2023-2024 University Catalog 
    Jul 14, 2024  
2023-2024 University Catalog

Liberal Arts Core Curriculum

Liberal Arts Core Curriculum

Director Henke

As the heart of Colgate’s academic program, the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum (LACC) is a common intellectual project for the University, exposing students to diverse fields of study and modes of intellectual and creative inquiry across the curriculum and furthering Colgate’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

A great institution is a diverse institution. To foster deep understanding in a complex, rapidly changing world with a diversity of peoples and perspectives, this curriculum asks students and faculty to grapple with questions that shape knowledge, experience, and practice across time and space as well as across divisional and disciplinary boundaries. As a liberal arts college, Colgate strives to convey to students the value of a variety of skills and a willingness to examine one’s own experience and conditions from a variety of perspectives as well as to learn of contexts different from one’s own. Through these practices, this Core encourages lifelong learning, thoughtful citizenship, and inclusivity.

First-Year Seminars and the Living and Learning Workshop

Director Karn

First-year students must enroll in an FSEM and the Living and Learning Workshop. The FSEM course may be drawn from many parts of the academic curriculum, including Core Component courses and entry-level courses in departments or programs. FSEMs that are departmental or program courses may carry any of the Area of Inquiry tags or Liberal Arts Practices tags except for the Process of Writing.

First-year seminars (FSEMs) and the Living and Learning Workshop are designed to introduce students to a variety of liberal arts topics, skills, and ways of learning. These include academic integrity, effective writing practices, information literacy, and institutional resources available to support intellectual engagement, personal growth, and well-being. The FSEM program emphasizes all aspects of the learning process, both in and out of the traditional classroom setting. Each FSEM cohort connects directly with one of the living and learning communities that constitute the Residential Commons program. The merging of the FSEM course, the Living and Learning Workshop, and the Residential Commons community provides a unique and focused opportunity for students to obtain a breadth of college-level experience and academic perspectives in a supportive environment. FSEM courses will normally earn credit within the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum as one of the Core Components, Liberal Arts Practices, or Areas of Inquiry.

The Living and Learning Workshop curriculum is developed as a partnership between staff and faculty. Individual workshops will address pressing social and student-life issues such as diversity, equity, and inclusivity, sexual violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental and physical well-being, and civic engagement. Workshop meetings will also encourage academic and career preparation with a focus on fundamental research skills, effective writing, and career exploration.

The Components:

Foundational to Colgate’s Liberal Arts Core Curriculum, the three components together embody the goals of a liberal arts education. They encourage students to call assumptions into question, to push beyond the limits of their experience, and to examine structures and systems in which we operate. These courses are expected to be challenging. They stand outside departments and programs, asking students and faculty to move across disciplinary boundaries.

  1. Core Communities

    Director Ballvé

    Core Communities courses foreground multidisciplinary engagement with the historical and contemporary factors influencing peoples’ experiences of living in community.  Courses in this component ask students to examine community dynamics across time and space. Each course in this component addresses the ways in which peoples’ lives unfold in social and material worlds that have been shaped and reshaped by global, transregional, and historical phenomena, such as slavery, colonialism, capitalism, industrialization, and new technologies.  These courses also recognize that the gains and losses catalyzed by such forces are not equally shared; rather, communities are marked by legacies of difference. Core Communities courses emphasize three pedagogical goals:

  • Gain academic and empathetic understanding of the experience of people in communities that may be different from one’s own

  • Understand the cultural, ethical, economic, and political significance of living in community

  • Explain dynamics of power that shape patterns of inclusion and exclusion within a community, with attention to the histories and contemporary implications of those patterns

The communities explored in this component take a variety of shapes. They may be: 1) nations and societies, 2) geographic regions, 3) historical communities, 4) transregional or transnational communities, 5) communities of practice, or 6) communities emerging through things, technologies, or markets.

  1. Core Conversations

    Director Worley

    Conversation is central to Colgate’s educational mission. Conversation requires active listening – paying attention to what others say and how they say it. Conversation equally requires actively responding to others – opening one’s mind to theirs through the expression of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Conversation thus presupposes mutual respect, whether with someone in the room or someone hundreds of years in the past, and it knits its participants into a community. Engaging with a book, film, song, or other form of creative expression is also a conversation, in which people open themselves to what the work has to say and in exchange have a say in the work’s legacy.

    This course employs a set of five common texts – selected by the faculty teaching the course – to promote wide-ranging conversations, anchored in the past and directed toward the present.  Core Conversations defines the term “text” expansively, not limiting it to written work but encompassing diverse modes of intellectual and creative expression. As such, the common texts for this course are drawn

  • from multiple disciplines,

  • from pre-modern and modern worlds,

  • and from Western and non-Western cultures.

Instructors are encouraged to add other materials in order to enhance the themes of the course.

  1. Core Sciences

    Director Van Wynsberghe

    The present world has been fundamentally shaped by the products of the scientific endeavor, from the nearly instant connectivity of the globe to our ability to fight pandemics at the genetic level.  A scientifically literate populace is needed in order to address many of our most important issues. For such literacy, it is necessary to understand the processes and practices behind the development of scientific knowledge. The courses in Core Sciences are designed to explore the complexities of creating scientific knowledge and applying it to broader contexts in wide-ranging ways. As these courses explore the cultural and social impacts of science, they also consider forces that influence the production, application or reception of scientific knowledge. Thus, Core Sciences courses are unified around two common goals:

  • understanding the scientific process and the nature of scientific knowledge
  • connecting science to society – in discussions of the broader impacts of science, instructors should address histories, inequities, or social differences within the frame of the course topic

Core Sciences courses engage students in the scientific process, with a focus on helping them develop an understanding of the ways that observations and experiments lead to empirically based theories about physical, human, technological, and natural worlds. Component courses offer many pathways for students to explore the nature of scientific knowledge.

The Liberal Arts Practices

Director Chianese

A liberal arts education is designed to free the mind to think critically and independently, abilities which are developed through exposure to a wide range of subjects and ideas. Courses fulfilling Liberal Arts Practices requirements develop important skills and competencies: comprehending action that matters in the face of urgent world questions, attention to the process of writing, familiarity with quantitative and algorithmic reasoning, insight into the ways languages work, and the capacity to practice and interpret visual, literary, and performing arts.

Courses tagged with a Liberal Arts Practice belong to specific departments or programs, may be taught at any level, and may count toward a student’s major or minor.

Liberal Arts Practices can be completed via transfer credit, pursuant to Colgate’s other transfer credit policies. However, these courses play an integral part of the guided development that takes place during a college education. As such, they cannot be exempted based on placement procedures or demonstrated proficiency. The Liberal Arts Practices cannot be fulfilled by Advanced Placement credits or other pre-matriculation credit. Neither can these requirements be fulfilled by courses taken during a winter/January intersession term, unless under exceptional circumstances and with permission of the department chair, division director, and associate dean of the faculty.

Courses can carry up to two tags from the five Liberal Arts Practices. Tags apply to courses, regardless of the individual instructors teaching sections. Syllabi for tagged courses will include one or two sentences explaining how the course fulfills the goals of the designated Liberal Arts Practice. The approval of Liberal Arts Practice tags will be overseen by the relevant Department Chair or Program Director, Division Director, and the Curriculum Committee.

  1. Confronting Collective Challenges

Courses in this Practice are devoted to studying and addressing urgent, highly complex problems that call for purposeful, collective action. Confronting Collective Challenges courses provide durable ways of looking at large-scale challenges while teaching students to become open-minded problem-solvers capable of taking action in the world around them. Topics include social inequity and inequality; climate change; systemic and structural racism; disinformation; the challenge to democratic norms, institutions, and practices; the rise of authoritarianism; immigration and statelessness; and environmental degradation. Issues studied may span multiple geographies, nations, species, and nonhuman phenomena.

  1. The Process of Writing

The ability to communicate clearly and effectively is a critical part of every liberal arts education, transcending individual disciplines. Writing is a skill developed over the course of a lifetime, and it takes many forms, depending on purpose and audience. For that reason, this curriculum entails a focus on writing in both the First-Year Seminar and also in another class later in a student’s Colgate career.  Process of Writing courses are offered in many departments in addition to the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. All courses that count toward the Process of Writing Practice emphasize the iterative nature of composition, the importance of revision, and the value of clear communication beyond the standard rules of grammar and mechanics.

  1. Quantitative and Algorithmic Reasoning

It is essential that each student be able to understand, interpret, and apply algorithmic or quantitative methods. Quantitative and algorithmic reasoning form the basis of knowledge in a variety of departments and programs across Colgate’s academic divisions. Quantitative and Algorithmic Reasoning courses emphasize themes such as how numerical evidence can facilitate the analysis of a problem; how to locate, collect, or interpret quantitative data; how to recognize the limitations of particular algorithmic or quantitative methods; or how to communicate algorithmic or quantitative arguments.

  1.  Language Study

The experience of being introduced to a different way of ordering ideas through language and the ability to communicate in another language are key ways of bridging difference. College language courses help students learn new languages and encounter new cultures. Even students who enter Colgate conversant in more than one language can benefit from such courses, either by studying that language at an advanced level, a new language at the introductory level, or a language course that develops literacies in a heritage language.

The requirement cannot be satisfied by demonstrating proficiency or fluency in a second language.

  1. Artistic Practice and Interpretation

The study of the arts, whether through practice or interpretation, exposes students to unique pedagogies and learning experiences, and enhances their understanding of the diverse modes of creative expression. This engagement not only deepens students’ appreciation for the arts, but also has the potential to nurture their creativity and increase their openness to experimentation, risk taking, and innovation.

To fulfill this requirement, students must complete one course that emphasizes either applied or interpretative artistic methodologies, practices, and theories. Courses in studio art, creative writing, music, theater, dance, or the interpretation of literature, poetry, art, film or other creative or artistic media may fulfill this requirement.

Areas of Inquiry

Students achieve greater breadth of knowledge by taking courses in each of the University’s three predominant areas of intellectual inquiry. These courses expose students to disciplinary modes of thinking and the opportunity to discover their majors, minors, and unexpected passions in new fields of study. Courses offered by interdisciplinary programs in the University Studies Division are included in these Areas of Inquiry.

Areas of Inquiry can be completed via transfer credit, pursuant to Colgate’s other transfer credit policies. However, these courses play an integral part of the guided development that takes place during a college education. As such, they cannot be exempted based on placement procedures or demonstrated proficiency. The Areas of Inquiry cannot be fulfilled by Advanced Placement credits or other pre-matriculation credit. Neither can these requirements be fulfilled by courses taken during a winter/January intersession term, unless under exceptional circumstances and with permission of the department chair, division director, and associate dean of the faculty.

 Most courses will carry a tag for one of the Areas of Inquiry.

  1.  Human Thought and Expression

Courses in this area develop an understanding of what it means to be human: they focus on cultural and intellectual expressions throughout time.

  1. Natural Science and Mathematics

Courses in this area apply theoretical and empirical methods to the study of living organisms, the physical world, and abstract and practical mathematics.

  1.  Social Relations, Institutions, and Agents

Courses in this area expose students to the study of social order and human behavior in societies of the past and present.

Physical Education and Wellness

The Division of Physical Education, Recreation, and Athletics (PERA) offers a variety of programs and courses addressing students’ physical, mental, social, and environmental well-being. These include programs and courses such as dance, outdoor education, volunteerism, and varsity and club-level athletics, and five-week courses in health, fitness, positive sexuality, and stress management.

Participation in approved extracurricular activities may earn up to one unit per activity. Students are required to complete two units. These do not carry academic credit. The Physical Education and Wellness requirement may be completed during any year, but students are encouraged to complete at least one credit by the end of the second year. Varsity athletes may earn one unit for every full year of team participation. Further information regarding the Physical Education and Wellness requirement is available on Colgate’s Physical Education web pages.

Distinction Seminar in the Liberal Arts Core

Director Chianese

Taught by two instructors, normally from different divisions, to students from a range of majors and minors, Distinction courses are transdisciplinary. They provide students and faculty with opportunities to consider topics and ideas from multiple vantage points and to engage in dialogue across disciplines. Throughout the course, the instructors model transdisciplinary exchange and thoughtful consideration of different perspectives. Choice of course content is open to the team of instructors. Each instructor participates fully throughout the term.

Admission to the seminar is by application. The team of instructors will review the applications and select up to 15 seniors from any major. Students with an overall grade point average of 3.33 (B+) or higher GPA are eligible to apply. To earn Distinction in the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum, students must earn an A- or better in the Core Distinction Seminar and achieve an overall grade point average of 3.33 or better at the time of graduation.


The Liberal Arts Core Curriculum Prizes — awarded by the program to the authors of the best papers/projects done by a student in each of the components of the Liberal Arts Core Curriculum, as determined by a faculty committee. The winning papers/projects are evaluated on their scholarship, originality, and excellence.