Summary of the CUE Report on a Pilot Curriculum for Undergraduates in the Arts and Sciences

CUE's proposal for a pilot curriculum1 starts with a premise that the highly motivated and highly selected students who choose Penn have already used their secondary education to develop distinctive interests and numerous competences, and are ready to enjoy the freedom both to develop their existing interests and to explore new areas-making it worthwhile to experiment with "a more compact and well-focused learning experience in the freshman and sophomore years," the Report says. "Such an experience may help our students develop a reflective attitude towards fundamental issues in human conduct, inquiry, and artistic expression that will help them become aware of the different disciplines by which many issues can be approached in a research university, and yet will leave them the freedom that they need to pursue their diverse and demanding intellectual interests."

Another premise is that students who choose The College are distinguished by "an eagerness and creativity that find expression in diverse program options such as interdisciplinary majors, multiple majors, dual degree programs, and other ambitious and demanding courses of study." The Committee adds that "it is vital that our curriculum continue to foster these forms of student creativity while providing a shared basis for the development of the critical practices of inquiry and reflection."

Noting that what it proposes is intended to be "suggestive, but not definitive, of the direction in which our curriculum innovations might move," CUE recommends:

  1. Beginning in the fall of the year 2000, approximately 200 freshmen each year for the next five years be exempted from current general education requirements ( in the College of Arts and Sciences.
  2. Students so exempted will satisfy a new set of requirements that will be designed by the Committee on Undergraduate Education working in concert with other SAS subcommittees and individual faculty. The "pilot curriculum" accompanying these resolutions is intended to be a starting point for the development of the new requirements.
  3. The advantages and disadvantages of the new requirements will be carefully evaluated by the Committee on Undergraduate Education and other appropriate SAS faculty committees.

These recommendations are accompanied by a series of understandings, among them that CUE will develop an appropriate advising system for the pilot curriculum, and will seek ways to make the current General Requirement as effective as possible while the pilot is being developed. CUE is also to direct an analysis of challenges to extending the pilot curriculum to the full student body, including resources needed and impacts on faculty and existing programs. The Committee would be required to update the Faculty at least annually and issue a final report on the experiment no later than the academic year 2003-04. The target date for deciding whether to extend to all College students the curriculum developed out of the pilot is the spring semester of 2004, for implementation in the fall of 2005.

The four main components suggested for the Pilot Curriculum that 200 of the College's 1500 incoming freshmen would take in the fall of 2000 are:

I. A Pilot General Requirement: Four new semester-long courses would be taken by all 200 students during the first two years of study (with one possible exception2). Approaches from many disciplines in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences would be introduced, and the perspectives of diverse cultures considered. "Indeed, conflicts among disciplinary and cultural perspectives will often be a central issue in many of these courses: introducing students to the complexities of modern life in the era of globalism as well as drawing on the approaches and accomplishments of multiple disciplines are central reasons why these courses should be team-taught," the proposal notes.

The proposal organizes these courses in four general categories, tentatively titled:

  1. Freedom, Equality and Community.
  2. Science, Culture and Society.
  3. Earth, Space and Life.
  4. Imagination, Representation and Reality.

II. A Skill and Methods Requirement: This would include the Foreign Language and Quantitative Skills already required for all students in the College, plus a new Communication Skills course--emphasizing both written and oral communication skills--to replace current methods of satisfying the Writing Requirement.

III. A Major that includes significant opportunities for individual research, scholarship and/or creative projects.

IV. Breadth, Depth, and Coherence: This component is intended to "promote a variety of programmatic offerings that will encourage students to use the flexibility created by the reduction in the General Requirement from ten courses to four to add some combination of breadth, depth, and coherence to their courses of study."



1. The full text is on the web at


2. Students who believe that they will be science majors or who are preparing for medical careers will complete the courses in categories 1, 2 and 4 in their first three semesters. If by the middle of the sophomore year they are still planning a science major or medical career and have completed a two-course sequence in the physical or life sciences, then they can be exempted from course category 3.

Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 4, September 21, 1999