The Curricular Blueprint

We propose a double-pronged approach to fashioning a contemporary liberal-arts enterprise for Haverford:

  • a strengthened core of discipline-based curricula leading to undergraduate student research of unusual depth and sophistication; and
  • strategically developed constellations of interdisciplinary programs providing students breadth of learning that connects disciplinary methods and knowledge.

Why disciplinarity? Haverford’s curriculum is founded on respect for core disciplines as generative engines of exploration, discovery, and tutelage. The disciplines underwrite Haverford’s collaborative model of education by organizing our pursuits in three fundamental ways:

  • First, the disciplines are learning communities whose participants identify, revise, and employ analytical principles and practices in pursuit of new knowledge.
  • Second, the disciplines serve as frameworks through which various kinds of ‘reality’—material; historical; imaginative—are simultaneously identified and scrutinized, guided by initial questions that prompt a continuous dialogue between observation and interpretation.
  • And finally, the disciplines constitute intellectual workshops where instruments of inquiry— the methods, protocols, concepts, techniques, and idioms particular to a discipline’s history and aims—are honed as implements for study and research.

Research, understood as an encompassing project of defining, situating, and pursuing challenging questions, lies at the heart of our curricular enterprise. Disciplines furnish the tools and experience required for students to enter the arena of research, where knowledge merges with judgment to form original thought about significant problems. The process of thus mastering a discipline offers students membership in a complex cooperative community sustained by standards of excellence that are visible and attainable. By shaping coherent pathways from apprenticeship to proficiency, the disciplines provide students precious opportunities to confront uncertainty with agility, strength, and optimism. Strength in core disciplines remains the College’s curricular foundation, the bedrock upon which it builds interdisciplinary innovation. Thus every effort in this plan to sustain interdisciplinary programming will be designed simultaneously to intensify and bolster disciplinary capacity.

Why interdisciplinarity? Disciplines produce knowledge, but that knowledge often cannot be contained by the discipline itself. Contemporary research into a variety of systems of experience and information—ecological systems; economic systems; social systems—has continued to stretch disciplines beyond boundaries that governed intellectual work when current practitioners were trained. Effective twenty-first century education thus demands dialogue between disciplinary and interdisciplinary thought. Whether our students graduate into academic or worldly professions, they will need to move nimbly between the craft of disciplines and the connectivity of interdisciplinarity, particularly if they are to confront the urgent problems of our time: climate change; poverty; disease; development; sustainability; geopolitical strife; and the struggle to define values that can be shared within and across diverse communities.

Precisely because we have grown our interdisciplinary programs from roots in the disciplines, Haverford is enviably positioned to prepare students for this demanding challenge. Becoming fluent in a discipline’s idiom, our students can enter the terrain of interdisciplinary study with critical awareness and earned confidence, ready to learn new intellectual languages that instill the disciplinary home with renewed purpose.

At Haverford, the relation between disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity is thus always dialectical: the disciplines provide the rich soil out of which interdisciplinary programs have grown, while exchange between disciplines is often a source of inspiration and enthusiasm within them. Our liberal arts environment can thrive more tangibly on this dialectic, provided we find ways to better and support each sphere’s development.

Toward these ends, we have designed a plan that builds our disciplinary assets in relation to strengthened interdisciplinary constellations.

As recently as 2012, we conducted a department-by-department study of the broad changes that are restructuring contemporary science, arts, and humanities. Building upon the Blueprint design fashioned in 2007-8, the results highlight areas of growth and change within individual disciplines (often informed by technological advances) and steady overlapping of disciplinary zones. Once-discrete areas find themselves increasingly conversing with one another. Our plan promises, for faculty and students alike, distinct opportunities to address vital new knowledge developed at these points of intersection, as well as opportunities to develop and deepen work within the individual disciplines.

Constellations: Three constellations—Critical Literacies: Computational Studies; Visual Studies / The Commonweal: Social Philosophy, Policy, & Public Value / Area Studies in Transnational Perspective—are the key drivers of our plan for academic enrichment. We believe they invigorate our educational mission in five ways:

  • They highlight and further enable connections among naturally affiliated programs that presently stand in isolation from one another, making relationships among fields of inquiry more visible to students and bringing faculty into proximities more likely to spark new collaborations.
  • They leverage the power of our three academic Centers, forging connections between the Centers and the curriculum, between the curriculum and special programming (such as internships, community-­‐based learning, and symposia), and among the Centers themselves.
  • They expand the scope of consortial partnerships with Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore.
  • They become bridges to future career paths by equipping students with rapidly developing technological skills and knowledge of contemporary problems.
  • And, of equal importance, they strengthen our cultivation of global citizens and lifelong learners committed to seeking knowledge with passion and purpose.

With those aims in mind, we now offer a fuller picture of our plan for academic enrichment that will unfold as follows:

  • Expanded discussions of the three curricular constellations
  • Recommendation of four related initiatives for co-­‐curricular programming that in each instance brings together faculty and students across all three divisions
  • Descriptions of opportunities that expand the curriculum toward accelerated opportunities for graduate training linked to work done by Haverford students while earning their Haverford B.A. or B.S.
  • Recommended resources for program and personnel support needed to realize our educational vision
  • Discussion of capital projects that have been carefully linked to academic program planning