Section: News

Curricular Policy Committee looks to address comps inequity

The Curricular Policy Committee (CPC) wants to address inequity in the experience of senior exercises at Kenyon.

The CPC is a committee comprised of faculty members and student advisors. It plans to propose to the faculty an adjustment to the definition of these exercises that appears in Kenyon’s course catalog, as well as a name change from “The Senior Exercise” to “Senior Capstone,” at the faculty meeting on Dec. 4. The faculty would then vote on these two motions at the subsequent faculty meeting on Jan. 22.

The committee is trying to address the variations in the senior exercise (comps) experience between majors without telling departments what their comps should be and without making the comps uniform.

In an email to the Collegian, Samuel B. Cummings professor of psychology Sarah Murnen, who chairs the CPC, articulated how the committee plans to address the issue of comps.

As it stands now, Kenyon’s definition of “the senior exercise” includes the sentence, “no credit is granted for the exercise.” The committee’s first motion is to remove this sentence, which would make it possible for departments to credit students for their work on comps.

Murnen said the committee’s rationale for this comes from a devotion to what the 2020 Strategic Plan refers to as high impact experiences. This change in language would “allow for a higher likelihood that the senior exercise will be a high impact experience,” Murnen wrote.

The committee’s second motion will be to change the name of comps from “The Senior Exercise” to “Senior Capstone.”

“No one outside of Kenyon knows what a senior exercise is because it’s a strange name,” Henry Brill ’19, a student member of the CPC, said.

The name “Senior Capstone” would clarify the purpose of comps, according to Murnen.

“Thus, we want all seniors to have a culminating experience that helps them pull together some of what they have learned,” she wrote in an email to the Collegian, “but we want to allow for that experience to be credited so that students will have time to devote to this experience (and faculty will have more time to be involved as well).”

These motions would be voted on at the following faculty meeting, which would occur on Jan. 22. If these motions were to pass, the role of the CPC would likely be expanded to include more oversight on the issue of comps.

For Provost Joseph Klesner, also a professor of political science and international studies, and Brill, the concern is that students perceive inequality in the overall experience of comps, particularly in terms of the scope of the work. They suggest the solution could lie in giving academic credit for comps.

“What we’re really trying to address is the equity issue from the angle of making the senior exercises a potentially credited experience,” Brill said. He added that this would open a lot of doors, meaning it would give departments the opportunity to formally credit professors and students, thereby acknowledging their work on comps.

While Klesner did not characterize any one comps as particularly easy or hard compared to the others, he said that students have expressed the way an unequal comps affects their experience within their particular major.

“I think students sometimes express a sense that there’s a kind of inequality that way and that can be expressed either as a particular pride in the height of the hurdle that you’re jumping or a … sense that ‘boy, an awful lot of me is being asked compared to those students who are majoring in that other major,’” he said.

Klesner compared political science, international studies (IS) and drama. Political science majors take a five-hour comprehensive exam in the spring, while IS majors write an integrative paper. Drama majors, on the other hand, are required to produce a creative project, orally discuss that project and take a comprehensive exam as well.

If the motion were to pass, the committee would have to determine exactly how it would approve faculty proposals for crediting their comps, which Brill suggested would be similar to how they approach course proposals.

Brill called the current definition of comps very open-ended, saying that allowing for crediting would require more oversight from the committee. He said that, without a structure through which to approach comps, it is tough to judge the discrepancies and variations in how they are done.

For now, unless approved, these suggestions carry no weight, but they reflect a stance that Brill, Murnen and Klesner all share about the comps experience.

“At the end of the day, it’s hard to make a perfectly equal system,” said Brill, “but I think this is a step in the right direction.”

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