Every proposed individual major is reviewed twice: once, when it is first proposed, by a “faculty review committee” or FRC; and a second time, when the work of the major is completed, by a “faculty certification committee.”
The FRC is convened by the director of the CIS, and includes (at least) the student’s adviser, a second faculty member with expertise relevant to the proposed subject matter(s) of the individual major, the reference and instruction librarian with whom the student has consulted, the CIS program coordinator, and another student pursuing an individual major.
The FRC holds a public meeting with the student whose proposal is under review. The committee may approve the proposed individual major as presented, approve it with recommendations for consideration, require amendments to it, or decline to approve it. A new committee is convened to review each proposed individual major.
These committees are a critical way of ensuring that students’ proposals meet standards of coherence, breadth, and depth like those that prevail in the college’s established majors. They also give students the opportunity to get sound advice from faculty with relevant expertise at the very outset of their individual majors. And they help spread the good ideas arising from the creativity of motivated students in conversation with their teachers and advisors.
The responsibilities of faculty on the committee are simple: to read the student’s proposal and supporting materials carefully, and contribute to the committee’s judgment about whether the proposal is feasible within the available resources of the college; is faithful to the idea of a liberal arts college of the church; meets college standards for coherence, breadth, and depth; and does not simply duplicate an existing program. With other members of the committee, faculty offer the student and the CIS their assessment of the proposal and suggest how possible problems with its implementation might be addressed.
This single-meeting service is intended to be rewarding (even fun). The encounter provides the opportunity for a meeting of minds with colleagues, usually from other disciplines, over an academic topic and without a policy agenda. All participants should profit.
Faculty Review Committee meetings are organized and scheduled by the program coordinator. The CIS seeks to ensure that faculty from all the college’s departments and programs become involved in reviewing student proposals for individual majors.
The CIS and the Faculty Review Committees are guided by prevailing standards for departmental and program majors at St. Olaf, and by the following criteria:
1. A student’s plan must meet usual St. Olaf standards for the quantity of academic experience constituting a major – generally the equivalent of ten to twelve units of academic work (in addition to one or two units devoted to the senior project).
2. A student’s plan must include evidence that it will provide
a. a foundation of skills, concepts, and methods appropriate to the proposed field of study;
b. opportunities for exploration and development of skills, sub-fields, and special topics to enrich the major; and
c. opportunities for significant advanced study culminating in an integrative senior project.
3. A student’s plan must include consideration of an appropriate integrative capstone project to be completed during the two semesters of the senior year. The senior project must be a sustained exploration of the subject matter, using methods from, and permitting a reflective reexamination of material encountered earlier in the major. The senior project may take many possible forms, with either a single piece of work or a connected portfolio of work to be submitted to the student’s advisor for evaluation. All senior projects include a research component, either as part of the work itself, or to set that work in its intellectual context.
4. A student’s plan must include significant advanced work, normally two or more Level III courses or other experiences, besides the two CIS units (IS 391 and 392) designated for the senior project.
A review committee may also consider the broader role of a major in the project of liberal education. For example, a good major
1. develops a cognitive “home” from which to begin to interpret the world – a base of experiences and knowledge, and fluency with an effective vocabulary and methods of interpreting evidence, in relation to which unfamiliar subjects may become meaningful.
2. develops the capacity for recognizing and interpreting connections, or the capacity for applying learning from one context to another.
3. develops the capacity for analyzing evidence and arguments, and interpreting experiences.
4. develops knowledge of contingencies that condition knowledge, of the origins and histories of ideas and methods.
5. includes “reflexivity” – the experience of returning to something learned in the past to reexamine it in light of further learning.
6. includes learning in community, both by situating new knowledge with respect to the expertise of others, and by promoting the role of conversation in the learning process.
7. cultivates the capacity for relating academic learning to the wider world, to public issues and personal experience.
8. includes a culminating opportunity to allow the student to synthesize different parts of their experiences in the major.