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May 14, 1998

Brumble resigns FAS post; curriculum reform project on hold during transition

Six months after his top- priority project — the reform of Pitt's undergraduate arts and sciences curriculum — entered a state of suspended animation, H. David Brumble has announced that he will resign as associate dean for Undergraduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).

He will resume his duties as a full professor in the English department.

"I have hugely enjoyed working with the faculty on undergraduate matters," Brumble wrote in a May 8 letter to colleagues. "I have hugely enjoyed the students themselves. The staff of CAS I admire now even more than I did when I first joined them.

"But as most of you know, I am convinced that we must reform the CAS curriculum — and I am not the person to lead this effort, alas. I am, then, resigning, as of June 30, 1998." Asked by the University Times to elaborate, Brumble said: "I think I'd better not comment beyond what I wrote in the letter." Pitt's re-evaluation of its undergraduate arts and sciences curriculum has been on hold since last fall.

N. John Cooper, who will succeed Peter F. M. Koehler as arts and sciences dean July 1, has called curriculum reform "an extremely high priority" but said it would be inappropriate for him to revive the effort until he takes over as dean.

The last overhaul of the CAS curriculum was in 1981.

In 1996, University trustees complained of a "lack of focus" in CAS general education requirements and voiced concern about Pitt undergraduates' basic skills in math, writing and computing. Rather than address those concerns piecemeal, arts and sciences chairpersons and program directors agreed in October 1996 that the CAS curriculum ought to be evaluated in its entirety.

Brumble spent much of spring and summer 1997 meeting with arts and sciences faculty members (190 of them, he said) as well as students to discuss curriculum reform. He summarized those discussions, together with written comments from 20 other arts and sciences professors, in a document he circulated among faculty last fall.

Brumble reported that 90 percent of the arts and sciences faculty and students he talked with agreed that CAS's current general education requirements are "very complicated" and unfocused, and that the complexity and high number of requirements "contribute to the difficulties our students are having graduating in four years." Brumble proposed a new system through which students would take clusters of related courses, in many cases across departmental lines. He suggested, for example, a Renaissance literature cluster, to include the English department's Shakespeare course, the history department's "Renaissance in England" course and the French and Italian department's "Renaissance Italian Literature in Translation" course.

Many arts and sciences professors and students liked the idea, according to Brumble and Koehler. But Brumble knew it would be opposed by departments that stood to suffer enrollment declines because their units' courses would no longer be required for all CAS students.

Arts and sciences faculty met last November to discuss a system and timetable for reviewing the CAS curriculum. But the process soon stalled, and Koehler decided it should remain on hold until his successor was appointed.

Brumble, in his May 8 letter, thanked Koehler for naming him to what was announced in August 1996 as a three-year appointment as associate dean.

"Shortly after I came to Pitt in 1970," Brumble wrote, "I met Jerry Schneewind, dean of CAS. He told me that he was the dean who watched over undergraduates. I thought, 'I would like to do that some day.' I feel a real debt of gratitude to Dean Peter Koehler for giving me the opportunity to do what I have long hoped to do — to watch over undergraduates."

— Bruce Steele

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