Mudd Core Program Undergoes Reform To Improve Student Mental Health

A demonstration led by Black Lives and Allies at Mudd takes place outside the Shanahan Center on March 30, 2017 in the wake of the publication of the Wabash Report. (Liam Brooks • The Student Life)Harvey Mudd College’s core curriculum restructuring project took another step forward when HMC published internal and external reports studying the core and recommending changes late last year.

These reports are the latest step in a process begun in March 2017, when TSL published a leaked report by researchers from Wabash College on Mudd’s core and student morale as a result of the school’s intensive workload and campus climate.

The report’s contents — which included quotes from students who felt so overwhelmed with homework that they didn’t have time for basic tasks like eating, sleeping, and showering — sparked multiple protests, causing HMC to cancel classes for two days.

Since then, the school has striven to restructure core in a way that will continue to challenge its students while prioritizing mental health, and has worked to provide additional funding to diversity and mental health programs.

Last semester, Mudd also received $750,000 in grant and award money, and plans to spend at least part on diversity programs and revising HMC’s rigorous core curriculum, President Maria Klawe told TSL in November 2017.

A self-study report on HMC’s academic and student life published in November 2017 found that the core curriculum was excessively strenuous for students, and said that “except for the technical elective, HMC’s Core requires more study in each subject than either [the California Institute of Technology] or [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology].”

Similarly, an external review team consisting of professors and deans from a variety of universities was formed to study HMC’s core. This external review team published a report in December 2017 recommending several different ways to handle the rigor expected of the college and the students’ mental duress.

The report recommended restructuring core “from the ground up” to effect persistent change. It advocated for the formation of a group consisting of alumni, faculty, and students to experiment with the core curriculum and find the best route for eliminating stress while maintaining Mudd’s prestige.

This would allow for an “opportunity to ask how learning in the core curriculum is intricately tied to students’ social and emotional development,” according to the report.

Dean of the Faculty Lisa Sullivan wrote in an email to TSL that no new curriculum has been put in place yet, and specific plans for changes to the curriculum have not yet been announced. A review team is still studying the external report.

However, “all constituencies on campus including students felt good about the process leading up to our review. The team that managed it worked hard to be inclusive and transparent,” Sullivan wrote.

Sullivan added that a multi-constituency implementation committee will be named soon.

Faculty Executive Committee chair Patrick Little also emphasized the transparency of the core review process, and said he hopes for continued transparency on the new committee Sullivan mentioned.

Little said that HMC students expect a rigorous academic experience, but a middle ground is necessary.

“As some of our alumni noted in their extensive comments, if you focus entirely on those high pressure, demanding environments, you may experience diminishing returns, needless exhaustion, and can even corrode students’ intellectual curiosity, love of learning, and ability to reflect on what is being learned,” he said.

Student opinions on the core curriculum and review vary.

“I don’t have any specific changes that I can think of that would improve Core but I definitely very much appreciate the fact that they are making sure that Core is meeting the needs of the students that are coming through, cause I think that’s really important,” said Giselle Serate HM ’20.

Serate also said, however, that she believes that the core is valuable.

“I really did enjoy the chance to get a general sense of a lot of different subjects, which I think will help me become a stronger computer scientist, because that’s my major,” she added.

In a September interview with TSL, Little emphasized the importance of pushing the process forward quickly.

“We have to really keep the pressure on ourselves to be able to make it so that we don’t just say, ‘Oh, well, we’ll fix this and it’ll take six years,’” he said at the time. “That means that several classes came through and never saw a thing.”

This article was updated on Feb. 16 to correct the spelling of Serate's name.