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Developing a new Core science course

I have appointed a committee of faculty, students and alumni to develop a new science course for the Core. This follows a recommendation of the Educational Planning and Policy Committee, which at my request, on behalf of the Columbia College Committee on Instruction, conducted a review of Frontiers of Science last year. I expect that the committee will work over the course of the 2013-2014 academic year to determine the best structure for a Core science course, considering both its form and its intellectual aim.           

In determining the structure of the new Core science course, I believe we must consider why we have a Core curriculum in the College and what we aim to achieve with this curriculum. We should then ask what role a science course should play in this curriculum and what we want the science course to achieve. We need to integrate the course with the rest of the Core, connecting it in particular to Contemporary Civilization, because science is most certainly a central part of “contemporary civilization.” We also need to ask what the best route is to engage students as active and enthusiastic scholars pursuing the knowledge and understanding that we seek to impart in this course. How do we engage students in this Core science course the way we do in Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization? 

I offer the following as one perspective on how we might both engage students and connect the new science course to the rest of the Core. Several years ago on the television show “Project Runway,” I heard the designer Michael Kors, a judge on the program, comment on a design for a red, white and blue U.S. Olympic team uniform by saying: “That’s not blue, that’s purple.” Imagine a science course that consists of analyzing and understanding that one small sentence, a simple sentence about the seemingly-simple observation of the colors in a fabric. To analyze and understand Mr. Kors’ comment involves asking and answering questions about epistemology, authority, aesthetics, perception, psychology, physiology, organic chemistry, neuroscience, quantum mechanics, atomic and molecular structure, optics, the electromagnetic spectrum and the wave particle duality — the questions of our traditional Core courses along with questions about experimental and theoretical science. 

The real work of this new committee is philosophical, examining the Core as a whole while specifically examining science in the Core. The goal is to create a science course that in the future will be cited by alumni as “the most important course I ever took,” as former students often refer to Lit Hum and CC. 

The membership of the committee is:

Peter deMenocal, Earth and Environmental Sciences (co-chair) 
Philip Kitcher, Philosophy (co-chair)
Karen Barkey, Sociology
Louis Brus, Chemistry
Martin Chalfie, Biological Sciences
Jenny Davidson, English and Comparative Literature
Ruth DeFries, Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology
Donald Hood, Psychology
Jacqueline van Gorkom, Astronomy and Astrophysics
Mu-Tao Wang, Mathematics
Gregory Wawro, Political Science
Gareth Williams, Classics
William Zajc, Physics
Cliff Massey CC'10 
Violet Nieves CC'15
Ari Schuman CC'15
Emma Dell GSAS'15 (Chemistry)

Deantini Direct:
The Dean’s Blog

James J. Valentini

Dean James J. Valentini ("Deantini") responds to students' questions and concerns and reflects on important issues related to Columbia College. If you have a question or suggestion for the dean, or would like him to post about a particular topic, please contact him.