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.