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The New Core Curriculum: Ready for Year Two

As incoming students arrive on campus this fall, they will be welcomed by upperclassmen, faculty, and a new core curriculum – a project that has been in the making for over five years. Though courses under the new requirements first appeared within course catalogs last year, this semester features a more comprehensive integration of newclasses throughout Yeshiva College (YC), Yeshiva University’s college of arts and sciences on the Wilf campus. Revamping the curriculum has been one of the most significant and penetrating issues of the past year or two – as The Commentator described it in an extensive analysis of the project, a six-part feature series back in March, the “makeover of the core curricula…[has been] the biggest academic overhaul in Yeshiva College history.”

The newly updated undergraduate catalog explains that “students who have matriculated to Yeshiva College in Fall 2012 [and later] will satisfy the core requirements by taking eight courses,” one selected from each of a total of eight categories. The first two courses, First Year Writing and First Year Seminar, are to be taken during one’s first and second semester respectively and effectively recreate the first year writing experience, introducing students to college-level writing and research. The other categories – Cultures Over Time, Contemporary World Cultures, Interpreting the Creative, Human Behavior and Social Institutions, Experimental and Quantitative Methods, and The Natural World – all offer interdisciplinary studies, in courses like “Psychology and Public Opinion” and “Health Hazards & Diseases.”


YU’s website makes clear that “the new Yeshiva College Core Curriculum allows students broad exposure to multiple academic disciplines and teaches you to engage in sophisticated ways with cultures beyond your own.” Dr. Gillian Steinberg, an English professor who has been a driving force behind the new curriculum, including taking charge of the new First Year Writing program, similarly welcomes the new categories’ positive impact on not only the students, but  on the faculty as well. “We’re seeing colleagues reach across disciplinary lines to develop a [complete] undergraduate education. This curriculum encourages us to think beyond our disciplinary silos [and] propels YC into the 21st century.”

Though the Academic Jewish Studies department at YU had initially been resistant to modifying their curriculum, plans were finally agreed upon in April to adjust the Bible and Jewish History requirements, in addition to the two semesters of Hebrew language. As the published memo explains, four courses are required within the Bible department – the familiar Intro to Bible course, complemented by “a combination of biblical text courses, thematic courses in Bible, and textually-oriented courses in Jewish Thought” – while Jewish History now requires one survey history course and one other course from a different time period. According to Dean of Academic Jewish Studies, Dr. David Berger, “The new system provides considerably greater choice and flexibility that its predecessor.” However, the department is “not contemplating additional basic changes in the immediate future,” though new courses will be “introduced to fit with the newly formulated options. Jewish Studies professor Rabbi Shalom Carmy confirms that, for now, “the new curriculum will involve significant new courses in all areas, particularly Jewish Philosophy and Jewish History.

Many want to pronounce the completion of this project as it approaches comprehensive integration. However, Dr. Rachel Mesch, chair of the YU languages department who, after serving as chair of the New Curriculum Oversight Committee, was appointed Director of the YC Core, this past June, cautions that “We are very much still in the process of reviewing, assessing and evaluating as we go.” Dr. Mesch adds, “It’s very important to me to have as many faculty as possible involved in the Core, teaching in it and giving feedback.” Dr. Steinberg agrees that “continuing to implement [the new requirements] must be an ongoing process of dialogue, collaboration, assessment, review, and reconsideration.”

Students are also looking forward to another year with the core curriculum. Aaron Portman (YC ’15) realized that by “putting all of us – from English majors to pre-med students – in the same types of courses created a sense of intellectual community and camaraderie.” Others mentioned the importance of branching out into other departments, momentarily departing from strictly focusing on major requirements.

For more information on the new curriculum, students are invited to visit the YU website and the Yeshiva College Facebook page; questions can be directed to