Hills­dale’s Central Hall at dusk. Regan Meyer | Col­legian

Hillsdale College will soon introduce a new Senior Cap­stone course to its core cur­riculum, with the Class of 2020 becoming the first to take it during its senior year.

The course will be from one to three credits and last either one semester or a full year, according to Pro­fessor of History and Dean of Social Sci­ences Paul Moreno.

“You often say the purpose of a liberal arts edu­cation is to spend four years thinking about what it means to be a human being,” Moreno said. “This course should be a cul­mi­nation of that.”

Pres­ident Larry Arnn envi­sions a one-credit, seminar-style class taught by pro­fessors from all of the depart­ments, who will relate the core prin­ciples to their spe­cific dis­ci­pline. Moreno said Arnn might also have a hand in teaching part of the course, perhaps on moral phi­losophy.

Provost David Whalen and the aca­demic deans — rep­re­senting the social sci­ences, the human­ities, and the natural sci­ences — will create a plan for the course and present it to the faculty for feedback and approval.

Since the core cur­riculum stan­dards were planned in 2011, Hillsdale has grad­ually intro­duced and taught new core classes. The Senior Cap­stone class is the final addition.

“I may give some number of lec­tures to the whole senior class,” Arnn said. “We would probably study Aris­totle some. We might study the Bible some. I’ll think up themes for each of them that will tell us some­thing we need to know about the core. My job would be to speak explicitly and solely to the unity of the core.”

While faculty are still working out details, the central ideas for the course have remained con­stant since its inception.

“You can’t put the roof on the building until you’ve got the building,” Arnn said. “The core is not a list of courses. Some­thing has to give it def­i­n­ition as a core. The def­i­n­ition that it has is that it is the fun­da­mental things a person needs to know to call himself edu­cated. If you’re going to have that idea, then you need some­thing to rehearse it and bring unity to it at the end.”  

As an attempt to inte­grate the core in a single course, Moreno said, the class will also attempt to relate the core to a student’s major.

The deans and the provost, Moreno said, have been working on a pro­posal for the cap­stone course. This pro­posal will go before the Edu­cation Policies Com­mittee, con­sisting of the aca­demic deans and other elected pro­fessors from the divi­sions. The EPC will then present a pro­posal to the general faculty assembly. This is the same process for the devel­opment of all core classes, according to Moreno.

Once the official pro­posal has been intro­duced to the EPC, Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Edu­cation and Dean of Faculty Daniel Cou­pland said approval for the final version of the course will take at least two months. Every­thing will be fin­ished by May, when the faculty have their last meeting of the school year.

“The Senior Cap­stone will address broad ques­tions. What is edu­cation? What does it mean to be human?” Cou­pland said. “It is not just an effort to expand the core. There are reasons for adding this course. It will provide an expe­rience where it brings things back together.”

Arnn said the core exists to show parts of a whole, and the Senior Cap­stone will give stu­dents a view of that whole.

“Stu­dents have two kinds of expe­ri­ences here,” Arnn said. “They take core courses, and they have a major and minor — or both of those, or more than that — and the major and the minor are things to focus on. But the core courses them­selves, each one takes up some aspect of the whole. You get plenty of that; what about the whole?”

In the 19th Century, and part of the 20th, all American uni­ver­sities had some kind of cap­stone course, according to Moreno. However, the goal of the Senior Cap­stone is not to emulate the liberal arts tra­dition of the past for its own sake, Cou­pland said. Instead, the deans have asked why schools used to do this. The approach to edu­cation which included a cap­stone course was sup­ported by thinkers such as John Henry Newman, according to Arnn, and that this approach to edu­cation has informed the planning of the Senior Cap­stone.