Whose Curriculum?

On NYU Shanghai’s website, there is a page called “Our Curriculum”. But whose curriculum is it exactly? OCA Staff Writer Simone Ye answers this question and more.

If you scrutinize NYU Shanghai’s Faculty Portal, you find something called “Curriculum Committee”. It is a decision-making body, meeting monthly, that deliberates NYU Shanghai’s Core Curriculum, major and degree programs, and course proposals. These are elements of academic life that directly concern students, but most students don’t know that it exists.

There are 16 voting members in the 2017-2018 Curriculum Committee. NYU Shanghai Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen is the chair, and other voting members are comprised of Deans and eight Faculty Representatives, together with Vice Chancellor Jeffrey Lehman, Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs John Robertson and the Associate Provost for Quantitative Disciplines Fanghua Lin. There are also five observers (non-voting members), staff members representing Academic Affairs, Arts & Sciences, Library, the Registrar’s office, and the Office of the Provost, respectively. (The full list of members can be found at the end of this article.)

John Robertson, Assistant Provost for Academic Affairs, explained how the members are chosen. Provost Joanna Waley-Cohen appoints representatives as holistically as possible. Because the number for the voting members is limited, it is not feasible for all program directors to be included in the committee.ost of the Faculty Representatives are senior faculty, who are more experienced.

Keith Ross, Dean of Computer Science and Engineering, has been a member since before the university opened in 2013. He said they debated and conducted a lot of changes in the first two years. The Committee is currently focusing on new courses and majors, which have to be discussed and approved. They also discuss double majors and minors, making decisions by taking votes.

Robertson said he and Waley-Cohen had discussed whether students could be observers. They were concerned that student representatives would take their own interests into account, rather than speaking for the student body as a whole. “At present, we are not ready for it,” he said. Waley-Cohen said that she gets students’ feedback from emails they send her directly. One such email suggested that more language courses, other than English and Chinese, should be introduced.

“Sometimes we don’t talk to students directly but we observe what they do,” Waley-Cohen added, “We opened a major called Interactive Media and Business because we saw many students chose to double major in IMA and Business.” She also mentioned that more art courses are offered because the school witnessed that once an art class opens, it is quickly reaches capacity.

Robertson noted that to understand student interest, area leaders and deans read students’ Course Evaluations at the end of semesters. However, at the end of the day, it is the faculty that make decisions on specific elective courses. “The faculty are who students talk to directly,” Robertson said.

There are also information sessions for each major, in which students can talk to all the faculty members and share what they have in mind. As Waley-Cohen mentioned, “students at NYU always let their voices be heard.” But the question remains: can students’ voices really make a difference?

Ryo Okui, an Associate Professor of Economics, who hosted the major info session for Economics this October, said that the Economics department holds students-faculty meeting once or twice each semester to collect students’ opinions. Some courses’ content is modified with regard to students’ suggestions. For instance, a course called “History of Modern Economic Growth: Exploring China From a Comparative Perspective” increased its content in China by 15 percent to meet students’ needs.

Minqing Wang, an academic advisor focusing in Economics and Math, claimed that faculty decide courses offered by considering students’ need and academic trends. For example a new course, Behavioral Economics, is going to be offered in the spring semester of 2018. She explained that this course is introduced to catch up with new trends, as Richard H. Thaler was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his contributions to behavioral economics.

According to Wang, the Mathematics department is doing a survey among seniors and juniors on their preferences for elective concentrations, so as to provide courses that meet most students’ interest. Economics is planning to do so as well.

However, for some majors, it seems to be infeasible to conduct such surveys at present. According to Ross, the Computer Science department only decide what courses are offered through faculty discussion. For instance, if faculty members want to teach a certain course, they go to their deans or area leaders for permission. In most of cases, Ross said, “A professor comes along and said: ‘I want to teach this course.’ And we say: ‘Ok sure.’” He explained that it is hard to recruit faculty to teach specific courses for computer science, considering that there are many job opportunities for this area. “It takes time to find the right people,” Ross said.

2017-2018 Curriculum Committee
Almaz Zelleke,
Brad Weslake,
Duane Voigt,
Jeff Lehman,
Jennifer Tomscha,
Joanna Waley-Cohen,
John Robertson,
Keith Ross,
Maria Montoya,
Matthew Belanger,
Ryo Okui,
Tansen Sen,
Tim Byrnes,
Yuning Liu,
Yuxin Chen,
Charles Newman

This article was written by Simone Ye. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: NYU Shanghai

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