difficult issues in some of the texts, tips on leading discussions, and on the goals of a core curriculum and liberal arts education, most recently in early September.

Marks said he “led the preceptors (who are pursuing their doctorates) in a discussion of how the form of the Essays reflects Montaigne’s distinctive approach to a question both courses focus on: How should I live?”

In 2002, the Ursinus College faculty established a year-long freshman course called The Common Intellectual Experience (CIE), which has gained praise among higher education experts. The course challenges first-year students to examine basic questions of human existence in small, discussion-based classes, taught by faculty from every discipline. Students examine their own individual choices in light of those more universal concerns, and they develop the capacity to deliberate more thoughtfully about the choices they will face.

The Columbia Core Curriculum, entering its tenth decade, is the set of common courses required of all undergraduates and considered the necessary general education for students, irrespective of their majors. Like the Ursinus CIE, the communal learning — with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time — and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core.