CMC trustees return race GE proposal to faculty, call for broader alternative instead

(Two student converse outside on the CMC campus nearby the Kravis Center.
The status of a faculty-led proposal for a GE that centers around race has been in flux ever since the Board of Trustees returned it to faculty with recommended changes from President Hiram Chodosh. (Jonathan Ke • The Student Life)

During a Sept. 30 executive session, Claremont McKenna College’s Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to return a proposal for a racial-ethnic general education requirement to faculty, favoring an alternative proposal that would be broader in scope. 

In an Oct. 7 email sent to students, the Board said the proposal — which had been approved by faculty in April and remanded by the Board in May with recommended changes from President Hiram Chodosh — was “not sufficiently strong or well-tailored to fulfill [the college’s] mission.”

Two years in the making, the proposal grew out of a faculty response to the college’s June 2020 Presidential Initiative on Anti-Racism and the Black Experience in America following the death of George Floyd a month earlier. 

The Board’s statement outlined changes they said would strengthen the proposal “in several key respects to develop a broad and compelling curriculum,” as well as to remain aligned with the college’s mission. 

To secure the Board’s support, a new faculty proposal would need to draw on “all sources of social division,” rather than only race. Additional recommendations include a call for implementation that goes beyond the initial five-week course overlay requirement, although the Board did not suggest what an alternative time frame could look like. 

While the college’s bylaws delegate curriculum change proposals to faculty, the Board’s statement said the discussion regarding the GE should also come from “close, rigorous collaboration” between faculty, deans, students and Chodosh.

In a statement to TSL, Chodosh laid out suggestions for faculty to take into consideration before the Board meets again in December.

Among Chodosh’s recommendations is a call to implement the proposal’s learning objectives without adding to the number of existing GEs at the college. Chodosh advised faculty to consider incorporating the GE’s intended focus into existing courses, such as in foundational or first year seminar classes. 

“The Board was initially most concerned that the proposal would impose further limits on student curricular choices by adding another GE, including a minimal, diffuse overlay, to what is already one of the most expansive GE programs in CMC’s peer group,” Chodosh said via email. 

According to two professors co-sponsoring the original racial-ethnic GE proposal, it would not increase course requirements but would rather “double-count” towards requirements already in place. 

In an Aug. 8 co-written email to CMC students, history professor Daniel Livesay and religious studies professor Gastón Espinosa said one course could satisfy both the race GE and another existing requirement as not to “place any extra GE burden on students.”

During a Sept. 29 executive session with the Board, both Livesay and Espinosa advocated in favor of keeping race as the focus of the GE, as set forth in the original proposal.  

The Board’s decision to remand the proposal a day later was met with dismay by Livesay and Espinosa, who told TSL in a joint-statement that they hope to see the original proposal come to fruition with the option to review the GE within its first three years. 

“The faculty spent two years developing the proposal with extensive discussion, data analysis and reviews of over 120 course proposals to understand what our capacities were for teaching an overlay requirement that focused on racial-ethnic diversity,” Livesay and Espinosa said via email. “… We are dismayed by the Board’s interdiction and circumvention of faculty governance of the curriculum by calling on the CMC faculty to start from scratch on an alternative proposal.”

For CMC’s president, however, “the remand was not a vote, nor was it a ‘circumvention,’ ‘nullification’ or ‘refusal’ to take a faculty proposal to the Board,” Chodosh said.

ASCMC President Josh Nagra CM ’23 voiced support for a thorough administrative review of the proposal, though he said it will likely have undergone many changes by the time it is implemented.

“It is fair to assume that the GE implemented will be different from the original GE,” Nagra told TSL via email. “Nevertheless, as stated in [CMC’s] memo, a GE in this area of the curriculum is vitally necessary, and it is reassuring to see administrators unified in that sentiment.”

The Board’s Academic Affairs Committee will reconvene at the end of the semester to take faculty responses to the remand into consideration.  

Both Livesay and Espinosa said that the Board’s decision to remand the GE proposal was an “unprecedented” step. However, it will not stop them from striving for the original Racial-Ethnic GE’s implementation by the time the next board meeting rolls around in December. 

“We believe that the original proposal would be the most effective means to educate our students on core knowledge needed to be responsible leaders, and we will continue to work tirelessly with students, faculty and our community for its adoption at the College,” Livesay and Espinosa said.

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