Faculty Debate Race, Power, Privilege and Colonialism Requirement at Monthly Meeting

At the faculty meeting on Monday the Academic Affairs Council (AAC) gave a second reading of the curriculum reform proposal, a plan to implement a two course requirement to develop student literacy in race, power, privilege and colonialism (RPPC). 

The requirement is a response to a provocative Instagram post by Bates College in Oct. 2020 that led to a student-led protest. Bates College Student Government (BCSG) put forward a list of demands, one of which stated that all Bates students should be required to take a class on critical race theory. 

In February, following the protest, Malcolm Hill, the dean of the faculty, formed a curricular working group tasked with considering if Bates should have a universal degree requirement that students engage with the ideas of race, white supremacy, colonialism, power and privilege. 

Over the past year, the curricular working group has been evaluating similar curricular programs across the nation and considering how Bates might implement such a plan. A more detailed timeline of their progress can be found on the dean of the faculty’s website.

The current proposal states that one course must be taken within the student’s major and be taught by faculty in that department. The second course may be taken through the student’s major, second major, minor, Modes-Of-Inquiry (MOIs) or General Education Concentration (GEC). One course will address RPPC specifically within the United States context (RPPC-US) and one in the international context (RPPC-I). All academic units will have at least one course in each RPPC-US and RPPC-I designations, or both. Each minor will have at least one course that meets either the RPPC-US or RPPC-I designation, or both. 

The proposal was presented by Professors Francesco G. Duina, Holly Ewing, Malcolm Hill, Nathan Lundblad and Susan Stark, members of the AAC.

The main changes following feedback from the first reading in January was a switch from a “one credit” to a “two-course” requirement, which means a short term course could fulfill one requirement. Additionally, an ad-hoc committee was proposed to review and approve the designation of RPPC for courses. Entirely new courses require approval by the Curriculum Review Committee. 

Revisions to the learning outcomes are below, replaced text has been crossed out and blue text illustrates the new changes:

  •  “Be able to articulate Gain knowledge about the effects of race, power, privilege, and colonialism both in the United States context and outside of the United States;”
  • Be able  Begin to identify the way fundamental concepts, practices of scholarship, structures and creation, structures of knowledge, and/or the body of work that constitutes a field relate to field-relevant combinations of race, power, privilege, and/or colonialism;”
  • “Build capacity to generate and answer engage with useful, real-world questions about race, power, privilege, and/or colonialism.”

According to statistics presented at the meeting, 11 of the 21 colleges Bates considers peer-institutions have a diversity, equity and inclusion requirement. Seven of those colleges have two or more required courses and four of the colleges have a DEI requirement with a focus on the United States and/or International culture.

Additionally, the AAC conducted a survey of the curriculum to determine which departments have courses that would fulfill the RPPC-I and RPPC-US requirements. Twenty-five of the 34 majors and two minors responded to the survey. The AAC noted that the survey did not account for duplication of cross-listed courses or consider the frequency of the course or seat count. 

The presentation included the survey’s findings on courses currently offered that qualify as either RPPC-US or RPPC-I.

  • Three of the majors/minors have more than 20 courses. 
  • Eleven majors/minors have 10-19 courses.
  • Eleven majors/minors have one to nine courses.
  • Three majors/minors have zero courses.

Additionally, according to the AAC, there was expressed interest in course development or assistance to course development by faculty in the survey.

Following the presentation, faculty discussed the proposal at length. Questions were raised about whether the proposal should be added as a MOI rather than a major specific requirement. Additionally, Colleen O’Loughlin, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry, wondered why one course can be fulfilled by a short term class when semester long classes are required for MOIs. The response by the AAC to this concern was that the amount and level of content has to remain the same, whether it is a short term or regular course. 

Associate Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Matthew Côté acknowledged that while he saw the proposal as highly important, the creation of courses in departments will require significant time and labor by faculty. Additionally, he argued the proposal was at odds with the spirit of the college’s general education courses, which he believes aim to minimize the number of requirements for students. 

In response to his concerns, the AAC noted that the work of course development will be shared by the faculty and that cross-listing of courses is possible. With regards to incongruity with the gen-ed curriculum, they noted that the RPPC designation is designed so as not to add to course load, but be fulfilled within the already expected course of study.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Tyler Harper said that he believed the requirement would be better suited as an MOI and is concerned that required RPPC courses could potentially harm students of color and require significant and disproportional emotional work from faculty of color.

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Jamie Haverkamp shared concerns about how Bates will be able to institutionalize a caring and respectful culture in these courses. Additionally, she questioned the logic of this requirement if students are then not offered a path to continue this thought and study for the rest of their degree. 

The college will likely vote on the policy at the April faculty meeting, and The Bates Student will continue to cover the issue.


Editors Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the curriculum proposal would require a two thirds majority vote in a faculty meeting to pass. The article now correctly reads the vote only requires a simple majority of 51%.